Public Law, Private Actors: The Impact of Human Rights on Business Investors in China Symposium: Doing Business in China

Orentlicher, Diane F., Gelatt, Timothy A. | January 1, 1993

Should companies invest at all in countries, like China, where severe human rights abuses are pervasive? If they do invest, should they restrict their operations to areas of the country that have a comparatively good human rights record? Are there basic principles that transnational companies should observe to ensure, at a minimum, that they do not become complicit in a host government’s abrogation of universally-recognized human rights? Should such principles be enforced by Executive or congressional fiat, or should companies take primary responsibility for policing themselves? How can companies that wish to factor human rights considerations into their business decisions be assured that they will not pay a price in lost investment opportunities or reduced market share? This article addresses these questions in light of relevant principles of international law and U.S. foreign policy. A central thesis of this article is that businesses that may or do invest in China bear a responsibility to ensure that their actions do not, however inadvertently, contribute to the systematic denial of human rights in the PRC. We believe, moreover, that international human rights law provides an objective basis for identifying those responsibilities.