Global Justice and the Role of Stakeholding

AuthorThom Brooks
Date01 January 2021
Published date01 January 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
58(1) 7 –24, 2021
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
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DOI: 10.1177/0020881720983720
Research Article
Global Justice and the
Role of Stakeholding
Thom Brooks1
Most research in global justice considers international distributive justice
from a perspective of what duties, if any, affluent states have towards people
in severe poverty. The debate usually focuses on whether positive or negative
duties are most relevant and how they should be applied. This article challenges
this orthodoxy by defending stakeholder theory as a promising new approach
overcoming limitations in current debates through promotion of the virtue of
stakeholders having a say where they have a stake.
Global justice, Miller, negative duties, Pogge, positive duties, severe poverty,
singer, stakeholding
Most global justice theorists hold an orthodox view notwithstanding other
differences. This is the position that international distributive justice should be
considered from a perspective of what duties, if any, affluent states have towards
people in severe poverty. Theorists disagree about whether we should be satisfied
by either a positive duty, negative duty or some remedial responsibility, but all
view the central issue about what ‘we’ in affluent states might owe to others.
This article challenges this orthodoxy and its ‘us and them’ approach to global
justice. It argues that the orthodox view should be jettisoned for two reasons.
First, it wrongly views global justice as an ends-means project. Our goal should
be more than ending severe poverty if possible, but the pursuit of human
flourishing. Second, the orthodox view understands global justice as a one-way
street about what we in affluent states might owe to others, but without regard to
how the voices of others should feed into this project.
1Professor, Dean & Chair in Law and Government, Durham Law School, Durham University,
Durham, United Kingdom.
Corresponding author:
Thom Brooks, Durham Law School, Durham University, Durham, DH1 3LE, United Kingdom.
8 International Studies 58(1)
Discussion of virtue ethics appears to be missing not only from the leading
work in global justice, but also from work on distributive justice. This raises
important issues about why this is the case such as why the promotion of human
flourishing is absent in the literature concerning key contributions to economic
justice. This is perhaps all the more surprising in the field of global justice, where
most discussions focus on our duties, if any, for individuals in severe poverty to
enable flourishing. Our theories of justice—and not least global justice—appear
to have either overlooked or abandoned the virtues as a relevant factor.
I defend an idea of stakeholding extracted from business ethics and given a new
context. Stakeholding is an approach grounded in virtue ethics, in the promotion
of human flourishing, which provides it with a normative core. It is the position
that those who have a stake should have a say in outcomes that affect them.
Stakeholding should have a powerful presence in global justice as a rival to the
orthodox view because it offers a more compelling argument for our prioritizing
human flourishing and not only bare survival, and it takes more seriously the
voices of those in need. Stakeholding illuminates a bright future path for global
justice that is grounded in virtue ethics. My defence considers its practical
application and, specifically, in relation to Martha Nussbaum’s capability approach.
A Standard Approach to Global Justice
The dominant approach taken by global justice theories is to view global justice
in an ends-means way. The focus is on overcoming severe poverty and human
flourishing above bare subsistence. These theories become silent if severe poverty
is overcome, and they offer little by way of justice between states otherwise. This
section examines three different theories about international distributive justice—
positive duties, negative duties and also remedial responsibilities. The purpose of
this article is not to present an exhaustive exploration of each view, but instead
highlight its most prominent and influential contributions to show that they each
share common problems despite their diversity.
Positive Duties
Positive duties are duties to provide rescue to other persons in great need because
this rescue can be provided (Armstrong, 2012, p. 23). Our individual responsibility
is an irrelevant consideration. This approach to global justice is best championed
by Peter Singer in his famous 1972 essay. Singer argues that the most pressing
global problems like severe poverty can also seem so distant to us. We might also
think that the geographical distances can impact on our moral duties. Singer
rejects that view and claims that it is not the space between us that has moral
significance, but instead the relative balancing of moral costs arising from our
possible actions.
Singer (1972, p. 231) says: ‘if it is in our power to prevent something bad from
happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance,

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