Chicago Journal of International Law

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A notable development in recent years has been the ubiquity of the giant multinational corporation and its ability, through legal structures, to insulate itself from liability for the conduct of its foreign subsidiaries. In effect, multinational corporations simultaneously become legally invisible in their home states while potentially present through subsidiaries in innumerable other states.This Article focuses on multinational corporations whose parent companies are at home in a developed country while their subsidiaries operate in states in the developing world, and specifically where the foreign subsidiaries are alleged to have violated norms of universal human rights. It examines current legal theory and offers a comparative perspective on legislative and judicial traditions and innovations in several home states of large multinational parent companies. The Article includes an exposé of relevant aspects of the new Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law of the United States, approved by a vote of the American Law Institute as of May 2016. The overall goal of the Article is to explore various legal methods by which parent-subsidiary human rights liability might be harmonized. In the aftermath of the Second World War and its upheavals, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed the basis of subsequent international human rights concepts, and may thus serve as a point of departure when considering victim rights. In the current era of transnationalization and deterritorialization, law has produced new challenges to human rights as circumstances have altered and destabilized existing structures. We have seen the ability of large corporations to operate across the globe beyond the reach of states with stricter human rights standards of conduct than often exist in the developing world. This is in part because universal human rights so far have had little success in practice in implementing claims of universality or extraterritorial jurisdiction.

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