Is HEINEKEN truly “Brewing a Better World”? The BRALIMA case before the Dutch National Contact Point - By Constance Kwant

Editor’s note: Constance Kwant is an experienced international lawyer who has worked as in-house senior legal counsel for a top tier international financial institution in both Hong Kong and the Netherlands. She has a specific interest in sustainable business and human rights, including responsible finance.

 

Introduction

This post aims to outline, briefly analyse and to provide a critical comment in relation to striking a balance between confidentiality and transparency in the procedure followed by the Dutch National Contact Point (‘NCP’) in the Specific instance procedure filed in December 2015 by three former employees (‘Representatives’) on behalf of a group of 168 former employees of Heineken’s subsidiary Bralima SA (‘Bralima’) in Bakavu, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC’).

The case, finalised in August 2017, concerns alleged violations of labour and human rights by Bralima in the period 1999-2003, a period during which the DRC was a highly volatile and conflict-affected country, where the eastern part of the DRC was effectively under control of rebel movement DRC-Goma.The complaint also alleged that Bralima had cooperated with DRC-Goma in a number of ways throughout this period. On the basis of the alleged violations, the Representatives sought financial compensation by filing its notification with the NCP.

Since the allegations were brought forward to the NCP under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, this post will first provide short background information on the OECD Guidelines and the workings of the Dutch NCP, subsequently moving through the proceedings, its outcome, and a brief analysis with a critical note. More...

Ending torture and the death penalty through trade policy? The ambitious promise of the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade - By Marie Wilmet

Editor's Note: Marie Wilmet is a research intern in Public International Law at the Asser Institute. She recently graduated from Leiden University’s LL.M. in Public International Law. Her main fields of interest include international criminal law, humanitarian law and human rights law as well as counterterrorism.


The Alliance for Torture-Free Trade was launched on 18 September 2017, at the 72nd Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by a common initiative of Argentina, the European Union (EU) and Mongolia. It aims at ending the trade in goods used to carry out the death penalty and torture. Indeed, even though torture is unlawful under public international law, these goods are currently available on the open market across the globe. By banning such tools from global trade, the Alliance hopes to reduce the possible human rights violations by complicating the perpetrators’ acquisition of the means to execute and torture people.

This initiative is part of a broader agenda both at the UN and EU level. It falls under the broader umbrella of UN projects such as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights or the UN Global Compact. Moreover, the EU has tried in the recent years to strengthen the rule of law by conducting policies where trade and values are more interrelated. As the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström stated, “human rights cannot be treated as an afterthought when it comes to trade”.

This blog will first retrace the origins of the Alliance by outlining the current factual and legal framework surrounding torture, the death penalty and related trade. Then, the Alliance and its ambitions will be analysed, along with the chances of its effective implementation. More...




The UK Modern Slavery Act Two Years After: Where do we stand? - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the 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.

In my previous blog, I explained how the negotiations on a prospective Treaty on Business and Human Rights are going hand-in-hand with the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The Principles – developed by Professor John Ruggie, and approved by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 – have attracted widespread consensus among both States and corporations.[1]  Nowadays, the UNGPs are regarded as crucial to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses connected to their activities. However, the UNGPs are not binding, and they need to be operationalized in national law, as reaffirmed in Human Right Council Resolution 26/22. To date, National Action Plans[2] appear as the preferred tool to transpose the Principles into national law. Nevertheless, their provisions are often of a descriptive nature, resembling more a declaration of intent rather than an effective implementation of the UNGPs.[3] Only recently, some States have actually adopted hard law instruments on Business and Human Rights, and the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) is one of them. The Act, aimed at tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, was sponsored by Theresa May and Lord Bates in 2014 and came into force on 29 October 2015.

Almost two years from the entry into force of the Act, this post aims at giving a brief account of what the Modern Slavery Act is and how it has been applied so far. The main focus will be on Section 54 of the Act (‘Transparency in the supply chain’), which prescribes a reporting obligation for corporations. More...



The Ilva Case – Part 2: The Transnational Recourse Against a Disaster Foretold - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the 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.

