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Changing International ‘Subjectivity’ and Rights and Obligations under International Law – Status of Corporations

Author(s): Merja Pentikäinen

Journal: Utrecht Law Review
ISSN 1871-515X

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 145;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: subjects of international law | international (legal) personality | international (legal) capacity | corporations | human rights protection

Globalisation, liberation of trade supported by institutions such as the WTO, the unprecedented internationalisation of companies' activities in the global market, the creation of even larger company entities (including multinational corporations) and the ensuing growth of business power have radically restructured the equilibrium of companies' relations with state and society. In the contemporary world many companies are de facto stronger and more influential actors than states, and their activities have concrete effects on political, cultural and societal aspects in the countries where they operate or to which they have other business links. These developments have created new kinds of challenges, e.g. for the protection of human rights which may be undermined by business activities. In this situation corporations are increasingly expected to pay due regard to avoiding activities contributing to human rights violations. The doctrine of subjects of international law (international 'subjectivity') considers states as the primary subjects, in addition to which also some other actors have been granted the status as a subject, including even corporations. This article sheds light on the shifts that have taken place in the doctrine of international 'subjectivity' and the paradigm of rights and obligations under international law linked to this 'subjectivity'. Particular attention is paid to the position of corporations, and the exploration is conducted through the prism of the development of rights and obligations in the area of international human rights law.

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