Jay Butler

Corporate Commitment to International Law

New York University Journal of International Law and Politics
2021 Winter

UVA Law Faculty Affiliations


Corporations are increasingly important actors in international law. But, vital questions underlying this development have long gone unanswered: how and why do corporations commit to international law?

This Article constructs a general account of business interaction with international legal obligation and suggests that a gateway to demystifying this persistent puzzle lies in corporate opinio juris.

Corporate opinio juris describes a company’s subscription to a rule of international law, even though the company is not technically bound by that rule itself. This subscription functions as a kind of pledge that, once made, has sway over the company and its peers, but also symbiotically
enhances the authority of international law. Corporate opinio juris provides a common rubric to bring together insights derived from subfields of international law where these corporate pledges to follow international law have been documented, and it serves as a paradigm according to which we
may better understand how and why companies adhere to international law.

The Article then unpacks how various structures within business law and management theory help to predict the formation of corporate commitments to international law, and it reveals that corporate opinio juris holds potentially sweeping implications for international law generally.


Jay Butler, Corporate Commitment to International Law, 53 New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 433–500 (2021).

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