International Criminal Law and Corporate Actors - Part 3: War Crimes before Domestic Courts - By Maisie Biggs

Editor’s note: Maisie Biggs graduated with a MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh and holds a LLB from University College London. She is currently working with the Asser Institute in The Hague.  She has previously worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

 

The ‘web’ of domestic statutory liability for international criminal law (ICL) violations by legal persons has spread. The previous post in this series outlined developments at the international level, however domestic courts play a fundamental role in its development and have been far more active on this front. These domestic developments are particularly remarkable in France, The Netherlands and Sweden. The American Alien Tort Statute caselaw will be discussed in the next post in this series. 

Domestic-level developments

As the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Human Rights Council, John Ruggie has highlighted the dual role of national courts and international tribunals in developing corporate responsibility for international crimes:

“One [of two developments] is the expansion and refinement of individual responsibility by the international ad hoc criminal tribunals and the ICC Statute; the other is the extension of responsibility for international crimes to corporations under domestic law. The complex interaction between the two is creating an expanding web of potential corporate liability for international crimes, imposed through national courts.[1]

The ICC was always intended to be supplementary to domestic courts, which are integral to the implementation and development of international criminal law.[2] The ICC’s remit (and resources) do not permit it to be the forum for the vast majority of international crimes, rather it (ideally) should only be resorted to when the relevant domestic courts are unwilling or unable to field international criminal law claims. The development of ICL at the domestic level means that it may be applied to legal persons in those forums.

The comparative law issue was at the crux of the debates at the Rome Conference surrounding the drafting of the Rome Statute; it was a step too far for an international instrument to impose a new and novel application of criminal law (to legal persons) on states with no prior history of doing so.[3] In the interim however, states have begun to do so voluntarily.[4] Anita Ramasastry and Robert C Thompson completed a wide survey of 16 countries and found that the “potential web of liability”[5] is expanding. While there are variations in how criminal conduct and intent are attributed to the company, and the type of liability itself, countries are increasingly subjecting business entities to statutory liability for international crimes.

David Scheffer, having witnessed the climate surrounding corporate criminal liability during the Rome conference negotiations, has since argued that legal systems and international law have evolved due in part to those inconclusive negotiations:

“States certainly did not act as if the Rome Treaty precluded expanding corporate liability into the realm of atrocity crimes. Indeed, one might speculate that the Rome Treaty, by focusing ratifying States’ attention on atrocity crimes, provided an impetus to accord greater accountability within their domestic legal systems.” [6]

Common-law countries in general adopted corporate criminal liability earlier than civil law, however these have come on board more recently; the highest-profile hold outs against this trend remain Germany, Sweden and Russia, which use alternative mechanisms to attach liability for corporate involvement in international crimes.[7] However, actual prosecution of legal persons remains rare. Dieneke De Vos’s run down of pre-2018 developments which already evidenced the “emerging norm” of finding potential corporate liability for ICL violations at the domestic level, at the same time acknowledged the rarity of prosecution.

 

The Netherlands

A number of high-profile Dutch cases have arisen in recent years of corporate actors being prosecuted for war crimes and international crimes, most notably in 2017 the Dutch Court of Appeal of ’s-Hertogenbosch convicted the arms-dealer and businessman Kouwenhoven for complicity in war crimes in Liberia. Dutchman Frans van Anraat was similarly prosecuted in 2005 for complicity in war crimes, due to his company selling the chemical ‘thiodiglycol’ to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In Dutch law a corporation can be criminally liable under article 51(1) of the Dutch Penal Code (DPC).[8] The Dutch Supreme Court has outlined the circumstances in which it would be reasonable to impute illegal conduct to the corporation in the Drijfmest case, which are relatively flexible.[9] International crimes are incorporated into Dutch domestic law through the International Crimes Act (ICA) 2003, which defined the offences as crimes (Section 10) and did not exclude legal persons (Section 16).

