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  • Multinational companies are getting bigger and bigger.

  • This show will look at what the future might hold.

  • Will countries start to use that power for themselves?

  • And could the law make companies a force for good?

  • Huawei: the company that many fear is being

  • used by China - for spying.

  • And how could the immense power of corporations and their billionaires

  • be used to help people around the world?

  • Of course, countries will still be powerful in 50 years' time.

  • Nations will go on competing with each other.

  • Businesses have been used as part of that in the past.

  • Is Chinese phone company, Huawei, already showing how

  • old rivalries might look in the future?

  • Huawei equipment has been used

  • in new mobile networks in many western countries

  • you might even own a Huawei phone.

  • But western intelligence chiefs warn it could be used

  • by China for spying or even sabotage.

  • They're worried the Chinese government controls the company.

  • Lots of nations are banning its technology.

  • It goes all the way back to them being founded by a former

  • officer of the Chinese military, to the fact that their organisational

  • structure isn't well known, and the fact that there are some

  • pretty damning lawsuits out there regarding the theft of trade secrets.

  • Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the company's founder and also

  • Huawei's chief finance officer, has been charged with stealing

  • trade secrets by China's main rival, the US.

  • So, what can the law do if competing countries

  • and their companies become even closer?

  • Dr Russell Buchan from the University of Sheffield explained

  • how hard it is to prove a country is hiding behind a company:

  • A state can be be responsible under international law for

  • the acts of non-state actors, actors, such as companies,

  • where the act of that non-state actor can be attributed to the state.

  • Now, attribution is a very particular technical concept of

  • international law, but in order for attribution be established,

  • certain factors need to be present: for example,

  • the state has to instruct or direct the acts of the non-state actor.

  • The state will will also have to support the acts of the non-state actor:

  • for example, through training, through the provision of finances,

  • or other forms of technical support.

  • To prove countries are using companies, states have to be

  • shown to be supporting a company and telling them what to do.

  • Why would a country hide behind a company?

  • If a state acts through a company but the acts of that company

  • cannot be attributed to the state under international law,

  • then it follows that the state will not held responsible legally for any

  • violations of international law that that company would otherwise commit.

  • For example, by intervening in the internal affairs of

  • other states or, for example, by interfering with the

  • human-rights protection of individuals located elsewhere in the world.

  • Hiding behind behind a company means countries can avoid certain

  • responsibilities: that includes certain human-rights agreements.

  • Is this something international organisations are worrying about?

  • International organisations are very worried about states avoiding

  • their legal responsibilities by acting through non-state actors.

  • And in recent years we've seen international organisations

  • push for different standards, lower standards,

  • for attributing the acts of non-state actors to states.

  • So, we're moving away from the question of whether states exercise

  • effective control over non-state actors and looking to more relaxed

  • and less stringent standards such as, for example, whether the state is

  • exercising overall control over the acts of non-state actors.

  • International organisations worry about states hiding from

  • the law behind companies. Some are trying to change the law to

  • make it it easier to link a company to a country. Will that happen soon?

  • Including non-state actors within the framework of international

  • law has always been very difficult,

  • so it's very unlikely that international law will regulate

  • directly and specifically the acts of of non-state actors.

  • However, international law is increasingly looking to establish

  • a closer relationship between non-state actors and the state

  • and, by doing so, they can ensure that states do not avoid

  • their legal responsibilities under international law.

  • It's very hard to use international law on companies, but lawyers are

  • trying to make sure they follow rules by linking them more to countries.

  • So, it's hard to prove that a country is hiding behind a company.

  • But lawyers are working to make it easier.

  • Looking to the future, will companies get more powerful than countries?

  • Tesla founder Elon Muskat one point the richest person on the planet

  • is so powerful that when he added '#bitcoin' to his

  • Twitter profile page, the online currency's market value rose by 50%.

  • Could the opposite happen in future?

  • Could a giant company ruin a nation by devaluing its currency?

  • Or could the opposite be true? A company trading in two countries

  • works better if those countries get on well enough to allow easy trade.

  • How could companies use their power to promote peace?

  • And what about how they behave? Could good working conditions

  • and fair pay be forced on big companies?

  • Would they spread good practices around the world?

  • So, are companies and their owners getting too powerful for the law?

  • Ranjan Agarwal, who's dealt with some huge companies, gave us his opinion:

  • In many countries there are laws that make officers and directors liable

  • for the acts of their companies. I believe that in recent years

  • we've seen more and more countries enforce those laws against officers

  • and directors, in order to not only hold the companies,

  • but also the leadership of those companies, accountable for

  • violations of human-rights law, environmental law and labour laws.

  • Ranjan says there are lots of laws which limit powerful companies.

  • Importantly, many countries are increasingly using their laws against

  • big companies and their owners. But how about the future?

  • I believe that the law is ever-changing.

  • So, for example, in many countries one tool

  • that is used to hold companies accountable is class actions,

  • where a single individual can sue on behalf of an entire community

  • to hold a company accountable under the domestic law

  • and hopefully change the behaviour of that company

  • and other companies like it in the future.

  • Laws such as class actions, where one person sues

  • on behalf of many people,

  • could be used to make companies behave.

  • But are companies trying to influence lawmakers?

  • I believe that many companies see themselves as partners

  • in the process of establishing norms

  • that can govern environmental and social governance.

  • Though these companies in some places may have undue influence,

  • I believe that many states and many political leaders understand that

  • this is a project that has to be run and forwarded by nation states,

  • using companies as partners, as opposed to influencers.

  • Companies often work with governments to help shape laws,

  • but he believes lawmakers are trying to limit their influence.

  • So, is the law good enough to contain big companies in future?

  • I believe that the current system that we have developed

  • in international law is fit for purpose.

  • I think that requiring nation states to invoke domestic laws

  • at home that mirror international treaties or international norms

  • is an effective and efficient way of dealing with the problem.

  • I think the challenge for the international community

  • is establishing agreement or consensus

  • on what those expectations or norms should be.

  • Ranjan believes that international law is fit for purpose:

  • he says the big challenge is to decide what type of society

  • we want the law to protect.

  • We've seen that countries can sometimes try to hide

  • behind companies to get round certain international laws,

  • and that the influence of multinational companies is getting ever bigger.

  • But we've also seen that international law can limit their power

  • and help us decide what kind of world we want to live in.

Multinational companies are getting bigger and bigger.

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The future of companies - BBC Learning English

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/10/15
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