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Human Rights Quarterly 28.1 (2006) 289-297

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Companies, International Trade and Human Rights, by Jane Dine (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

In the first chapter of Companies, International Trade and Human Rights, Janet Dine reminds us that John Rawls famously designed a hypothetical model in which the structure and governance of a society would be arrived at from "behind a veil of ignorance."1 Under Rawls' model, at the moment of designing this society "no-one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like."2 What Rawls hoped to do with this model was provide a "conception of social justice" against which "the distributive aspects of the basic structure of society are to be assessed such that the assignation of rights and duties in society and the designation of social advantages can be seen clearly."3

Rawls himself thought the application of his "Theory of Justice" was limited in the context of the law of nations and relations between states.4 However, when one is attempting to retract the layers of acceptance and complacency through which we view our own social condition, even if that social condition includes global or international phenomena, Rawls' model is a very good place to start re-seeing and rethinking the current societal order. [End Page 289]

Janet Dine's most recent book,5 Companies, International Trade and Human Rights, is an exploration into the societal constructs or "systemic forces" that create, facilitate, and perpetuate the abject poverty and growing wealth disparities in the world today.6 It is a broad, though succinct, inquiry into what Rawls characterized as the "distributive aspects of the basic structure"7 of modern-day society in which corporations and international trade play a central role. In her first chapter, Dine asks whether we are currently in a state of global crisis and identifies vast current wealth disparities and vast distributive inequalities. Rawls provides the theoretical framework with which she closes the gap between empirically evident inequalities and her conclusion that we are indeed in a global crisis due to this extreme injustice.

Dine uses empirical evidence to demonstrate that the world's poor are becoming more and more impoverished while the wealthy extract more and more wealth. Combining this data with Rawls' theory of a just society and Thomas Pogge's theory that humans tend toward beliefs and systems that will favor themselves, she concludes that rational actors designing a society under a veil of ignorance would design a system that protects the poor and under-served. She further contends that the system in which we live would not be the optimal system designed under a veil of ignorance because it does not follow either of the two principles that Rawls identifies: The first requires equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties, while the second holds that social and economic inequalities, for example inequalities of wealth and authority, are just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least-advantaged members of society. These principles rule out justifying institutions on the grounds that the hardships of some are offset by a greater good in the aggregate.8

Dine thus concludes that there is a global crisis9 —including a poverty crisis as well as a crisis of justice—that she determines to address. She sets out to "investigate the role played by companies in this failure of the globalization of trade to realize its aims, in particular the failure to achieve the minimum of basic rights."10

The organization of the book is straightforward. After she determines that a global crisis exists, Dine moves forward by considering the reasons and reasoning behind the current situation. Dine begins by taking a step back, as if [End Page 290] to consider the entirety of the situation in which we now find ourselves. From this position she is able to consider the daunting breadth of the subject she has undertaken—the interplay...


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