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University of Baltimore Journal of International Law

Abstract

Transnational Corporations (TNCs), especially those operating in developing countries, have enormous socio-economic power— sometimes more than states. Many TNCs seek poor and unregulated markets, employing cheap, underage and fragile children, so they can create an economic competitive advantage and meet increasing international marketing demands. While many of them bring business and prosperity to a region, the damages can outweigh these benefits they perpetuate when behaving irresponsibly - occasionally irreparably - detrimentally impacting on children’s enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The problem is exacerbated when national governments are unable or unwilling to regulate TNCs’ operations. It shall be argued that despite the private legal status of TNCs, they are subjected to human rights obligations because some forms of exploitative child labor has become universally condemned and thus possess jus cogens status. The analysis shows that there is no deficiency within international human right standards regarding child labor and these maybe interpreted as giving direct obligations to TNCs to respect, protect and fulfill children’s rights. The rising numbers of exploitative child labor, however, raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of those standards to adequately regulate powerful TNCs, which are not limited to concepts of territorial sovereignty. The results of the research depicts the desperate need for a renewed international legal framework going beyond soft law approaches, to clearly define legal obligations and methods to enforce responsibilities on: TNCs; states; other non-state actors; and the child itself, which is key to ensuring effective protection and fulfillment of children’s rights.

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