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Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin - April 2015


Welcome to our Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin -- highlighting a specific topic each quarter, as well as key developments in corporate legal accountability.  The Corporate Legal Accountability hub on our website provides objective, concise information about lawsuits against companies in which human rights abuses are alleged.
 
This bulletin and previous issues are available in English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Quarterly Highlight: Legislative efforts to hold parent companies legally accountable


In the last quarter, the Resource Centre has sought company responses to concerns about their human rights impacts in 113 cases.  These have ranged from violence against union leaders by a security firm in Colombia to allegations of land grabs by the military in Sri Lanka to benefit tourism projects.  In just one case (labour rights issues at Century Miracle factory in Jordan, producing for Ralph Lauren) has there been rapid remedy.  Lawyers and broader civil society are making new and increased efforts to strengthen legal accountability.  The third pillar of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights calls on governments and companies to take steps to ensure victims of corporate human rights abuses can access effective remedies. 
 
The legal accountability of parent companies for activities of their subsidiaries abroad is the focus of current and recent legislative efforts in several countries, primarily in Europe.  In Switzerland, a coalition of 50 NGOs launched a people’s initiative on this issue.  Although it narrowly failed to obtain the necessary votes in Parliament, this initiative spurred the Federal Council into action late last year when it announced that it would draft a report on access to remedy for victims of corporate human rights violations.  In France, a bill has just been adopted establishing civil responsibility for French companies’ roles in human rights abuses overseas.  It also requires big companies to show measures they have taken throughout their subsidiaries and supply chain to prevent abuses.  The German Government plans to take a fresh look at its legislation on corporate responsibility as a consequence of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights it is currently developing.  In the United States, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) has launched the “Parent Company Accountability Project” to research ways in which parent companies may be held liable for actions of their subsidiaries under US federal and state law.  It will also issue recommendations to address the limited liability of a parent corporation as an obstacle for victims of a subsidiary's human rights abuse.  Whether these initiatives will provide real remedies for victims of abuses involving companies remains to be seen.  But in light of some increasing limitations on the ability of these victims to access effective remedies highlighted by the Resource Centre in our corporate legal accountability briefings, and by others, these steps are important measures that may give some hope that the right to a remedy could soon be more than an empty promise.
Brazil research mission
In early March, Sif Thorgeirsson, Manager of the Resource Centre’s Corporate Legal Accountability Project, conducted a research mission to São Paulo with Julia Mello Neiva, the Resource Centre's Regional Researcher and Representative for Brazil.  The aim of this mission was to meet with lawyers and advocates to learn more about what is being done in Brazil to hold companies legally accountable for human rights abuses, as well as gaps that exist and how they can be closed.  They met with civil society organizations from around the country, government officials and lawyers in private practice.  Two issues stood out during this visit – efforts to hold companies legally accountable for using forced/slave labour, and legal efforts of local communities to protect themselves from harms caused by large infrastructure and extractive projects.

During the mission, Julia and Sif interviewed Danilo Chammas, director of Justiça nos Trilhos -- a grassroots organization devoted to social justice and protection of the environment surrounding the massive Carajás mining project in the Western Amazon.  The interview is here.  Julia and Sif also have a forthcoming blog post with key observations from the trip, which will be available here, once it is published.
Legal developments

New case profiles

Lawsuit against Boliden (re Chile): In September 2013, 707 Chileans filed a claim in Sweden against Boliden, a mining company.  The plaintiffs allege Boliden acted negligently in shipping toxic waste to Chile in the 1980s which subsequently caused them significant health problems.  Boliden denies the allegations.

Lawsuits against BP (re complicity in kidnapping & torture of Colombian union leader): In 2002, Gilberto Torres, a trade unionist working at an oil pumping station in Colombia was kidnapped and detained by paramilitaries for over 6 weeks.  The plaintiff sued BP in the US in 2012 and launched proceedings in November 2014 in the UK alleging that Ocensa (a joint-venture between BP’s subsidiary BPXC, and Ecopetrol) ordered the paramilitaries to carry out the kidnapping.  BP denies any involvement.


Lawsuits against Signal International (re trafficking of Indian workers): In 2013, over 200 Indian workers filed several federal lawsuits in the United States against Signal International, a marine repair company, alleging the company engaged in trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination.

