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Exploitation, Trade Justice, and Corporate Obligations

  • Brian Berkey EMAIL logo


In On Trade Justice, Risse and Wollner defend an account of trade justice on which the central requirement, applying to both states and firms, is a requirement of non-exploitation. On their view, trade exploitation consists in ‘power-induced failure of reciprocity’, which generates an unfair distribution of the benefits and burdens associated with trade relationships. In this paper, I argue that while there are many appealing features of Risse and Wollner’s account, their discussion does not articulate and develop the unified picture of states’ and firms’ obligations that they aim to provide as clearly as it might have. In particular, it is, I claim, unclear exactly how they understand the relationship between the fairness-based requirements that apply to states and those that apply to firms. I argue that there are two types of accounts that they might accept: a transactional account and a structural account. I offer reasons to think that there are reasons to prefer a structural account. In addition, I note some of the key implications of accepting such an account, and suggest that if Risse and Wollner accept these implications and revise other aspects of their view accordingly, the result is a plausible and unified account of what trade justice requires.

Corresponding author: Brian Berkey, Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, University of Pennsylvania, 3730 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA, E-mail:


For helpful written comments, I am grateful to Christina Skinner. I have also benefitted from discussions with Vince Buccola, Rob Hughes, Julian Jonker, and Amy Sepinwall.


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Published Online: 2021-09-06
Published in Print: 2022-04-26

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