Having explained the Italian legal trajectory of the Ilva case, this second post focuses on the transnational reach of the case. Two main actors have played (or play) a crucial role: the European Union (especially the EU Commission) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Both have tackled the Ilva case from different perspectives, depending on their competences. The Commission even dealt with the case from two distinctive viewpoints, as it started infringement proceedings related environmental protection state and aid.More...


The Ilva Case - Part 1: The Italian Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold - By Sara Martinetto

Editor's note: Sara Martinetto is a research intern at the 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.


More than 11000 deaths and 25000 hospitalisations: the numbers divulged by the prosecution expert report assessing the human consequence of the operation of Ilva industries in the Italian city of Taranto are staggering. The environmental disaster caused by the plant brought the whole area to its knees and, in spite of all the efforts made, is still on-going. This is the story of a never-ending conflict. A conflict between different rights, which need to be balanced; between public authorities, who bear responsibility for ensuring and protecting those rights; between different normative levels and powers, given the numerous infringement proceedings opened by the EU Commission and the most recent claims lodged to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In the following sections I will try to shed some light on the main legal aspects of this tragic saga. For clarity, this article is divided in two posts: the first deals with the national level, while the second focuses on the supranational dimension of the case.More...


FIFA's Human Rights Agenda: Is the Game Beautiful Again? – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.

 

Concerns about adverse human rights impacts related to FIFA's activities have intensified ever since its late 2010 decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar respectively. However, until recently, the world's governing body of football had done little to eliminate these concerns, thereby encouraging human rights advocates to exercise their critical eye on FIFA. 

In response to growing criticism, the Extraordinary FIFA Congress, held in February 2016, decided to include an explicit human rights commitment in the revised FIFA Statutes which came into force in April 2016. This commitment is encapsulated in Article 3 which reads as follows: ''FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights''. At around the same time, Professor John Ruggie, the author of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ('UN Guiding Principles') presented in his report 25 specific recommendations for FIFA on how to further embed respect for human rights across its global operations. While praising the decision to make a human rights commitment part of the organization's constituent document, Ruggie concluded that ''FIFA does not have yet adequate systems in place enabling it to know and show that it respects human rights in practice''.[1]

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia less than a year away, the time is ripe to look at whether Ruggie's statement about FIFA's inability to respect human rights still holds true today. This blog outlines the most salient human rights risks related to FIFA's activities and offers a general overview of what the world's governing body of football did over the past twelve months to mitigate these risks. Information about FIFA's human rights activities is collected primarily from its Activity Update on Human Rights published alongside FIFA's Human Rights Policy in June 2017. 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...

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...


Who is afraid of a binding treaty? Stumbling Blocks on the Accountability of Transnational Corporations 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.

 

Since the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of Resolution 26/9 in 2014, an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (WG) is working on a binding Treaty capable of holding transnational corporations accountable for human rights abuses. Elaborating on the proposal presented by Ecuador and South Africa, the WG has been holding periodical sessions. In much trepidation for what is supposed to be the start of substantive negotiations – scheduled for October 23-27, 2017 – it is worth summarising and highlighting the struggles this new instrument is likely to encounter, and investigating whether (and how) such an agreement could foster transnational corporations’ (TNCs) human rights compliance. More...

The Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile. Taming transnational supply chains via corporate due diligence.

The six months between 2012 and 2013 represented a turning point for the garment industry. On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1100 workers. Just a year before, more than 350 garment workers died in two factory fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh. These three tragedies, among the deadliest industrial disasters in recent times, generated a previously unseen level of outrage to which followed a considerable mobilisation by civil society, business communities, States, and international organisations. Apart from the horror stemming from the loss of lives, mostly of young women, the three catastrophes were particularly shocking for Western audiences as they exposed our ignorance and even complicity. It turned out that we - the consumers – turn a blind eye to the working conditions, including health and safety, of garment workers. Thereafter, it was impossible to ignore that well-known brands we regularly purchase were connected to these production sites, which were regular suppliers of many European and American clothing companies. More...