Vilena Nicolet, MJIL Staff Member

The brutal annexation of Crimea by Russia caused uproar in the international community. However, the attempts to remedy the situation failed—Crimea has become part of Russia and left the world cartographers such as Google Maps with a struggle on how to make “everyone” happy drafting politically neutral maps.[1] How come in the twenty-first century, when one state invades another, such powerful actors in the international arena—corporations[2]—remain silently neutral[3] hesitating to give it a proper label? There might be a problem in the approach the international community takes to resolving the issue.

The answer to the problem is the recognition of the positive duty to react to any international law violations, which is essential to the survival of the world and humanity. If we really believe in what we preach, the duty to act under the circumstances ranging from silent complicity to direct complicity should be imposed on the strong and powerful corporate actors.

Duty to act under the circumstances of silent complicity should be limited to the acts of raising concerns about human rights and international law violations. The “Sullivan-Plus” Principles reflect the rationale behind imposing on corporate actors the minimum duty to act. The “Sullivan-Plus” is a new set of principles that encompasses the new concept of complicity and the interests of the parties it will be applied to. The “Sullivan-Plus Principles” include:

  1. Taking a stance in case a host state violates international law;
  2. Influencing other companies to take a stance;
  3. Working to promote public awareness about international law violations by a host state;
  4. Using company’s resources to promote and educate company’s clients and general public about international law violations by a host state;
  5. Uniting with other companies in disapproval of host state’s international law violations;
  6. Disapproval and company’s stance should be shared by all its subsidiaries and entities in all regions of the world it operates in.[4]

To implement the “Sullivan-Plus” Principles, the home states should encourage companies to promote international values by either providing them with benefits that have monetary value or withholding those benefits for non-compliance. Divestment and withdrawal from the area is not an effective means in addressing silent complicity, because by doing that the basic ideas of the importance of human rights and international law will remain the values of the western culture only; and the rest of the world will continue to view them as a pretense for intrusion by the West.

The example of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is not unique. Because such powerful actors as corporations remain silent or ambiguous in similar situations, the message from the West remains short of reaching its goal—the disapproval of acts that demonstrate the lack of respect for human rights and international law. Instead, the message is considered as an insincere attempt to pretend the basic values of the rule of law matter.


[1] Alex Hern, Google Maps Russia Claims Crimea for the Federation, Guardian (Apr. 22, 2014, 11:55 EDT), http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/22/google-maps-russia-crimea-federation. Google, with its offices in 60 countries and offered services in 130 languages, depicts the territory of Ukraine differently for different users. Ukrainians, visiting google.com.ua, enjoy seeing Ukraine’s territory as it was before the annexation. Russian visitors will find “a very different picture.” Crimea is not part of Ukraine but instead borders it. International visitors will discover that Crimea separated from mainland Ukraine as a disputed territory and does not either belong to Ukraine or Russia. A spokesperson commented, “Google maps makes every effort to depict disputed regions and features objectively.” Id.

[2] The twenty-first century is the era of “corporate capitalism.” It is characterized by the presence of two actors: international corporations and states. The former are the primary actors and the latter are the secondary ones. Corporations are super hegemons powerful enough to influence state actors in their decisions on international stage and in domestic affairs. States are mere agents of corporate capitalism. Upendra D. Acharya, Globalization and Hegemony Shift: Are djfkaStates Merely Agents of Corporate Capitalism? 54 B.C.L. Rev., May 2013, at 943, 969.

[3] Adam Taylor, Crimea Has Joined the Ranks of the World’s “Gray Areas.” Here are the others on that list. Washington Post, (Mar. 22, 2014), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/03/22/crimea-has-joined-the-ranks-of-the-worlds-gray-areas-here-are-the-others-on-that-list/.

[4] Vilena Nicolet, Note, The “Sullivan-Plus” Principles—A Cure for Silent Complicity by Corporate Actors, 25 Minn. J. Int’l. L. (forthcoming 2016).