On Friday, September 15, 2017 Professor Kish Parella presented at Corporations on Trial: International Criminal and Civil Liability For Corporations for Human Rights Violations that was held at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and co-sponsored by CWRU’s Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, Center for Professional Ethics, and Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, the American Society of International Law, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and the Greater Cleveland International Lawyer’s Group. As explained in the conference program, “the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court recently announced that she is interested in pursuing indictments against corporations for crimes against humanity, and the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments this fall on whether corporations can be sued for human rights violations.” The conference explored various approaches that have been undertaken to deter, punish, and redress human rights abuses by corporations and included comments from Hon. Thomous Buergenthal, Former Judge of the International Court of Justice, and Ambassador David Scheffer, Former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues.
Professor Parella presented her essay, “Brand as Information Intermediary in the Supply Chain,” in which she proposes that we can improve the information available concerning conduct in global supply chains if we view some corporations as information intermediaries and not as merely subjects of information disclosure. This view is consistent with the information role of at least one subset of transnational corporations: brand corporations. Parella suggest that in many supply chains the function of a transnational corporation is best conceived of as an information intermediary. The corporation has outsourced practically all of the functions we associate with it to one or more third party suppliers: manufacturing, research and development, marketing, sales, and customer support. These functions are performed by as an overseas supplier that “makes” the product. The transnational corporation sells information products often through its brand; in this way, it is operating as an information intermediary. We may not purchase the good from the overseas supplier because we are unfamiliar with it and cannot verify the quality of the product before purchase. Therefore, we rely on the information conveyed by the transnational corporation, often through its brand, when we make our purchasing decisions. The overseas supplier cannot have access to this market (or at the same cost) without selling through the transnational corporation. The corporation acts as an intermediary that facilitates market exchanges by providing information through its brand that induces Group A (buyers) to exchange with Group B (overseas suppliers). Recognizing the information intermediary role of corporations influences the way we regulate information related to them. Specifically, we can learn lessons from how information intermediaries are regulated in other corporate contexts. In these other contexts, public actors have recognized that information intermediaries not only provide information concerning a third party actor but can, in certain contexts, take steps to deter wrongdoing by that actor. Their willingness to do so depends on the incentives created in the regulation that applies to them. This means that not all information regulation strategies are created equal. While they may all prove effective at shining a light on conditions in supply chains, some strategies might be better at incentivizing intermediary cooperation than others. Therefore, viewing corporations as information intermediaries provides us with a useful lens to evaluate competing strategies for information regulation concerning the supply chain.