SOAS University of London

School of Law

Global Commodities Law

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/17
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4

This module provides a critical introduction to the legal regulation of global commodities, with a focus on the colonial histories of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Taking some of the world’s most heavily exchanged primary commodities as examples, we will track the development of their production and consumption, from their domestic origins to their circulation in the global sphere today. The histories of the principle commodities – such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil – tell the story of today’s global economy in microcosm. Most significantly, their evolving regulation has provided the base for many central elements of the contemporary international and transnational legal architecture. In exploring this history, we will also touch on cross-cutting issues relating to human rights, trade law, environmental law, food security, investment arbitration, anti-slavery, labour law and animal welfare law. We will also be looking at theories of consumption and production more generally, to enrich our discussions of these topics.

The autumn term begins with an overview of the global commodity trade and an introduction to terms as well as key legislative instruments such as the WTO GATT, the International Coffee Agreement 2007, the International Sugar Agreement 1992, and the International Natural Rubber Agreement 1995. This is followed by a series of lectures that situate the regulation of the global economy through the histories of specific commodities, cognizant of the state-formation processes and trans-global networking generally entailed in the consolidation of key commodity markets. What is the role of the state in farming out resource production? What is the relationship between the state and the corporation in the creation and maintenance of markets? In the winter and spring terms we will be looking at the livestock and meat trade, at crops such as corn, oats, soybean and rubber, and finally, at the global trade in oils, metals and gases. How has the legal regulation of these commodities changed over time? And how has this shaped our understanding and expectation of the world in which we live?

Following completion of the module, students can expect to have a broad understanding of the evolution of global commodity trading, with specific knowledge of how those commodities are regulated and the ways in which they are touched by the most important legal challenges of our time. This module will contextualise and draw into sharp focus some of the issues covered in Property, Obligations, Tort and Public Law earlier in the LLB programme (non-law students will not be excluded). Through individual presentations and research projects students are expected to develop critical perspectives on aspects of the topics covered throughout the year.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • An understanding of the legal regimes pertaining to the current trade in global commodities;
  • A broad understanding of the historical role of European and Asian colonial practices on the development of the global commodity trade;
  • An awareness of intersecting legal issues relating to, inter alia: human rights, trade disputes, environmental harm, labour, sanitation, dumping, animal welfare and illegal trade;
  • An understanding of the impact that contemporary regulation has on the production and consumption of commodities around the world;
  • An appreciation of the feminist, Marxist and critical race theory that informs existing scholarly analysis of the trade in global commodities.

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 100% (8000 words)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules