Shadow multinationals

Shadow multinationals

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By Carlos Miguélez Monroy

The countries where many of these companies come from are among some of the Human Rights Council states that voted against the UN resolution. Or they abstained. If they do it with a simple resolution that creates a working group to draw up a treaty, it is hard to believe that they will sign a binding treaty within a few years. International agreements only have an effect on the countries that sign and ratify them, which would give the alleged courts limited powers to act against companies from those countries.

On the other hand, attributing a violation of human rights raises difficulties, especially at the level of responsibility. It cannot be attributed to a multinational without names, surnames and a certain legal personality. Responsibility will have to be attributed to the members of the boards of directors and shareholders, the executive directors, the middle managers or the workers. Is the crime imputed to whoever carries out an order or who gives it? When the fault is committed by a company outsourced for security services, who is responsible? The company that subcontracts or the subcontractor that commits the fault? What if it is committed by a company subcontracted by the government for functions that correspond to the state as a body that guarantees certain fundamental rights?

On the other hand, such a treaty may encounter the same obstacles that the victims of human rights violations faced in high-profile trials against multinationals such as Royal Dutch and Shell. In the end, these giants get out of court settlements. Crumbs for them but which, for the victims, represent millionaire amounts that they cannot reject, although the abuses they suffered are never actually repaired.

The multinational concept poses difficulties for international law as we know it. To begin with, it is increasingly difficult to define the nationality of a company. Is it defined based on where it is registered, where it has its headquarters or its commercial activity? What if you have multiple locations? More and more they are registered in tax havens, where their activity is protected by means of bank secrecy and opacity. This poses difficulties in defining the competent forum to judge abuses.

On the other hand, how to demand from multinationals what other national companies do not comply with. They themselves cut rights with the excuse of reducing the deficit to get out of the crisis: cuts in labor rights, health and education. A few months ago, the Madrid government was willing to modify its anti-tobacco law and its labor laws to ensure that magnate Sheldon Adelson would build Eurovegas in the Spanish capital. The list of demands was so embarrassing in the end that even the current government rejected it.

The fight against the abuses of multinationals involves strengthening the state, weakened by the increasingly invisible door that separates government jobs from jobs in energy companies privatized a few years ago and others that are key to the economy.

The United Nations system is made up of the states. Promising protection from companies that camouflage themselves in power structures is equivalent to selling smoke to vulnerable citizens when the state itself does not fulfill its obligations to respect, enforce, protect and promote the rights that correspond to all of us.


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