Should corporations have human rights?

Dr Jonathan Barrett, from the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, has looked at the proposition that human rights belong to people and not corporations.

Dr Jonathan Barrett
Dr Jonathan Barrett, researcher and lecturer at the School of Accounting and Commercial Law

Dr Barrett says that many countries, including New Zealand, allow corporations and other legal persons to claim human rights. This means that they might be able to claim rights which have been developed over time to protect individual autonomy, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religious conscience.

"Looking back on philosophical traditions, we have rights because we are human.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, generally considered the foundational document of modern rights, recognises up front that the basis for universal human rights is equal dignity of human beings."

In the clip below, Dr Barrett discusses how rights create a web of claims and responsibilities, which enable us to develop our full human personhood in society.

"Corporations do not have dignity, they do not have the needs that we have as people, and they do not owe us the responsibilities that we owe each other," he adds.

"Of course, we must protect peoples' investments in corporations and, furthermore, we must protect media organisations that produce the information that allow us to make political decisions.

"But that doesn’t mean that we should include them in the scope of human rights. Human rights belong to people."