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Human rights for non-human subjects – free speech for corporations?

Conference contribution
Authors Eva-Maria Svensson
Published in Critical Legal Conference 2015 : ‘LAW, SPACE AND THE POLITICAL’, University of Wrocław, Poland, 3 – 5 September 2015
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Law
Language en
Keywords Freedom of expression, Freedom of speech, free speech for corporations, non-human subjects
Subject categories Law


Business companies and market players all over the world claim the right to free speech, in line with the human right to free speech for individuals, in increasing degree. The right to free speech is not only about the right to speak freely, but it also embraces the right to information. The business claims are framed in legal terms, firstly, as a claim for more (legal) protection for ‘commercial speech’. Three phases in this process have been identified by Heide-Jørgensen (2013), according to which USA has come the farthermost. The First Amendment today protects commercial speech as much as non-commercial speech. Secondly, these claims come along with a claim for companies to have human rights in line with human beings. The process can be described as, contrary to a commodification of human beings, a humanization of commodities, i.e. companies. Companies in USA claiming for the commercial freedom of speech have tried to outdo the right of individual consumers to know and to get to information about products (Nibley 2011). The claim for companies to have human rights in line with human beings goes far beyond being defined as a legal subject (a legal entity which have rights and responsibilities in relation to other legal subjects). It is a claim to have rights that are inherently entitled to a person “simply because she or he is a human being”. How can this reframing be understood in terms of personhood, subjectivity, commodification and de-commodification. What could the consequences be of such development?

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