October 05, 2020

Vantage Point

Samuel L. Brown, Issue Editor

Last year, I found myself in a remote corner of Central Africa. I was there to assist a multinational corporation identify and mitigate environmental, health, safety, and social risks at a mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The scope of the work included applying good international industry practices, benchmarking against technologies and operations in other countries, and ensuring operations are consistent with the laws and expectations in the DRC. This work crystallized in my mind the internationalization of environmental law. The experience also demonstrated the far-reaching implications of multinational corporations’ decisions and the demands on companies that operate globally.

A lot has happened in a year: a once-in-a-multiple-generation pandemic, critical questions on environmental justice, and rethinking how we live, work, and do business. The past year has reinforced that change is inevitable and the change we seek or expect may not be the change we receive. Similar to my experience in the DRC, the past year has also reinforced the interconnectedness of our communities—local and global—even if some seek to put up barriers.

Against this backdrop, this issue of NR&E is focused on multinational corporations and their role in these times of change. Multinational corporations have facilities, operations, and supply chains spread across the globe. These companies can have enormous influence—good and bad—on the environment and natural resources; the location of infrastructure and industrial development; the type of energy production utilized; social influences and human health impacts, including on indigenous populations; and climate change mitigation and adaptation, among other considerations.

In this issue, authors argue that multinational corporations can—and should—be a force for good to solve problems like climate change, it is in their interests to do so, and there should be a rethinking of what it means to be a corporation. Other authors contend that there need to be additional mechanisms to hold multinational corporations to task through legal measures, transparency initiatives, and other means, especially in the context of transnational environmental accountability. While some authors focus on the impact of Chinese-based companies on the environment around the globe, other authors analyze the challenges multinational corporations may face when operating within China given the rapidly changing legal landscape.

Authors in this issue also focus on the investment risks posed by climate change and the role nonfinancial disclosures may play in shifting investment toward sustainable development. Other authors identify changes to financial reporting and the influence on management of environmental, social, and corporate governance risks and opportunities. Authors also highlight new financial tools, like green loans, and explore how extra-legal standards can provide a framework to achieve compliance and execute corporate social responsibility strategies.

This issue also explores subject matter-specific issues, such as best practices for holistically managing chemical regulatory compliance and exposure across borders. Other authors address the evolving frameworks for plastics regulation and the implications for managing risks and seizing opportunities. Authors also highlight recommendations for changing the corporate tax system to encourage corporations to make decisions that benefit the environment and communities.

I am an optimist. As such, as we head into the twilight of 2020, it is my hope and expectation that out of these difficult and uncertain times there will be change for the better. Notably, irrespective of the outcome of any elections or specific government decisions, I believe the trend toward multinational corporations focusing on corporate social responsibility and environmental, social, and corporate governance will drive lasting and positive change, locally and globally.

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Samuel L. Brown, Issue Editor