Businessmen have been convicted in the aforementioned Van Anraat and Kouwenhoven cases in the Netherlands, however despite the possibility of corporate criminal liability for international crimes and the Dutch reputation for being a ‘pioneer’ in this area, successful prosecutions have yet to materialise, and no cases have yet made it to the trial phase.[10]

Proceedings under the ICA were initiated against a corporation, Lima Holding B.V., in the Riwal case. The Palestinian NGO Al Haq submitted a complaint against the Dutch company for its role in the construction of a security barrier between the West Bank and Israel. The prosecutor opted not to try the case, citing practical resource issues and lack of cooperation from Israeli authorities with the extraterritorial investigation. Public prosecutor Thijs Berger has since explained that “access to the relevant administration was not possible as the information was located at a subsidiary of the corporation in Israel and the Israeli authorities refused to act on requests for legal assistance sent by the Dutch Public Prosecutor.”[11] Though not ICL cases, Dutch prosecutors have met with more success prosecuting companies for transnational crimes in the international corruption cases of SBM Offshore and VimpelCom.[12]

The reasons for the lack of Dutch prosecutions have been attributed to possible adverse impacts of a prosecution on the Dutch economy; the limited capacity of the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office; the practical issues surrounding conducting investigations on foreign territory; and the bankruptcy or otherwise disappearance of the company in question.[13]

 

France

The aforementioned cases, though they highlight the role of corporate actors in conflicts, nonetheless all involve individual liability of natural persons. However, the recent French Lafarge case involves the prosecution of the company itself (in addition to former company executives) for international crimes, including complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, financing of a terrorist enterprise, deliberate endangerment of people's lives and forced labour.[14]

French corporate criminal liability is vicarious: offences must be “committed on their account by their organs or representatives.”[15] For the purposes of ICL prosecutions, this might prove an issue in the future regarding who properly is a ‘representative’ or organ for the purposes of the company’s liability. However, on the other hand it does partially lower the bar for finding corporate liability once that representative’s fault[16] has been determined.[17] There are more procedural barriers than under the Dutch system, leading to questions about what these would mean should a prosecution materialise. Unlike the Dutch, the French system of universal jurisdiction for core crimes does not apply to legal persons, and the jurisdictional double criminality requirement may mean that companies may not be prosecuted if the country where the crime took place does not also subject legal persons to criminal liability.[18]

The Lafarge case in France may be the most discussed, potentially impactful contemporary case for corporate criminal liability under ICL, however French civil society groups have been especially proactive in bringing cases before prosecutors and so there are other similar cases that started before Lafarge.

The 2009 DLH France case concerned the purchase of illegally obtained timber which was helping fund the Liberian civil war, however the case was dismissed by the Public Prosecutor in 2013.[19] The Amesys case concerned the French company Amesys which contracted with the Libyan intelligence services to supply a communications surveillance system, in so doing assisting the Gaddafi regime violently target political opponents and protestors. The case for complicity in acts of torture followed a complaint filed by FIDH (Fédération Internationale des Droits de lHomme) and the French Human Rights League (Ligue française des droits de lHomme - LDH), and is being heard before the Specialised War Crimes Unit within the Paris Tribunal (Tribunal de grande instance). The case is ongoing.

The BNP Paribas Rwanda case concerns complicity in the Rwandan genocide by the French bank. In 2017 the public prosecutor opened a judicial investigation into charges of complicity in genocide and complicity of crimes against humanity. These specifically concern $1.3m USD in funds transferred by the bank (in violation of a United Nations arms embargo) that were allegedly used to purchase weapons used in the genocide.[20] The initial complaint was filed by Sherpa, Ibuka France, and the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda. This case is also ongoing.

The 2017 judicial investigation into the Lafarge case has caused greater interest in observers. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Sherpa, and some of Lafarge’s former employees filed a criminal complaint against the French company for activities in 2013-14 by its Syrian subsidiary. The case concerns a cement plant situated in northeastern Syria which was acquired by Lafarge SA (now called LafargeHolcim) in 2007, and continued operations as Islamic State forces occupied the area. Lafarge is accused of financing IS through commercial transactions, from buying raw materials to paying fees to armed groups to continue factory operations. Now the company itself, in addition to eight of its former executives, is facing criminal prosecution, formally indicted on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, endangerment of people's lives and financing of a terrorist enterprise.

