Comparative corporate governance has focused either on prevailing differences across legal systems or on spontaneous legal transplants of foreign institutions in response to global competition. This Essay argues that corporate law today is not only a product of the invisible hand of the market but also of the soft (and not-so-soft) hands of international organizations and standard setters. By tracing the emergence of international corporate law (ICL) since the Asian crisis of the late 1990s, it shows how the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank, and the United Nations, among several other international players, have helped shape legal reforms and corporate governance developments around the world. The observed influence of ICL ranges from the impulse for independent directors and the control of related-party transactions to the growth of ESG investment factors and human rights policies.
The rise of ICL responds to interjurisdictional externalities and nationalist bias of domestic regimes that have been largely neglected by prevailing theories, which failed to predict and notice the strong push for international coordination and standard setting in the field. ICL has also gone beyond merely prescribing an Anglo-Saxon model of corporate governance to promote legal innovations that place the United States on the receiving end of international pressure. Legal implants from ICL, rather than legal transplants from a foreign jurisdiction, are an increasingly relevant force behind corporate governance change. While ICL has been influential, its efficacy and normative vision face challenges. The time has come to move beyond an exclusively comparative focus to also scrutinize the potential and limits of corporate lawmaking at the international level.