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Chicago Journal of International Law

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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 criticised 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 criticise 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.



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