Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

The Limits of Corporate Rights under International Law

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

The Limits of Corporate Rights under International Law

Article excerpt

Abstract

For most commentators, the acceptance of corporate rights under international human rights law is part of a broader push to recognise corporations as subjects of international law. As subjects, corporations would not only enjoy some international legal rights, but they would also be liable for many international legal duties. In prior work, I have criticized the effort to impose international legal duties on corporations in the context of the Alien Tort Statute, arguing that there is insufficient international consensus to treat corporations as subjects of international law. In this Article, I criticize the parallel effort to treat corporations as subjects that enjoy international legal rights. I do not argue that corporations can never hold legal rights under international law. But the manner in which corporations have acquired rights in certain bodies of international law does not support the goal of recognising corporations as "subjects" of customary international law. For these reasons, business corporations generally enjoy rights under international law when such rights are explicitly authorised through formal lawmaking processes such as international treaties or national statutes. There is very little support for recognising such rights under general customary international law. In some limited cases, treaties without plain language granting corporate rights might still be interpreted to do so, but only if such protection were deemed necessary to protect the rights of natural persons.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction....... ...................................................................................................... 730

II. Subjects, Rights, and Duties ........................................................................... .....733

A. Subjects and International Law ......................................................................733

B. Business Corporations and International Law.. ....................................... .....735

III. The Origins of International Rights for Corporations ..................................738

A. Business Corporations and the Law of Diplomatic Protection......... ........ 738

B. Business Corporations and International Investment Treaties. ................. 741

1 . Convention on the settlement of international disputes between states and nationals of other states. ........................................................742

2. Model BITs. .................................................................................................. .744

3. Summary......................................................................................................... 745

IV. Corporate Rights and International Human Rights Law.... ....................... ....746

A. European Convention on Human Rights. ................................................ ....746

1. The textual basis for corporate rights under the ECHR. ........................746

2. The jurisprudential development of corporate rights under the ECHR.......................................................................................................... 748

3. Other international human rights treaties.................................................. 750

V. The Limits of Corporate Rights under International Law.............................. 751

A. Subjects and Rights.. ......................................................................................... 751

B. The Practical Complexities of Granting Corporate Rights..... .................... 752

1. The separation of ownership and control. ................................................752

2. Diversity of corporate forms. ................................. ................................... ..753

VI. Conclusion.......................................................................... …

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