Abstract: Building on John Rawls’s account of the Law of Peoples, this paper examines the grounds and scope of the obligations of transnational corporations that are owned by members of developed economies and operate in developing economies. The paper advances two broad claims. First, the paper argues that there are conditions under which TNCs have obligations to fulfill a limited duty of assistance toward those living in developing economies, even though the duty is normally understood to fall on the governments of developed economies. Second, by extending Rawls’s account to include a right to protection against arbitrary interference, the paper argues that TNCs can be said to have negative and positive obligations in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and environmental protection, as outlined in the U.N. Global Compact. More generally, the paper aims to further our understanding of the implications of Rawls’s account of justice.
Comment: This paper is particularly useful in teaching on international business ethics and as further reading on Rawls. It also offers interesting insights into wider issues related to duty of assistance and moral relativism.