Lawsuit against Villaggio Mall & Gympanzee Nursery owners (re fatal fire in Qatar): In September 2012, the public prosecutor in Qatar brought a criminal case against the owners of Villaggio Mall and Gympanzee Nursery for their alleged involvement in the deaths of 19 people in a fire at the shopping mall. 

 

Updates to existing case profiles

Lawsuit against African Barrick Gold (re Tanzania): In February 2015, African Barrick Gold (now Acacia) and its subsidiary NMGML reached an out-of-court settlement with the claimants over the firms’ alleged complicity in killings of villagers at the North Mara Mine in Tanzania.

Lawsuit against Auchan (re garment factories in Bangladesh): In January 2015, a French public prosecutor dismissed the investigation into allegations that Auchan had misled its customers regarding the labour conditions in its supply chain.

Lawsuit against Blackwater (re 2007 Baghdad incident): In April, four former Blackwater guards were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their roles in a 2007 shooting incident at a Baghdad public square that left many dead and injured.  Previously, some of those affected by this incident filed a separate civil lawsuit against Blackwater, which the company settled out of court in 2010. 

Lawsuit against Shell (re oil spills & Bodo community in Nigeria):  In January 2015, Shell agreed a £55 million out-of- court settlement with the claimants regarding two oil spills in 2008 and 2009.

Lawsuit against Tahoe Resources (re Guatemala): In December 2014, a Guatemalan court ordered that a Tahoe security manager be tried on charges of causing serious bodily harm during an attack on protestors outside its mine in April 2013.

Lawsuits against Trafigura (re disposal of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire): In March 2015, lawyers representing over 100,000 Ivorians launched a new lawsuit against Trafigura in The Netherlands seeking compensation for damage allegedly caused by the disposal of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire in 2006, and a clean-up of the site.

 

Other legal developments

Barrick Gold & allegations of sexual assault & violence at Porgera Mine, Papua New Guinea: On 3 April Barrick Gold and EarthRights International announced they had reached a settlement of claims by 14 individuals of sexual assault and violence at the company’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea.  These individuals had planned to file a lawsuit in US court over these claims, but have now agreed to accept compensation from the company.
New translations

In French

Résumé du procès Eternit (exposition à l'amiante en Italie) [Lawsuit against Eternit (re asbestos exposure in Italy)]

Résumé du procès Nevsun (travail forcé à la mine de Bisha en Erythrée) [Lawsuit against Nevsun (re Bisha mine in Eritrea)]

 

In Russian

Судебное дело против Октябрьской железной дороги (относительно дискриминации по признаку сексуальной ориентации в России) [Lawsuit against Oktyabrskaya Railroad (re sexual orientation discrimination in Russia)]
 

In Spanish

Demanda contra Kaweri Coffee (parte de Neumann Gruppe) (por un desalojo forzado en Uganda) [Lawsuit against Kaweri Coffee (part of Neumann Gruppe) (re forced eviction in Uganda)]

Demanda a Boliden (Chile) [Lawsuit against Boliden (re Chile)]
Annual Briefing
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launched its third annual briefing on corporate legal accountability in January.  The key findings were:
  • Major avenues for extraterritorial claims are closing and there is a striking accountability gap;
  • Human rights defenders face increasing legal harassment across many regions;
  • New, but limited, venues for corporate human rights claims are emerging.
The full briefing is available here.  The executive summary is available here (also in French, Russian and Spanish).
New blog posts
"Human rights due diligence: Swiss civil society pushes the envelope", Elizabeth Umlas, independent business and human rights researcher

"Opportunity for France to hold companies legally responsible for human rights abuses by subsidiaries abroad", Elodie Aba, Legal Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

"Doors closing on judicial remedies for corporate human rights abuse", Sif Thorgeirsson, Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

"Shell & the Bodo community – settlement vs. litigation", Elodie Aba, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre


If you are interested in contributing to a guest post on corporate legal accountability, please contact us. 
Other news
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launches “Accountability and Remedy Project”

Final Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities & Trade project (EJOLT) Conference: "Building the Road to Environmental Justice", 3 March, Brussels


Intl. Corporate Accountability Roundtable & Amnesty Intl. launch Commerce, Crime & Human Rights project website
If you would like to submit an entry for consideration in the next bulletin, give us feedback, know someone who would like to receive the bulletin, or wish to unsubscribe, please contact Elodie Aba, Legal Researcher, at aba [at] business-humanrights.org.
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