Global Modern Slavery Developments (Part I): A Critical Review of the UK Modern Slavery Act - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a contributor to the Doing Business Right project of the Asser Institute. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.



Over the past couple of years, there has been an international trend towards greater regulation and transparency with respect to modern slavery in corporate supply chains as reports of gross human rights violations in corporate supply chains have entered the public spotlight. For example, over the past couple of years there has been extensive media attention in relation to the use of slaves trafficked from Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Myanmar to work on Thai fishing boats to catch fish to be sold around the globe, with the boats considered to be ‘floating labor camps’. As a result of events such as this, there has been increased pressure on businesses to take steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains through processes such as through conducting risk assessments and due diligence.

As the Ethical Trading Initiative notes, key risks facing companies in their supply chains include the use of migrant workers; the use of child labour; recruitment fees and debt bondage; the use of agency workers and temporary labour; working hours and wages; and the use of subcontractors. In 2016 the Global Slavery Index reported that 40.3 million people are living in modern slavery across 167 countries, and in 2014 the ILO estimated that forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year.

In March 2015, the UK Government passed the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act), game-changing legislation that targets, inter alia, slavery and trafficking in corporate supply chains. The UK Government also published guidance explaining how businesses should comply with the Act.

This first blog of a series of articles dedicated to the global modern slavery developments provides an overview of the main elements of the Act and how businesses have responded to it. It will be followed by a review of the proposed Australian MSA, and a final piece on the developments in other jurisdictions that are considering introducing legislation regulating modern slavery in the corporate context. More...



Accountability for the exploitation of North Korean workers in the Shipbuilding Industry through Dutch Criminal Law – By Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen

Editor’s note: Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen (LLM Int. and EU labour law, MA Korean Studies) is a policy advisor on labour migration at the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and a researcher on DPRK overseas labour.

 

On November 8, 2018 a North Korean overseas worker who had worked in slave like conditions for a Polish shipyard, a supplier of a Dutch shipbuilding company, has filed a criminal complaint against the Dutch firm. The Dutch Penal Code, article 273f(6), includes a provision criminalizing the act of ‘profiting’ from labour exploitation, targeting not the direct perpetrators in the labour exploitation, but the ones profiting from this exploitation. This is a unique case that aims to hold the company at the top of the chain accountable for modern slavery in its supply chain. A chain that in the case of shipbuilding is rather short; the buyer subcontracts the core business of building the complete hull under detailed instructions cheaply abroad. More...

Transnational Access to Justice in Araya v Nevsun: Overcoming Procedural Barriers to Remedy in Business and Human Rights Cases - By Alexandru Rares Tofan

Editor's note: Alexandru Rares Tofan recently graduated with an LLM in Transnational Law from King’s College London where he focused on international human rights law, transnational litigation and international law. He is currently an intern with the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute in The Hague. He previously worked as a research assistant at the Transnational Law Institute in London on several projects pertaining to human rights, labour law and transnational corporate conduct.


Introduction

In 2014, three Eritrean refugees commenced a representative action in British Columbia against the transnational mining company ‘Nevsun Resources’, pleading both private law torts and violations of customary international law. They alleged that they were subjected to forced labour, slavery, torture, and crimes against humanity while working at an Eritrean gold mine jointly owned by Nevsun (60%) and by the Eritrean State (40%). The representative action was brought on behalf of over a thousand people who had been drafted into the Eritrean National Service Programme (NSP) and subsequently forced to work at the Bisha Mine. The NSP is a governmental apparatus of indefinite and mandatory conscription that is fraught with allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses. It was established under the authoritarian regime of President Isaias Afwerki who has been ruling Eritrea ever since the country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. As Nevsun is incorporated under the laws of British Columbia, the plaintiffs sought relief in the courts of the Canadian province. Notwithstanding the defendant’s attempts to have the proceeding stayed or dismissed, the action was allowed to go through both by the Supreme Court of British Columbia (BCSC) and the Court of Appeals (BCCA). On 14 June 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada granted Nevsun leave to appeal with a tentative hearing date set on 23 January 2019.

This proceeding raises complex issues of transnational law. The plaintiffs are seeking redress in a jurisdiction that is neither the locus delicti nor their country of nationality. Rather, the claimants argue that peremptory norms of customary international law create a private law cause of action and a right to recover damages under Canadian law. In point of fact, the plaintiffs have called attention to several delicate questions. Firstly, can claims of damages arising out of the alleged breach of jus cogens norms form the basis of a civil proceeding? And are corporations bound by these international law norms for that matter? The case is further layered by the involvement of the State of Eritrea. Since Nevsun is argued to be derivatively liable, a finding of guilt on its part would mean that the Canadian courts would be judging the acts of another state. This engages the act of state doctrine, which demands judicial abstention from adjudication of matters touching upon the conduct of foreign states.

Nevsun filed four interlocutory applications seeking to have the claim stayed, dismissed or struck out. This article traces the development of this case through the first three objections to jurisdiction raised by Nevsun and dismissed by the provincial courts: forum non conveniens, the act of state doctrine and the lack of corporate liability under customary international lawA fourth application argued that the plaintiffs’ claims are not appropriately brought as a representative action (i.e. class action). This application was granted by the Supreme Court of British Columbia and was not appealed by the plaintiffs.[1]

More...


Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – October 2018 - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and an intern with the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice. 

Introduction

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

The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Summary of the Fourth Session of the Working Group - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


From 15 to 19 October 2018, the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights took place in Geneva. 92 UN States participated in the session along with a range of stakeholders, including intergovernmental organisations, business organisations, special procedures of the Human Rights Council and national human rights institutions. The focus of the session was on the zero draft of the proposed binding business and human rights treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’).

This blog sets out the key views and suggestions made by those in attendance with respect to the treaty during the session.[1] Issues and areas of concern raised at the session generally aligned with the critiques raised by commentators on the first draft of the treaty (which are set out in a previous blog). More...