The Role of Multinational Corporations

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‘The Role of Multinational Corporations in Enhancing Human Rights in Africa: The Illusion of Empiricism’

Literature and discourse relating to Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and human rights is ubiquitous with theoretical contestation on the merits and demerits of the potential harmonious existence of the two. Some argue that by virtue of the consequential results of their business operations, MNC’s have the potential to alleviate human suffering. For others, they are the cause of it. Advocates of both perspectives draw on a mixture of factual experiences and theoretical propositions to substantiate their positions. Empirical analysis is often used to differing degrees, and with differing levels of success, to further authenticate these dichotomised positions. Diverging standpoints, when empirically endorsed, however, ensure that no coherent theory can be extrapolated and applied to specific location and circumstance. With competing views, respectively backed up by statistical data, no overarching determination can be made as to the potential effects of the economic operations of these entities. It is suggested therefore that the trajectory of discourse should be altered so as to assess this relationship from a business perspective first, and a human rights perspective second. That is, in altering positional focus to whether or not human rights is good for business, theoretical suggestions may be legitimately substantiated in the absence of unequivocal empirical data by assessing the extent to which MNCs are in fact likely to respect human rights.


In 1996 William Meyer’s work, which supported theories that MNCs have an overall beneficial impact on both first and second generation rights in developing countries, appeared in Human Rights Quarterly. Using Data from Freedom House and the Commerce Department, and while acknowledging that MNCs have at times had a detrimental effect on human rights, Meyer argued that civil and political...
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