 

Sweden

The Swedish model, and past caselaw, were covered in our case note on the Lundin Petroleum case. In brief summary, Swedish prosecutors have utilised universal jurisdiction for international crimes in past to prosecute three individuals involved in the Rwandan genocide, and several cases of war crimes committed during the Balkan Wars.

The Lundin case concerns the culpability of Swedish corporate actors for harms perpetrated during Sudan’s oil wars. Forfeiture of economic benefits and a corporate fine (the closest punitive equivalent to corporate criminal liability under Swedish law[21]) are being levelled at Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum SA, and two company directors are personally facing criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. The forfeiture claim is for the whole profit of the oil exploitation over the years Lundin was involved in Sudan, and the two men face life in prison if found guilty, so the charges are not insubstantial. The Swedish Government’s authorisation is necessary in extraterritorial cases to allow the prosecution.[22] It was granted in this case, and subsequently the Supreme Administrative Court denied Lundin’s appeal to override the decision in favour of prosecution. Swedish police have also opened a criminal investigation into harassment of witnesses.

At the Asser event on the Lundin case, Miriam Ingeson argued that the increased capacity building for Swedish prosecutors to pursue international crimes, and a positive duty to prosecute under Swedish law have likely led to the increase in these investigations. She also explained this case will challenge Swedish courts with the question of which general principles to apply on accomplice liability; international tribunals, including the courts of Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and ICC have developed international-level principles that states are not necessarily obliged to apply. This case however does reference general international legal rules, so the Swedish rules on accomplice liability may yield to those developed by international tribunals.

The harms being investigated by the Swedish prosecutors and the depth of the company’s alleged involvement are arguably more serious than those in the French Lafarge case. Both cases are (slowly) unfolding, potentially developing customary ICL in the process, so comparisons between the two will inevitably continue.

 

Conclusion

The previous post discussed the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) case, and how heavily the judge leaned on developments in domestic courts concerning corporate liability. That judgement and these domestic developments are evidencing the interplay between the application of ICL in domestic courts[23] and the international tribunals. The 2009 prophecy of Joanna Kyriakakis now seems especially prescient:

“[T]he growing trend in legal systems in Europe, Asia, and South America to incorporate extraterritorial corporate liability for international crimes will likely function as a catalyst for courts to construe international criminal law so as to apply to corporations as non-state actors, or even bring the issue of corporate liability back to the agenda of the states parties to the ICC.”[24]

Actual prosecutions are sparse however there is nonetheless a developing trend to support the STL judge’s conclusions. This trend is still only on paper: domestic statutory corporate liability for ICL violations has become widespread, however even in these particularly active jurisdictions there have been no convictions of legal persons for international crimes. The extreme expense, political and economic issues inherent in any case of this kind preclude there ever being a deluge of cases to look at, so the small number of cases successfully making it to the investigation stages are cause for analysis. The next post in this series will be addressing the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co and Jesner v Arab Bank cases before American courts, and specifically looking to the role of civil law in ICL.


[1] HRC, ‘Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises, Business and Human Rights: Mapping International Standards of Responsibility and Accountability for Corporate Acts’ UN Doc. A/HRC/4/35 (19 February 2007) para 22.

[2] See Mark Klamberg, ‘International Criminal Law in Swedish Courts: The Principle of Legality in the Arklöv Case’ (2009) 9 International Criminal Law Review 395.

[3] Joanna Kyriakakis, ‘Corporate Criminal Liability and the ICC Statute: The Comparative Law Challenge’ (2009) 56 Netherlands International L Rev 333, 348.

[4] David Scheffer, ‘Corporate Liability under the Rome Statute’ (2016) 57 Harvard International Law Journal Online Symposium 35, 38. See also his Amicus Curiae briefs in both Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co and Jesner v Arab Bank, PLC, which strongly argue the evolution of corporate criminal liability since the drafting of the Rome Statute.

[5] Anita Ramasastry and Robert C Thompson, ‘Commerce, Crime and Conflict: Legal Remedies for Private Sector Liability for Grave Breaches of International Law: A Survey of Sixteen Countries’ (Fafo-report no. 536, 2006) 27.

[6]Brief of Ambassador David J. Scheffer, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, as Amicus Curiae in Support of the Petitioners’ Joseph Jesner, et al., v. Arab Bank PLC, 822 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2016) (Jun. 26, 2017) 6.

