ESG, Geopolitics, and Human Rights in Disputed Territories

Rivlin, Galia | January 1, 2024

Business enterprises operating in the international sphere face pressing and persistent questions concerning their environmental, social, and governance responsibilities. As the number of disputes escalates worldwide, such questions become more acute. In addition to any voluntary social responsibilities business enterprises may have, a complex legal framework governs business activity in the context of human rights. This framework was designed to address governance shortfalls pertaining to transnational corporations. Business enterprises thus operate nowadays in a web of social standards and legal human rights responsibilities. The human rights responsibilities of business enterprises may be initially associated with forced labor or child labor cases; however, when it comes to disputed territories, other types of rights and considerations come into play that are closely connected to the dispute itself. In the context of disputed territories, especially occupied territories, two distinct questions arise: (1) whether the very presence of business enterprises in such territories is problematic in and of itself; and (2) whether business enterprises operating in disputed territories should be subject to the same human rights framework that applies to businesses operating elsewhere. This article unfolds a comprehensive analysis of these fundamental questions and the complexities they present. It thereby uncovers a number of novel yet pragmatic insights that pave the way toward alleviating the tension among geopolitics, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, and international law.