Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – May 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol

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 might have overlooked.

Highlights

OECD Due Diligence Guidance released

On 31 May, the OECD published “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct”. Issued after a multi-stakeholder process with OECD and non-OECD countries and representatives from business, trade unions and civil society, the guidance provides practical knowledge to businesses on due diligence recommendations and related provisions of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The guidance also aims at aligning different approaches of governments and stakeholders to due diligence for responsible business conduct by promoting a common understanding.More...

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...


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...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.

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. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


We are looking for a new intern! More information here.


The Headlines

Landmark High Court case against UK mining company over alleged Sierra Leone worker abuse

On 29 January 2018, a landmark six week hearing began at the High Court in London in a case brought by 142 claimants from Sierra Leone against Tonkolili Iron Ore, a subsidiary of the UK based African Minerals. The case involves allegations of worker abuse in 2010 and 2012 at the Tonkolili Iron Ore Mine in Sierra Leone, including complicity in rape, assault, false imprisonment and the police murder of a protestor complaining over pay and conditions. Human Rights Watch previously reported how the government and African Minerals forcibly relocated hundreds of families from verdant slopes to a flat, arid area, thereby removing their ability to cultivate crops and engage in income generating activities. The claimants’ lawyers, Leigh Day, stated that the case “demonstrates that those companies headquartered in the UK that operate abroad in rural and isolated environments can be held to account when their operations face serious allegations of human rights abuses”. Tonkolili Iron Ore denies responsibility for the incidents against workers and villagers and claims full responsibility lies with the Sierra Leone police. Unusually, the trial will see the judge, Mr Justice Turner, travelling to Freetown for two weeks so that evidence can be taken from witnesses in person, after some witnesses were unable to obtain visas for the United Kingdom.

West Kalimantan villagers file complaint against the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

On 23 January 2018, a complaint was filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s national contact point in Switzerland by an Indonesian community rights group against the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for its failure to address complaints made by residents of two West Kalimantan villages. The indigenous Dayak community in Kerunang and Entapang villages had previously filed an urgent complaint with the RSPO accusing one of its members, Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby, of stealing their tribal land through its subsidiary Mitra Austral Sejahtera. They allege that Mitra Austral Sejahtera breached the RSPO Principles and Criteria for the Production of Sustainable Palm Oil relating to commitment to transparency, compliance with applicable laws and regulations and responsible consideration of employees, and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills. It is alleged that the RSPO failed to respond to the request for the return of tribal lands and accordingly failed to meet its obligations under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Sime Darby has stated that the land dispute has been discussed at the RSPO's annual meetings since 2012, and that it looks “forward to the cooperation of the communities towards ensuring that the eventual return of their land is socially, environmentally and economically viable”. More...




The EU Conflict Minerals Regulation: Challenges for Achieving Mineral Supply Chain Due Diligence - By Daniel Iglesias Márquez

Editor’s note: Daniel Iglesias Márquez is an external researcher in Business and Human Rights at the Tarragona Centre for Environmental Law Studies. He holds a PhD from the Rovira Virgili University in Tarragona (Spain). Other main fields of interest include International Environmental Law, International Criminal Law and European law.


The EU and its Member States have largely endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy and have committed to supporting their implementation.[i] The UNGPs state that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate. Companies are therefore expected to take proactive steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within their global operations and to respond to human rights abuses when they do occur. This implies establishing due diligence processes to identify, prevent, mitigate and record potential and actual adverse human rights impacts.

Although the EU has not played a constructive role at the Geneva negotiations for a UN Treaty on business and human rights,[ii] some modest developments in the right direction have been made at the EU level to foster a culture of ‘doing business right’ among companies in certain industrial sectors. Put differently, the EU has adopted regulations and directives that implement the UNGPs.

Due diligence requirements are the most common way of ensuring that business behavior meets social expectations. An example of this is the new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation (Regulation),[iii] which requires EU companies to ensure the responsible sourcing of minerals and metals. This EU law has an extraterritorial reach since due diligence requirements must be exercised by a company throughout its international supply chain. However, the Regulation raises a number of challenges ahead that may affect its purpose and implementation. More...



Towards Responsible Banking – A Report on the Doing Business Right Roundtable at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut on 2 November

On Thursday (2 November), the T.M.C. Asser Instituut hosted a roundtable on the role of financial institutions in ensuring responsible business conduct and, in particular, fostering respect for human rights. The discussion focused on the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on international responsible business conduct regarding human rights (DBSA or Agreement), including details of its key features and the practicalities of its implementation, alongside the theme of responsible banking more generally. More...

Lungowe v Vedanta and the loi relative au devoir de vigilance: Reassessing parent company liability for human rights violations - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.

Introduction

The Court of Appeal in London recently handed down its judgment in Dominic Liswaniso Lungowe and Ors. v Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 (Lungowe v Vedanta) addressing issues of jurisdiction and parent company liability. The judgment runs contrary to the historical legal doctrine that English domiciled parent companies are protected from liability for their foreign subsidiaries’ actions. This decision clarifies the duty of care standard a parent company owes when operating via a subsidiary and opens the gates to other English domiciled companies and their subsidiaries being held accountable for any human rights abuses. More...


Towards a ‘due diligence’ jurisprudence: The EU Timber Regulation’s requirements in courts - By Wybe Th. Douma

Editor’s note: Wybe Th. Douma is senior researcher in EU law and international trade law at the Asser Institute

 

Although the placing of illegally harvested timber on the EU internal market is prohibited already for over four years, the first court cases are appearing only now. Judges in Sweden and The Netherlands have recently held that the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) had not been met by two importing companies. The companies should have ensured that the timber from Myanmar and Cameroon was logged in compliance with the local legislation, should have provided extensive evidence of this, especially where the countries in question are prone to corruption and governance challenges, and should have adopted risk mitigation measures. Moreover, another Dutch court recently ordered the Dutch competent authorities to explain why they did not enforce the EUTR in cases where due diligence requirements concerning timber imported from Brazil were not met. In other EU member states, similar court decisions were adopted.[1]

The court decisions show that the EUTR system, aimed at ‘doing business right’ in the timber trade sector, is starting to take effect in practice. Could the ‘unilateral’ EUTR system form an example for other regimes that try to ensure that trade by the EU with the rest of the world contributes to sustainable development and the protection of human rights? And what role does the bilateral Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) between the EU and Indonesia play in this respect? More...

Doing Business Right Event! Supply chain regulation in the garment industry on 29 June @Asser Institute

The negative impact on human rights of what we wear is not always well-known to the consumer. Our clothing consumption has increased over five times since the Nineties. At the same time, the business model of certain fashion brands is too often dependent on widespread human rights and labour rights violations to be profitable, cheap, and fast. The 2013 tragedy of Rana Plaza, where more than 1100 garment workers died, gives us just a small hint of the true costs of our clothes and footwear. Efforts by governments to tame the negative effects of transnational supply chains have proven difficult due to the extreme delocalisation of production, and the difficulty to even be aware of a company’s last tier of suppliers in certain developing countries. More...