[7] Sabine Gless and Sarah Wood, ‘General Report on Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law: Jurisdictional Issues’ in S Gless and S Broniszewska (eds) Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law: Jurisdictional Issues (International Colloquium Section 4, Basel, 21-23 June 2017) 18.

[8] Article 51 Dutch Penal Code:

[…] 2. If an offence has been committed by a legal person, prosecution can be instituted and the punishments and measures provided by law can be imposed, if applicable, on:

a. The legal person, or

b. Those who have ordered the offence, as well as on those who have actually controlled the forbidden act, or

c. The persons mentioned under 1. And 2. Together

3. For the application of the former subsections, equal status as a legal person applies to a company without legal personality, a partnership, a firm of ship owners, and a separate capital sum assembled for a special purpose.

[9] See English summary in Emma van Gelder and Cedric Ryngaert, ‘Dutch Report on Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law’ in S Gless and S Broniszewska (eds) Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law: Jurisdictional Issues (International Colloquium Section 4, Basel, 21-23 June 2017) 114.

[10] Cedric Ryngaert, ‘Accountability for Corporate Human Rights Abuses: Lessons from the Possible Exercise of Dutch National Criminal Jurisdiction over Multinational Corporations’ (2018) 29 Criminal Law Forum 1, 8.

[11] van Gelder and Ryngaert (n 10) 129.

[12] ibid 130.

[13] ibid 143.

[14] For more background on this case, see the previous Doing Business Right post by Alexandru Tofan.

[15] France Penal Code, Article 121-2 [paragraph 1].

[16] France Penal Code, Article 121-2 [paragraph 3]: “The criminal liability of legal persons does not exclude that of the natural persons who are perpetrators or accomplices to the same act”.

[17] “In an important judgment of 2001 the Court of cassation stated that the body’s or representative’s fault is sufficient to trigger the criminal liability of the corporation in case the offence has been committed on the legal person’s behalf. It is not necessary to characterize a separate fault of the corporation” in Juliette Lelieur, ‘French Report on Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law’ in S Gless and S Broniszewska (eds) Prosecuting Corporations for Violations of International Criminal Law: Jurisdictional Issues (International Colloquium Section 4, Basel, 21-23 June 2017) 185.

[18] ibid 180.

[19] Of note: the case was at least partially under French criminal law rather than application of ICL.

[20] This is not the first time the bank has faced these types of claims: “The investigation into BNP comes three years after US regulators extracted a record $8.9bn fine and a guilty plea from the bank, finding that it broke US sanctions by processing more than $30bn of transactions for groups in Sudan, Iran and Cuba between 2002 and 2012. The bank was also given a one-year ban on clearing some dollar transactions.” in Martin Arnold, ‘BNP Paribas under investigation over role in Rwanda genocide’ Financial Times (September 25 2017).

[21] In the Swedish context “a corporate fine is not considered a penalty for a crime but is an extraordinary legal remedy serving as a repressive sanction supplanting corporate criminal liability,” in Miriam Ingeson and Alexandra Lily Kather, ‘The Road Less Traveled: How Corporate Directors Could be Held Individually Liable in Sweden for Corporate Atrocity Crimes Abroad’.

[22] ibid.

[23] Jonathan Clough, ‘Not-so-innocents abroad: corporate criminal liability for human rights abuses’ (2005) 11(1) Australian Journal of Human Rights 1, 7.

[24] Kyriakakis (n 3) 348.

International Criminal Law and Corporate Actors - Part 2: The Rome Statute and its Aftermath - By Maisie Biggs

Editor’s note: Maisie Biggs graduated with a MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh and holds a LLB from University College London. She is currently working with the Asser Institute in The Hague.  She has worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

 

The Rome Statute is a central pillar of international criminal law (ICL), and so any discussion concerning the subjection of legal persons requires a revisit of the negotiations surrounding its drafting. However in the time since its implementation, there appears to have been a shift in ICL regarding corporate liability. Developing customary international law, treaty law and now most domestic legal systems have some established mechanisms for prosecuting legal persons for violations of ICL. More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part III): A Deep Dive into Adidas’ Practices - 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.

