Meet the Book Author: The European Union, Emerging Global Business and Human Rights

Aleydis Nissen, Leiden University and Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) 

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Aleydis Nissen, who’s new book The European Union, Emerging Global Business and Human Rights was published in November 2022 with Cambridge University Press.

What is the book about? 

Emerging and developing countries are home to powerful corporations capable of deploying economic activities on a global scale. However, such corporations have to date been largely overlooked in the field of business and human rights. Treatment of such corporations has typically been in the context of supply chain studies, as subsidiaries of corporations from economically developed Western countries. 

My book takes a radically different approach. It aims to investigate the conditions under which the European Union (EU) and its Member States regulate and remedy human rights violations by private transnational corporations from emerging and developing countries (TNC-DECs). Stemming from the hypothesis that the EU intends to play a central role, I explore how the EU and its Member States attempt to ensure that EU-based businesses are not undercut by emerging competition. In doing so, I investigate the extent to which a level playing field is created in regulation (in laws and trade agreements) and civil judicial remediation. 

Why did you write it? 

My motivation for writing this book has always stayed the same. I drew much inspiration from management studies to write my proposal for this book project. In this proposal, I wrote the following about TNC-DECs: ‘These new global players don’t switch places of production and assets to low-cost countries strategically; they are born and built there. Although their characteristics are significantly different, they operate in the same environment as Western transnational corporations.’  

A sentence by Mauro Guillén and his co-authors has – in particular  –  always stuck with me.  They wrote ‘Growing up rough is not always a disadvantage. In fact, it builds character …’ in the 2015 Handbook of Emerging Market Multinational Corporations

How did you go about doing this research?

The focus on TNC-DECs shaped the language and contents of the book. For example, I could not use the concepts ‘host state’ and ‘home state’. Instead of researching supply chains, I had to study import restrictions.  And, of course, I had to investigate and integrate interactions between multiple legal orders.

This first part of the book discusses international law. It uses the doctrinal approach to introduce ideas and controversies that surround the legal scholarship on business and human rights. I revisited and commented upon, amongst others, debates on extraterritorial obligations, the social clause and cost-benefit critiques in transnational remediation. 

To study the perspective of the EU in the second part of the book, I researched to which extent all relevant EU regulation touching upon ‘business and human rights’ matters ‘extends to’ TNC-DECs. The discourse employed in the European Commission’s impact assessments lends itself particularly well to in-depth analysis of framing processes and strategies, as policy coordination is the prevalent interpretation given to these assessments.  It would have been impossible to investigate the perspective of all EU Member states. Therefore, I selected the two EU Member States that acted as norm innovators: France and the Netherlands. These EU Member States were the first to create laws that impose requirements for businesses to ‘know’ and ‘show’ what happens in their value chains. I analyzed the parliamentary debates of the French Law on Parent Corporations’ Vigilance (2017) and the Dutch Child Labour Duty of Care Law(2019). While remedying human rights violations by TNC-DECs is not regulated to a great extent at the EU level, I could find some ‘openings’ that make it possible – in theory – to bring them before Dutch or French courts. 

Finally, following in the footsteps of Alice Amsden, I conducted case studies in specific industries to obtain a careful assessment of what is happening ‘on the ground’.  The case studies in the third part of the book shed a light on how the EU exercises global regulatory influence via bi- and plurilateral trade agreements and participation in transnational regulatory networks. 

I invested one month in the selection of the case studies. I ultimately picked the Kenyan floriculture and Korean electronics industries as case studies because these studies seamlessly complement the chapters on France and the Netherlands. Both Dutch and Kenyan entrepreneurs are active in the Kenyan floriculture industry and most flowers are exported to the Dutch auction. The book, therefore, provides concrete insights into how local capacity building might remedy human rights violations by all corporations active in this industry. Furthermore, extraterritorial human rights claims against the South Korean conglomerate Samsunghave been brought in France. This made it possible to research the advantages and disadvantages of extraterritorial remediation vis-à-vis support for local remediation. 

I am now looking forward to present the book in the coming weeks. The first talk is planned at the Brussels School of Governance on 15 November. Additional dates will be published on the book website