Note – Corporate Codes of Conduct: Binding Contract or Ideal Publicity?

Haley Revak

Volume 63, Issue 6, 1645-1670

Over the last twenty years, most multi-national corporations have adopted corporate codes of conduct, partially due to incentives from the U.S. government. These self-imposed ethical credos set out basic policy standards to guide employees and officers, but they also serve to assure consumers that the products they purchase come from a principled organization. But as of yet, there has been no successful suit against a multinational corporation for violations of its code. Are these codes then nothing more than government-sanctioned golden publicity? Through the recent Doe v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. suit, this Note analyzes whether corporate codes of conduct are legally binding with regard to human rights violations at foreign supplier factories. After considering contract and tort theories of liability, as well as potential actions for violation of international treaties and false advertising, it remains unclear whether corporations can be legally held to their ethical claims. Ultimately, it may be most effective to look beyond the law—and the corporate code of conduct—in order to achieve justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad.

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