 

The tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed over one thousand workers and injured more than two thousand, brought global attention to the potential human rights risks and impacts that are inherent to the garment and footwear sector.[1] This sector employs millions of workers within its supply chain in order to enable large-scale production of goods as quickly as possible at the lowest cost as market trends and consumer preferences change.[2] These workers are often present in countries where the respect for human rights and labour rights is weak. This creates an environment that is conducive to human rights abuses. Key risks in this sector include child labour, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, forced labour, non-compliance with minimum wage laws and excessive work hours.[3] Accordingly, brands such as Adidas face the challenge of conducting effective human rights due diligence (HRDD), particularly in their supply chains. 

This third blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD is a case study looking at how HRDD has materialised in practice within Adidas’ supply chains. It will be followed by another case study examining the steps taken by Unilever in order to operationalise the concept of HRDD. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect of human rights by businesses. More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – April 2019 - By Shamistha Selvaratnan

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.


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.


The Headlines

UK Supreme Court hands down judgment denying appeal by Vedanta

Following a significant UK Supreme Court jurisdiction case this month, for the first time a UK company will face trial in their home jurisdiction for environmental and human rights impacts associated with its foreign subsidiary. In Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents) [2019] UKSC 20, the Supreme Court denied an appeal by Vedanta Resources and its Zambian subsidiary KCM, and allowed the claim to proceed to merits in England. The Court made it clear the real risk that the claimants would not obtain access to substantial justice in Zambia was the deciding factor in the case.

The big news is the Court’s prioritisation of access to justice as a jurisdictional hook for claims in England, however the finding of a “real triable issue” between a foreign claimant and UK parent company is also of great significance. The Court lowered the (previously insurmountable) bar for evidence the claimants have to provide at the pre-trial stage, allowing victims of corporate abuses to rely more heavily on the potential future disclosure of internal defendant documents. The Court called for a more liberal, less formalistic approach to determining whether a parent company potentially exercised control, saying that the existing legal criteria ought not to be a ‘straitjacket’ on the courts.

To the relief of those following previous cases like Okpabi, Lord Briggs confirmed that the size of a company’s operations does not dilute a duty of care – under the previous state of the law, the liability of a company decreased as its power and size increased. Additionally, company group-wide Corporate Social Responsibility policies and guidelines can now potentially be a basis to argue a case of parent company control. Companies making public statements that they protect the environment and human rights in their operations may now be held to these press-friendly representations. Read our full analysis of the case here. More...




International Criminal Law and Corporate Actors - Part 1: From Slave Trade Tribunals to Nuremberg - By Maisie Biggs

Editors’ note: Maisie Biggs graduated with a MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh and holds a LLB from University College London. She is currently working with the Asser Institute in The Hague.  She has worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

 

The Nuremberg Trials were a defining and foundational moment for international criminal law, and the first instance in which the question of international legal responsibility of corporate actors, including natural persons and corporations, was first broached. The Tribunals elected to only prosecute natural persons, however a brief analysis of the reasoning indicates it was political rather than legal considerations that led to this distinction. International law and corporate actors have a storied history that merits drawing the timeline back earlier than Nuremberg. This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the intersection between corporations and international criminal law (ICL).

As is well known, corporations are not subjected to the Rome Statute and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet, as we will show there have been interesting recent developments at the intersection between ICL and the activities of corporations. In 2014, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (Al Jadeed S.A.L. & Ms Khayat (STL-14-05)) acknowledged the development of domestic corporate accountability, and determined that ICL has likewise progressed. Meanwhile, cases against individuals (such as the ongoing Lundin case in Sweden) or corporations (such as the Lafarge case in France) involving the activities of corporations abroad have been initiated by national prosecutors on the basis of ICL.

These cases and potential implications will be discussed in more depth in later posts, however it is interesting that while some academics and judges are tracking the ostensibly ‘new’ legal movements to subject corporate activities to greater regulation,[1] the history of international law itself shows that harmful transnational commerce has been an issue for a long time, and this is not the first time international law has been used as a tool against jurisdiction-hopping corporate crime.More...

The Rise of Human Rights Due Diligence (Part II): The Pluralist Struggle to Shape the Practical Meaning of the Concept - 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.

