Constitutional Obligations of Corporations in Europe

Developments in business and human rights in the past decade reveal a division between voluntary and binding approaches to the questions of whether corporations have human rights obligations and whether they should be held accountable for their human rights impacts. Even though the proponents of both sides attempt to demonstrate that these approaches are not mutually exclusive, victims on the ground are today still witnessing the continuation of the status quo, mostly to the benefit of major corporate players. Soft-law guidelines and principles do not create binding international legal obligations, but they merely restate the state-of-the-art in human rights law. Victims of corporate human rights violations have thus often encountered difficulties in enforcing their claims against corporations. They often find hurdles due to the absence of binding human rights obligations of corporate actors. On the other hand, national constitutions often include binding human rights obligations both for individual and legal persons, thereby creating also human rights obligations for corporations. This paper therefore attempts to answer the question whether the constitutional provisions of domestic systems of the European states apply also to corporate actors. In doing so it examines selected ten countries from all regions of Europe in order to establish whether their constitutional documents bind also corporate actors. It further examines what is the nature and scope of such constitutional obligations. In the closing part of the article, conclusions are drawn on how those countries should proceed to reform the enforcement of corporate human rights obligations deriving from their constitutions.