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In
International Political Economy, there are many theories that discuss global
inequalities and the North-South divide. One of these perspectives is the Dependency Theory, which was coined
in the 1950s.1
One of its founders, Theotonio Dos Santos, describes dependence as “a situation in
which the economy of certain countries is conditioned by the development and
expansion of another economy to which the former is subjected”. In short, it is
understood as the idea
of resources flowing from a “periphery” of colonized states to a
“core” of imperial
states, enriching the latter at the
expense of the former.2

The dependency theory can be used to
analyze the role of environmental racism in the imperial legacy of
international law. From the colonial period to the present, international law
has perpetuated beliefs and ideologies that justified Northern political,
economic, and military interventions in the South in order to achieve “civilization”
or “development”.3
This relates to human rights law, as it is based on the natural law notion that
humans possess certain inalienable and fundamental rights by virtue of their
humanity, and that such rights obtain in all places and at all times regardless
of what the positive law provides.4
Southern scholars have pointed out that international law has historically been
used by the North to justify the conquest and dispossession of Southern
peoples.  International law has been used
to excuse Northern corporations from stealing from and exploiting the global
south, as seen in the Chevron-Ecuador case. It has additionally been deployed
to legitimize military intervention and economic reconstruction in places like
Iraq and Afghanistan for Northern economic and political interests. In the
words of Makau Mutua, “international human rights fall within the
historical continuum of the European colonial project in which whites pose as
the saviors of a benighted and savage non-European world.”5

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The achievement of political
independence by the Latin American colonies in the 19th century did not
significantly alter the South’s involuntary dependence on a world economy
dominated by the global North.6
Because the global market tended to favor manufactured goods over primary
commodities, the global South found themselves trapped in a cycle that
prevented them from obtaining the capital to diversify or industrialize their own
local economies.7
Efforts to boost national earnings by increasing the production of natural
goods generally created a glut of primary commodities on global markets that
depressed prices, reduced Southern export earnings, and only reinforced
Southern economic vulnerability.8
The South’s economic dependency enabled the North to exploit Southern resources
at prices that did not reflect the social and environmental consequences of
export production.9
Historian Clive Ponting observes:

 

“Political and economic control of a
large part of the world’s resources enabled the industrialized world to live
beyond the constraints of its immediate resource base. Raw materials were
readily available for industrial development, food could be imported to supply
a rapidly rising population, and a vast increase in consumption formed the
basis for the highest material standard of living ever achieved in the world.

Much of the price of that achievement was paid by the population of the Third
World in the form of exploitation, poverty, and human suffering”.10

 

Conclusion: Corporate Responsibility

Chevron’s impact in The
Oriente is not only a contemporary issue. For centuries, imperial powers have
exploited the peoples and resources of the global south in order to fuel their
own economies. In the modern day, imperialism is still alive through global
politics and the capitalist system.

Human rights law and institutions
are inextricably linked with the power relations that enable corporations to
evade responsibility for their abuse and destruction of the land of vulnerable
states and peoples. In order to realize the emancipatory potential of
environmental human rights, one should develop a non-Eurocentric account of the
situation, amplify the voices of grassroots activists and members of affected
communities in order to improve the understanding of environmental human rights
law, and develop legal theories that will directly challenge the systemic human
rights violations of the global economic order. Environmental human rights
litigation must not only analyze colonized nations, but also the colonial nations
that wield enormous power over the policies of the governments of the global
south. Human rights law and policy must continue to recognize and vigorously
enforce collective human rights in relation to nature, and the rights of future
generations of the world’s most at-risk populations. It must evolve so that it
may meet the needs and aspirations of grassroots social justice movements, and
put emphasis on local and indigenous concepts of human dignity.

 

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