Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – March & April 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol

Introduction

This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on Doing Business Right based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @DoinBizRight and on various websites. You are invited to complete this compilation via the comments section below. Feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines

Shell-Eni Bribery Case: On 5 March, the corporate bribery trial against oil companies Shell and Eni was postponed to 14 May by a court in Milan, Italy.  The charges against the companies are bribery and corruption in the 2011 purchase of a Nigerian offshore oilfield, one of the most valuable oilfields in Africa. Although both firms denied the charges, the corruption watchdog Global Witness claimed that hundreds of millions of dollars had been paid to Nigeria’s former president and his former oil minister as pocket bribes. Global Witness calls the case one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the oil sector. The trial in the Milan court is expected to last 12-18 months.

Jesner v. Arab Bank: On 24 April, in a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Jesner v. Arab Bank case that foreign corporations cannot be brought before US courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Between 2004 and 2010, thousands of foreign nationals sued Arab Bank under the ATS, claiming that the Bank’s officials allowed money transfers through the New York branch of the Bank to Hamas who committed violent acts in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Supreme Court held that foreign corporations cannot be sued under the ATS. Furthermore, the Court claimed that international law today does not recognize “a specific, universal, and obligatory norm of corporate [tort] liability”, which is a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit under the ATS. In the Court’s lead opinion, Justice Kennedy stated that "Courts are not well suited to make the required policy judgments that are implicated by corporate liability in cases like this one.” In her dissenting opinion joined by three other justices, Justice Sotomayor claimed that the decision "absolves corporations from responsibility under the ATS for conscience-shocking behavior."

Fifth Anniversary of Rana Plaza: April 24th also marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rana Plaza was a five-story commercial building which housed several garment factories employing around 5000 people. The global outcry after the disaster which claimed at least 1134 lives led to numerous initiatives to change business-as-usual in the garment and textile supply chains in Bangladesh and beyond. Despite these initiatives which employed various approaches to the issue of worker safety in the supply chains, it is widely acknowledged that there is still a long way to go to create a safe working environment for workers in the garment and textile supply chains. On 12 April, the Asser Institute hosted a one-day conference on Rana Plaza to take stock of the regulatory and policy initiatives aimed at improving workers’ safety in the garment supply chain (You will find our background paper here).

 Okpabi v. Royal Dutch Shell - Episode. 3? On 27 April, more than 40 UK and international human rights, development and environment NGOs, later supported by academics from different states, urged the UK Supreme Court to allow two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against the Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell ruling of the Court of Appeal in February which denied responsibility for UK-based Royal Dutch Shell for the pipeline spills, dating back as far as 1989, which affected approximately 40000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen. The NGOs claimed that the Court of Appeal’s decision erred in many ways as it seriously restricts parent company liability and limits the options available to victims of corporate human rights violations seeking remedy in the UK.More...


New Event! The Jesner ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court: The ‘end of the beginning’ for corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute - 24 May at the Asser Institute in The Hague

The headline of the New York Times on 24 April summed it up: ‘Supreme Court Bars Human Rights Suits Against Foreign Corporations. The Jesner decision, released earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court, triggered a tremor of indignation in the human rights movement given the immunity it conferred to foreign corporations violating human rights against suits under the Alien Tort Statute, and led to a flood of legal and academic commentaries online. This panel discussion, organised with the support of the Netherlands Network of Human Rights Research, will address various aspects of the judgment. Its aim is to better understand the road travelled by American courts leading up to the decision with regard to the application of the Alien Tort Statute to corporations, to compare the decision with the position taken in other jurisdictions, and to discuss the ruling's potential broader impact on the direction taken by the business and human rights movement.


Where: T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague

When: Thursday 24 May at 2:30 pm


Speakers:

  • Phillip Paiement (Tilburg University) - The Jesner case and the ATS: An American perspective
  • Lucas Roorda (Utrecht University) - A comparative perspective on Jesner and corporate liability for human rights violations
  • Nadia Bernaz (Wageningen University) - Lessons for the business and human rights movement after Jesner


Register here!

Five Years Later: Evaluating the French and Dutch responses to Rana Plaza - By Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: Abdurrahman is currently working for Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute as an intern. He received his LL.M. International and European Law from Tilburg University and currently he is a Research Master student at the same university.

 

The collapse of the Rana Plaza attracted public attention from various parts of the world. As a result, the demand to ensure that businesses do not contribute to or commit human rights violations, particularly multinational enterprises (MNEs) which can easily engage in forum shopping between states with lax regulations, started to make itself heard. This increased public interest drove national governments to start addressing this issue in an attempt to prevent MNEs from getting involved in human rights abuses along their supply chains.  In this respect, to deal with the human rights abuses committed by MNEs in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector and beyond, numerous transnational and national initiatives have emerged in different forms since the Rana Plaza disaster. These initiatives include agreements (e.g. the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety)  with binding commitments, traditional voluntary CSR-based multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g. the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety), domestic legal (e.g. the UK Modern Slavery Act and the French law on the duty of vigilance), administrative measures (e.g. the reform of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments in Bangladesh for better factory and labour inspections) or agreements between governmental bodies, businesses and some other stakeholders (e.g. the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile).

These concerted efforts, to ensure responsible business conduct show an extreme variety in terms of their scope, approaches and parties involved.  In particular, the French law on the duty of vigilance and the Dutch agreement on sustainable garment will be the focus on this blog since while the adoption of the former was accelerated by the disaster, the latter was an indirect response to it. It is crucial to scrutinise the implementation of these initiatives and whether or not they positively transform the business-as-usual in the RMG sector. In this blog, after brief explanations of the French and Dutch initiatives, some of the concerns and problems, which may be encountered in their implementation process, will be presented. More...