This book “examines the role of international law in constituting and sustaining injustice in the international economic order”. In actuality, it comes across as more of a radical critique of everything that is wrong with the international economic model as it stands today. From cover to cover, the antagonist is the modern multinational corporation [MNC], the ultimate beneficiary of neoliberal economic policies, whose unbridled business practices are accused of creating enormous wealth for the few and misery for the remaining many.
The book is organized into five main sections consisting of eight chapters, with a common theme being injustice stemming from the shortcomings in four areas of international law. These four areas are International Trade (Chapter 4), Foreign Investment (Chapter 5), Global Finance (Chapter 6), and Human Rights (Chapter 7). The language and tone used can at times be confrontational and challenges mainstream “neoliberal” notions of international law and its institutions.
In Chapter 1 the authors lay the blame for poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth squarely on the predication of international law on “private property and commodification and so the social and political values that are constitutive of economies as much as property and contract have been forsaken” (p.3).
Chapter 2 is even more confrontational, as the chapter heading suggests: “Confronting the Pathologies of International Law: From Neoliberalism to Justice” (p. 38). The authors suggest that modern international law inherits inherent injustices from recent empire and colonial pasts, during which imperial rule over much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America was rationalized and justified. The attempt to liberate “second and third world countries” from the history of imperialism in the form of the New International Economic Order [NIEO] is discussed in Chapter 3.
The World Trade Organization [WTO] and its mandate to proliferate free trade, the authors argue in Chapter 4, unfairly enriches developed economies at the expense of developing and least developed ones. The result, the authors point out, “is a failure of contemporary trade agreements to respect pluralism of non-trade value among states and to privilege trade over non-trade values” (p. 112). The authors do not, however, suggest that the trade agreements be rewritten or that new agreements be negotiated. They appear to suggest instead that liberalized trade and investment agreements be made to meet demands of justice with the introduction of “institutional structures integrating trade, investment, and social justice into non-fragmented rules regimes” (p. 129). The authors go on to elaborate how international treaties on foreign investment (p. 146) and the global finance systems (p. 175) are as much to blame as an unjust international trade system for adding unjustifiable strain to already overburdened, underprivileged, and lesser developed people groups.
The provocative approach taken in this book to challenge mainstream international law doctrine is certainly unconventional. It stops short, however, of prescribing solutions. Indeed, the authors describe this book as one of “critique and not of prescription”, concluding that “the disorder of international law needs to be exposed if there is to be change for the better” (p. 274).