The Right to Food: Holding Global Actors Accountable Under International Law

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Economic globalization represents both an unmet opportunity and a significant challenge for the fulfillment of social and economic rights, including the right to food. While corporate sector accountability and the responsibility of international financial institutions (IFIs) to ensure social and economic rights are now at the forefront of the globalization discourse, greater attention must be paid to how these actors can be held accountable under international law. The existing human rights legal framework is ill-equipped to deal with violations committed by non-state actors, such as transnational corporations (TNCs), and multi-state actors, such as IFIs. Using the right to food as an entry point, this Article argues that international law is in need of rethinking under globalization. Part I examines the impact of IFIs and TNCs on the right to food and argues that effective implementation of the right to food is undermined by international human rights law’s state-centric focus and jurisdictional constraints. Part II asserts that under the obligation of international cooperation, States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) must respect and protect the right to food extraterritorially.  This includes an obligation to regulate the activities of TNCs and IFIs over which they exercise influence or control. Part III addresses the need to locate the right to food outside of the international treaty law framework to ensure the accountability of non-ICESCR ratifying states. It analyzes the right to food as customary international law and concludes that the minimum core component of the right to food–the right to be free from hunger–may have already achieved customary status.