Background paper - Rana Plaza: Legal and regulatory responses - By Raam Dutia & Abdurrahman Erol

Editor’s note: You will find attached to this blog the background paper to the event Five Years Later: Rana Plaza and the Pursuit of a Responsible Garment Supply Chain hosted by the Asser Institute in The Hague on 12 April. 


Background paper: executive summary

Raam Dutia & Abdurrahman Erol (Asser Institute)

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building on 24 April 2013 in Savar, Bangladesh, left at least 1,134 people dead and over 2,500 others wounded, while survivors and the families of the dead continue to suffer trauma in the aftermath of the disaster. The tragedy triggered a wave of compassion and widespread feelings of guilt throughout the world as consumers, policy makers and some of the most well-known companies in Europe and North America were confronted with the mistreatment and abject danger that distant workers face in service of a cheaper wardrobe.

Partly in order to assuage this guilt, a number of public and private regulatory initiatives and legal responses have been instituted at the national, international and transnational levels. These legal and regulatory responses have variously aimed to provide compensation and redress to victims as well as to improve the working conditions of garment workers in Bangladesh. Mapping and reviewing how these responses operate in practice is essential to assessing whether they have been successful in remedying (at least partially) the shortcomings that led to the deaths of so many and the injury and loss suffered by scores more.

This briefing paper outlines and provides some critical reflections on the steps taken to provide redress and remedy for the harm suffered by the victims of the catastrophe and on the regulatory mechanisms introduced to prevent its recurrence. It broadly traces the structure of the panels of the event. 

In line with Panel 1 (Seeking Justice, Locating Responsibility), the paper begins by focusing on litigation that has been conducted to secure justice and compensation for the victims, as well as to bring the relevant actors to account for their alleged culpability for the collapse. To this end, the paper examines the avenues that have been taken to hold corporations legally accountable in their home jurisdictions for their putative contributions to the collapse on the one hand, and individuals (particularly local actors) legally accountable before the courts in Bangladesh on the other; it then considers softer mechanisms aimed at compensating victims and their dependants. 

In keeping with Panel 2 (Never again! Multi-level regulation of the garment supply chain after Rana Plaza: Transnational Responses), the paper then considers the transnational (public and private) regulatory responses following the tragedy, enacted by stakeholders including NGOs, industry associations, trade unions and governments and largely connected to issues surrounding labour standards and health and safety.

Finally, in line with Panel 3 (Never again! Multi-level regulation of the garment supply chain after Rana Plaza: National Responses), the paper looks at numerous (soft and hard) regulatory developments at the national level in response to the Rana Plaza collapse. It charts the legislative response by the government of Bangladesh to attempt to shore up safety, working conditions and labour rights in garment factories. It also focuses on legislative and other arrangements instituted by certain national governments in the EU, and how these arrangements relate to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.


Download the full paper: RanaPlazaBackgroundPaper.pdf (3.5MB)

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – February 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.

The Headlines

Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell: Court of Appeal finds Shell not liable for Nigerian oil spills

On 14 February 2018, the Court of Appeal in London handed down its Approved Judgment in Okpabi and others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another [2018] EWCA Civ 191. The claimants are 40,000 Nigerian farmers and fisherman from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta who allege they have suffered from decades of pollution from pipelines belonging to Shell Nigeria, a subsidiary of the British-Dutch multinational oil and gas company Shell. Indeed, in 2011 the United Nations Environmental Programme published an Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland which reported serious contamination of agricultural land and waterways in the community as well as its groundwater at rates 1,000 times higher than permitted under Nigerian law, exposing Ogale’s inhabitants to serious health risks. Meanwhile the Bille community suffered the largest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills at 13,200 hectares. In its split decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that it lacks jurisdiction as London headquartered parent company Shell could not be liable for any oil pollution in the Niger Delta caused by its wholly autonomous subsidiary. The villagers now plan to seek permission to take the case to the Supreme Court, with King Okpabi of the Ogale Community stating “We have lost our environment, our farmland and our dignity because of Shell’s operations in our community. The English Courts are our only hope because we cannot get justice in Nigeria. So let this be a landmark case, we will go all the way to the Supreme Court”.

Philippines Commission on Human Rights holding overseas hearings for oil majors

The Republic of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights is set to confront oil majors over their climate change impact through hearings in Manila, New York and London. The hearings are in response to a petition lodged in 2015 which seeks to hold forty-seven companies accountable for Philippine communities suffering from extreme weather. Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz explained that holding hearings overseas will make the process inclusive, affording all carbon companies the best chance to confront the impact of their businesses. To date, half of the companies, whose products generated around a fifth of historic greenhouse gas emissions, have not responded to the Commission. Those which have responded, questioned the Commission’s jurisdiction or argued that it was for governments and not private companies to tackle climate change. Several international law experts have also filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the petition which back the Commission’s mandate to investigate private companies over harm experienced by Filipinos. The hearings are due to commence in Manila in March 2018, with the overseas sessions following later in the year. The Commission cannot directly impose penalties on any of the respondents; however, it could recommend ways that the companies might alleviate their future operations’ human rights impact.

Tomasella v Nestlé: Consumers sue Nestlé for child labour chocolate

On 12 February 2018, consumer Danell Tomasella filed a Class Action Complaint in Case No. 1:18-cv-10269 in the Massachusetts federal court. The lawsuit against Swiss food and beverage conglomerate Nestlé USA Inc. alleges that the company regularly imports cocoa beans from suppliers in the Ivory Coast and engages in deceptive marketing by hiding that this chocolate supply chain utilises child and slave labour. The plaintiffs claim that in violation of Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law, Nestlé does not disclose its Ivory Coast suppliers’ reliance on the worst forms of child labour which is of material interest to American consumers. They state that “Nestlé has not required its suppliers to remedy this human tragedy” and that it instead continues to be unjustly enriched by the profits from chocolate sales. The allegations highlight that much of the world’s chocolate is “quite literally brought to us by the backbreaking labor of children, in many cases under conditions of slavery”. Nestlé has responded that such consumer class actions “are not the way to solve such a serious and complex issue as forced child labor”, rather “class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced labor”. 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.


