- Children's Rights and Business: Governing Obligations and Responsibility by Gamze Erdem Türkelli
Gamze Erdem Türkelli's book Children's Rights and Business is an extraordinary academic achievement that will be quite useful to human rights practitioners. For one thing, it brings together two topics that, inexplicably enough, have generally remained apart from one another. Beyond this, the book delivers a devasting blow to the state-centric myopia of international law, including international human rights law, simultaneously providing a broadside against the way in which "responsibility" under human rights law has been assigned.
Erdem Türkelli begins by establishing the particular vulnerability of children to business and then goes on to show [End Page 969] through several well documented case studies how younger demographics have been left unprotected against a wide array of egregious business practices. Throughout the decades there have been any number of voluntary measures intended to regulate the worst forms of corporate abuses—or at least to give the impression of doing so—and yet there continues to be scant evidence of any discernable improvement in the lives of children, which perhaps should surprise no one.
The author proposes a much different approach. Rather than confining herself to the "home" and "host" state debate, Erdem Türkelli argues that what has been lost in discussion is the notion that multinational corporations have human rights obligations that are separate and distinct from whatever obligations states themselves have. Pointing to the enormous gaps in protection that continue to exist, Erdem Türkelli argues that every single "participant" in the international economic order has human rights responsibilities. She writes:
Replacing subjecthood with participation would allow not just businesses but also other international and domestic entities and even individuals to be considered to have rights and duties on the international plane, including duties in the field of international human rights law. Furthermore, participation also presupposes capacity: in order to be able to participate, the actor has to have the capacity to participate. Just as importantly, participation also presupposes the intent to participate.1
One of the most significant contributions Children's Rights and Business makes to studies of international human rights is its re-conceptualization of where (and when) human rights violations occur and who has played a part in these transgressions. All too often, international human rights law has focused almost exclusively on the violation endpoint, repeatedly ignoring the myriad of other actors involved.
Consider a typical case of land grabbing where an entire community gets displaced to make way for a mining operation. With rare exception, nearly all that we have been able to see is the dispossession itself, along with at least some of the human rights consequences that flow from this. At the same time, there has been a strong tendency to ignore the actions and omissions of a wide range of other actors. Looking "upstream," this would include any number of private and public banks (including the World Bank), insurance companies, stock exchanges, pension funds, and so on that provide essential funding and other kinds of support for this project. On the "downstream" side would be the businesses that subsequently make use of this raw material.
This is not to suggest that each one of these entities is, or should be, "responsible" for the ensuing human rights violations in the same way. Still, as Erdem Türkelli is quick to point out: "The issue of the magnitude of a contribution to a rights violation is in fact a consideration in the distribution of responsibility and not in its attribution."2
In terms of solutions, Erdem Türkelli draws upon the work of Elinor Ostrom and others, calling for a polycentric approach which would include both bottom-up and top-down measures, depending on what would provide the [End Page 970] most human rights protection. The key to this polycentric approach is the explicit recognition that all entities—states and nonstate actors alike—have human rights obligations. Erdem Türkelli fully understands the revolutionary implications of this, while also...