Volume 17

Corporate Human Rights Claims Under the ECHR

by Turkuler Isiksel

Most human rights theorists argue that corporations cannot be considered bearers of human rights, either because they are not human beings or because they lack the relevant moral attributes that ground human rights. However strong the normative intuitions underpinning this argument, dismissing corporate human rights claims on a conceptual level fails to address questions that arise in the realm of human rights practice. Today’s human rights regimes are beset by difficult questions about which rights, if any, corporate entities enjoy and how much weight their rights claims deserve. This paper focuses on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which accepts applications “from any person, nongovernmental organization or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties” (Art. 34). Although a cursory glance at the Strasbourg Court’s case law might suggest that it takes an aggregative approach to corporate rights claims, treating the corporate entity as a placeholder for the rights of the individuals who transact through it, more complex considerations are at work in the Court’s approach to these claims. For instance, the ECtHR often takes account of the broader public values implicated in an alleged violation, shifting the emphasis from the nature of the rights-bearer to the protection of these values. The paper contends that rewarding corporate human rights claims in order to further values such as the rule of law, freedom of information, or democratic pluralism is a risky strategy that may amplify corporate power.

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