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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...




Corporate Responsibility for Climate Change: Litigation and Other Grievance Mechanisms - By Elisa Chiaro

Editor’s Note: Elisa Chiaro is a legal consultant focussing on Business and Human Rights and International Criminal Law. In 2016 she completed an LL.M. at SOAS, University of London. Before that she worked for five years as international corporate lawyer both in Italy and UK. She is admitted to the Bar in Italy.


1.      Introduction

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) climate change is real: “[h]uman influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”[1]

From a scientific point of view, it is well established that the concentration of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”), which are present in nature and essential for the survival of human beings and plants, is linked to the Earth’s temperature, which has been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution. From the perspective of public health, according to the WHO, an effect of climate change will be an increase of approximately 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, disease (such as malaria and diarrhoea) and heat stress.

As will be explained in the following section many international agreements and initiatives have emerged to tackle the problem. However the main goal of this post is to analyse some examples of civil judicial and quasi-judicial means that have been used to hold companies accountable for the effects of climate change. The first category under scrutiny will be litigation brought against private companies, such as in the case Lliuya v. RWE AG brought before the German Court and in American cases brought by public institutions (cities or counties) against oil companies. The second category encompasses other grievance mechanisms, such as the notification to the OECD National Contact Points of violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (“OECD Guidelines”) by corporations (Dutch NGOs v. ING Bank). More...





Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – November 2017 - 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. 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...


Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – October 2017. By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on transnational business regulation 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. More...

A Quest for justice: The ‘Ogoni Nine’ legal saga and the new Kiobel lawsuit against Shell. By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is an intern at T.M.C. Asser Institute. She has recently completed her LLM in Public International Law at the University of Amsterdam. She holds interests in Migration Law, Criminal Law, Human Rights and European Law, with a special focus on their transnational dimension.


On 29th June 2017, four Nigerian widows launched a civil case against Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), Shell Petroleum N.V., the Shell Transport and Trading Company, and its subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) in the Netherlands. Esther Kiobel, Victoria Bera, Blessing Eawo and Charity Levula are still seeking redress for the killing of their husbands in 1995 in Nigeria. They claim the defendants are accomplices in the execution of their husbands by the Abasha regime. Allegedly, the companies had provided material support, which then led to the arrest and death of the activists.  

In the light of this lawsuit, it is interesting to retrace the so-called ‘Ogoni Nine’ legal saga. The case saw the interplay between multiple jurisdictions and actors, and its analysis is useful to point out some of the main legal issues encountered on the path to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses. More...


Why Doing Business Right?

Doing Business has been a (if not the) core concern for the post-WWII world order, leading up to contemporary economic globalisation and the ‘free’ movement of goods, capital and ideas across the globe. With our research project, and the launch of this companion blog, we aim to shift the focus towards Doing Business Right. Thanks to the financial crisis in 2008, there is growing awareness of the fact that Doing Business can lead to extremely adverse social and economic consequences. The trust in Doing Business as a cure-all to modernize, democratize, or civilize the world is fading. Moreover, the damaging externalities prompted by the operation of transnational economic activity are more and more visible. It has become harder, nowadays, to ignore the environmental and social consequences triggered elsewhere by our consumption patterns or by our reliance on certain energy industries. What does Doing Business Right mean? How does the law respond to the urge to do business right? What are the legal mechanisms used, or that could be used, to ensure that business is done in the right way? Can transnational business activity even be subjected to law in a globalized world?

This blog will offer an academic platform for scholars and practitioners interested in these questions. With your help we aim to investigate the multiple legal and regulatory constructs affecting transnational business conduct - ranging from public international law to internal corporate practices. We will do so by hosting in-depth case studies, but also more theoretical takes on the normative underpinnings of the idea of Doing Business Right. We aim to be inclusive in methodological terms, and believe that private and public, as well as national and international, legal (and...) scholars should come together to tackle a genuinely transnational phenomenon. Future posts will cover issues as diverse as national, EU, international, transnational regulations - including self-regulation, voluntary codes, and market-based regulatory instruments  - applying to transnational business conduct. Case law from the CJEU, international tribunals (ICJ, arbitral tribunals) and national courts, as well as decisions from international organisations, national agencies (such as competition authorities) will be recurring objects of discussion and analysis. Yet, our perspective is not solely focused on the (traditional) law: management practices of  companies and their effects will also be scrutinized.

This blog is thought as an open discursive space to engage and debate with a wide variety of actors and perspectives. We hope to get the attention of those who care about Doing Business Right, and to provide useful intellectual and legal weapons for their endeavours.

The Editors:

Antoine Duval is a Senior researcher at the Asser Institute since 2014. He holds a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence in which he scrutinized the interaction between EU law and the transnational private regulation of world sport, the lex sportiva. His research is mainly focused on transnational legal theory, international arbitration, and private regulation.  

Enrico Partiti is researcher at the Asser Institute since 2017. He holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam on private standards for sustainability. His research interest lies at the intersection of EU and international economic law on the one hand, and private regulation for sustainability on the other. He studies the interactions and reciprocal influence between transnational public and private norms, and how they determine and impact on social and environmental sustainability in global value chains.