Companies and Nature as Bearers of Moral Human Rights? On the Political dimension of ‘Corporate Human Rights’ and ‘Rights of Nature’
29 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2022 Last revised: 21 Feb 2023
Date Written: January 1, 2023
Human beings are not the only subjects who can seek protection under international human rights law. For a long time, as a matter of settled case-law, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice have included commercially operating companies as independent subjects in the protection system and thereby accept what has been called ‘corporate human rights’. A more recent development, on the other hand, is that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights indicates to include ‘Rights of Nature’ into the protection system: In an Advisory Opinion from 2017 and in a judgement rendered in 2020, the Inter-American Court found that the right to a healthy environment protects ‘as an autonomous right […] the components of the environment, such as forests, rivers and seas, as legal interests in themselves, even in the absence of the certainty or evidence of a risk to individuals.’
The judicial practice of these human rights courts mirrors, albeit in very different forms, a post-humanised view of rights bearers in human rights instruments. Corporations and nature are obviously not human beings, but nevertheless protectable in the realm of international human rights law. What type of rights bearers can corporations or natural entities such as rivers or forests be? Are they of moral relevance as human beings are? If so, would this lead to acknowledging that they hold moral human rights? In the scholarly discourse, a moral status is affirmed on the part of both subjects: Proponents of Rights of Nature see an important commonality between human beings and nature by stating that nature has ‘intrinsic value’ in order to infer a moral status of nature and to recognize it as a subject of independent rights. Characterizing corporations as ‘moral agents’ is seen as a strong argument for acknowledging that corporations hold the rights and privileges which usually attend that status for human beings.
In the article, Patricia Wiater discusses if non-human subjects such as corporations or nature can hold moral human rights by taking philosophical theories on human rights as moral rights as a point of reference. She thereby contrasts the concept of moral human rights with the concept of international legal human rights.
Keywords: Human rights law, corporate human rights, rights of nature, de-humanization of human rights, regional human rights systems, regional economic courts, global regulatory challenges, business and human rights
JEL Classification: K22, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation