Challenging Corporate Humanity : Legal Disembodiment, Embodiment and Human Rights

Posted: 14 Jul 2008


This article interrogates the corporate use of human rights discourse. It does so in light of concern surrounding corporate distortion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) paradigm, and in light of the fact that corporations can claim shelter under human rights documents, particularly as recently discussed by Emberland the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The author offers a critical exploration of corporate human rights claims (and some arguments advanced in their favour), and identifies the phenomenon of legal disembodiment (or quasi-disembodiment ), linking it to both a genealogical account of human rights and the nature of liberal legal personality. This reading of human rights genealogy invites the reader to focus on a series of paradoxes surrounding human rights, including their nature as a form of sacral construct, and locates human rights at an entrenched and challenging interface between historical and contemporary patterns of inclusion and exclusion. Quasi-disembodiment emerges from the analysis as a key conceptual conduit for the legal reception of corporate human rights claims. Linking the ECHR to the liberal human rights tradition, the author suggests that notwithstanding judicial protection of corporations as beneficiaries of ECHR protection, it remains essential to engage in a normative critique of the very notion of corporate human rights. Beneath human rights law (and the related closures of legal discourse) it is possible to trace a human rights-oriented critique that adopts human embodiment (and its quintessential link with human vulnerability) as the ethical foundation of human rights. Emphasising embodied vulnerability as the foundation of human rights yields a significant and ethically relevant distinction between corporations and human beings a distinction with intriguing possibilities for the future theorisation of human rights and one that arguably problematises the corporate use of human rights discourse.

Suggested Citation

Grear, Anna M., Challenging Corporate Humanity : Legal Disembodiment, Embodiment and Human Rights. Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 7, Issue 3, pp. 511-543, 2007. Available at SSRN: or

Anna M. Grear (Contact Author)

Cardiff Law School ( email )

PO Box 427
Cardiff, Wales CF10 3AX
United Kingdom

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