Thomas Donaldson, Rights in the Global Market (1990)


1.   Rights we take for granted are trampled upon abroad

      a. In central America, most start working full time 12-14 years old

      b. In many countries right to minimal education, free speech, basic nutrition, freedom from torture is a dream

      c. Example from Nigeria: Death by stoning as punishment for adultery


2.   Main question: Do multinational corporations (=MC) have obligations to honor and encourage the protection of such rights?


3.   Child labor: Refusing to hire children in Honduras even if it harms competitive position

4.   Worker safety: Duty to keep arsenic levels low in the workplace, based on workers right not to be poisoned (without such a duty the right means nothing)

      a. Even if local laws don’t address the issue

5.   Dumping toxic waste in West Africa

      a. In 1988, safety standards went up in U.S., so cost of waste disposal shot up and every country on West Coast of Africa was approached to take this waste

      b. One company found a country (Guinea Bissau) to take the waste for $120 million (about the size of the entire GNP of that country)

      c. Another MC got rid of toxic waste (PCBs) in Nigeria, workers in thongs and shorts unloaded it for $2.50 a day and placed in a residential area.

          i.        Workers not told contents of barrels

          ii.       Who is responsible?

                    (1)     Wrong to say it is simply the local government;

                    (2)     They may not be sophisticated enough to develop the necessary regulations or they might be corrupt

      d. Toxic Trash: Will your discarded TV end up in a ditch in Ghana?

      e. Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast



6.   Morality not same as legality: Following the law is no guarantee of ethical behavior, especially overseas

      a. Some plausibility (though not much) to say that in our country all a business is morally required to do is obey the law because our laws are so well developed

      b. Overseas, this is highly implausible

          i.        Many countries and governments don’t have the regulatory apparatus to make laws that control corporate behavior to a minimum moral standard

          ii.       Corruption abounds


7.   Donaldson develops a list of fundamental international human rights,

8.   These rights entail duties

      a. These rights involve morally-minimum mandatory duties that corporations, individuals and governments must respect

9.   Duties of corporations somewhat different (weaker), from those of government and individuals

      a. Of the three types of duties that go with these rights (viz., avoid depriving, help protect from deprivation, and aid the deprived) corporations only have the first two, while government and citizens have all three types.


10. Donaldson’s takes his list to be one of universal (=objective) rights

      a. All international agents most honor these rights, whether they acknowledge these rights or not

      b. Applicable to all people, even if they fail to compose an identical list

      c. If the Fulanis--a nomadic cattle culture in Nigeria--treat women unfairly and unequally, that right remains unfulfilled in their culture;

          i.        Culture is poorer for failing to protect right against non-discrimination


11. Donaldson argues that some rights might be relative to context and vary by nation

      a. Citizens of a rich, technologically-advanced nation might have right to kidney dialysis, that citizens of a poor nation don’t have


12. Key features of these fundamental international rights

      a. Protect something of extreme importance

          i.        Valid claim to things of moderate importance not a right

      b. Protects something subject to significant, recurring threats

          i.        No need for a right to occupy space (can’t be threatened)

      c. Affordability-fairness: Obligations rights impose must be economically affordable and fair (not place disproportionate burden on some)

          i.        Ought implies can; No person can be held responsible for doing something they can’t do, (which is not in their power to do)

                    (1)     Perhaps because it is “unaffordable”

          ii.       Kidney dialysis

          iii.      Drug lord example: Can country afford to protect its citizens?

                    (1)     Drug lords can “afford” duty to not torture

                    (2)     Government has duty to try not succeed?

                    (3)     What are the opportunity costs of succeeding?

      d. List is a minimal one to which one might add

Three types of duties with respect to these rights

1.   One: Duty to not actively deprive person of these rights

          i.        E.g., not to kill a person

      b. Clear MCs have these

      c. For most part MC probably succeed in fulfilling these duties

      d. Buy they also must avoid depriving people of these rights cooperatively

          i.        Fighting against land reform necessary for subsistence

2.   Two: Help protect from deprivation

          i.        Failing to tell the police about a murderer’s intentions

      b. Honoring rights involves acts or omissions that help prevent deprivation of rights

          i.        E.g., Preventing workers from violating the rights of other workers

      c. Critics of MC fault them on failing to take reasonable protective steps

3.   Three: Aid the deprived (MC do not have this duty)

      a. Government bound to honor rights to adequate nutrition by distributing food after a natural disaster

      b. Government defends political liberty by requiring an employer to reinstate an employee who was fired due to voting “the wrong way”


4.   Corporations have only duties one and two, not duty three; while governments have all three, as do individuals)

      a. Corporations can’t be held to same standard of charity and love as individuals

      b. Nor to same standard as governments for enhancing social welfare

      c. Governments were created to do this

      d. Corp designed for economic mission; an economic animal

      e. Corp is a narrower moral actor than others

      f. Corp sole role not to maximize profit for investors, do have moral responsibilities

      g. But must define responsibility differently from government and individuals

5.   Corp don’t have duties of class three (to aid deprived):

      a. Corp violate no rights by failing to aid the deprived;

      b. Whereas governments and perhaps well-off individuals to

Ten Fundamental International Rights (486)

1.   Freedom of physical movement

      a. Should not chain workers to machines or lock them inside sweat shops

2.   Ownership of property

      a. Duty to not deprive of a right directly includes doing so cooperatively

      b. MCs who cooperates with political groups fighting land reform aimed at taking land from tiny minority and redistributing it to peasants

          i.        May violate right to private property

      c. Shows how one can actively deprive a person of a right, even if only cooperating with others

3.   Freedom from torture

4.   Fair trial

5.   Non-discrimination

      a. By race, sex, caste, family affiliation

      b. Nepotism issue?

6.   Physical security

      a. E..g., provide protective goggles, even if local law doesn’t require it; to not do so is to violate rights even though didn’t inflict injury directly

      b. Example where corporation have duty to protect a right from being deprived

          i.        Duties of protecting workers from physical threats of other workers (right to personal security)

7.   Speech and assembly

      a. Corporation obligated not to prevent emergence of labor unions by coercive tactics

      b. Refrain from lobbying host government for restrictions that violate this right

      c. Perhaps protest host governments practices that do this

8.   Minimal education

      a. MC not entitled to hire a 10 year old child for full time work

      b. For among other reasons, this blocks child’s ability to receive a minimally decent education

      c. Any MC action that blocks child’s ability to read/write, violates this right of hers

9.   Political participation

      a. In 50s, MC helped overthrow regime in Honduras

      b. Corps that support dictatorships in countries with growing democracies

      c. Corp that bribe public officials:

          i.        Lockheed bribed prime minster of Japan for $7 million to get a jet contract; undermines democratic system

          ii.       Not an objection to payments generally

      d. Foreign ownership of property at some point violates right to national self-determination; e.g., owning major segments of land and industry

10. Subsistence

      a. Buying land can contribute to starvation

      b. MC goes to a country where malnutrition is rampant

      c. Buys parcel of land that used to be farmed by sharecroppers who were given a portion of the crops by the land owner

      d. Converts the land from black beans to coffee; stable local food source to cash crop for export

      e. Result is local folks are malnourished

      f. MC violated the right to adequate food