 

The UNGPs second pillar, the corporate respect for human rights, is built around the concept of human rights due diligence (HRDD). Since 2011, following the resounding endorsement of the UNGPs by the Human Rights Council, it has become clear that HRDD constitutes a complex ecology of diverse practices tailored to the specific context of a particular business. The UNGPs are not legally binding and there is no institutional mechanism in place to control how they are to be translated into practice by the companies that purport to endorse them. Nonetheless, numerous companies and regulatory schemes have embraced the idea of HRDD (such as the OECD Guidelines, the French law on the devoir de vigilance, the UK and Australian modern slavery laws and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textile). 

The operationalisation of HRDD has been shaped over the past 8.5 years by a variety of actors, including international organisations, consultancies and audit firms, as well as non-governmental organisations. These actors have conducted research and developed various methodologies, instruments and tools to define what HRDD is and what it entails in order to assist or influence businesses in its operationalisation. The interpretation of the requirements imposed by HRDD process outlined in the UNGPs is open to a variety of potentially contradictory interpretations. This pluralism is well illustrated by the diversity of actors involved in an ongoing struggle to define its scope and implications.

This second blog of a series of articles dedicated to HRDD looks at it through the lens of the most influential players shaping HRDD in practice by examining their various perspectives and contributions to the concept. Case studies will then be undertaken to look at how HRDD has materialised in practice in specific companies. To wrap up the series, a final piece will reflect on the effectiveness of the turn to HRDD to strengthen respect for human rights by businesses. More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – March 2019 - 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 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.


The Headlines

US Supreme Court decision: World Bank can be sued for projects that impact on local communities

In late February, the US Supreme Court handed down its judgment in Jam et al. v. International Finance Corporation, ruling that the World Bank does not enjoy absolute immunity from being sued in the United States, including in relation to its commercial activities. In this case, members of a minority fishing community in India sued the International Finance Corporate (IFC) (an arm of the World Bank) in order to hold it accountable for various harms caused by the Tata Mundra power plan, an IFC-financed project. The federal district court found that the IFC enjoys ‘virtually absolute’ immunity from suits. The US Court of Appeals upheld this decision. However, the US Supreme Court overturned this decision finding that international organisations can now be sued in the United States. Read the judgment here. The Asser Institute will be holding an event on 24 April 2019 which will summarise the reasoning in the decision and explore the foreseeable effects on the legal accountability of international organisations, and international financial institutions in particular. Register for the event here.


Australian Government releases draft guidance in relation to modern slavery

The Australian Government has published its draft guidance for reporting entities under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth), which was passed by Parliament in December 2018. The draft sets out what entities need to do to comply with the reporting requirement under the Act. Usefully, the draft informs entities on how to determine whether it is a reporting entity and how to prepare a modern slavery statement. It offers suggestions on how to meet the seven reporting criteria, including how to scope out an entity’s modern slavery risks and possible actions that can be taken to assess and address risks identified. Read the draft here. More...






Loosening the Jurisdictional Straitjacket: The Vedanta Ruling and the Jurisdiction of UK Courts in Transnational Civil Liability Cases - By Maisie Biggs

 Editor’s note: Maisie Biggs recently graduated with a MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh and holds a LLB from University College London. She is currently an intern with the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.

 

“No one who comes to these courts asking for justice should come in vain. The right to come here is not confined to Englishmen. It extends to any friendly foreigner. He can seek the aid of our courts if he desires to do so. You may call this ‘forum shopping’ if you please, but if the forum is England, it is a good place to shop in both for the quality of the goods and the speed of service.”

Lord Denning in The Atlantic Star [1973] 1 QB 364 (CA) 381–2

 

The United Kingdom Supreme Court today has handed down Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents) [2019] UKSC 20, a significant judgement concerning parent company liability and the determination of jurisdiction for these claims. Practically, it now means for the first time a UK company will face trial and potentially accountability in their home jurisdiction for environmental harms associated with operations of foreign subsidiaries. 

This is a closely-watched jurisdiction case concerning a UK parent company’s liability arising out of the actions of its foreign subsidiary. The claimants are 1826 Zambian citizens from the Chingola region of the Copperbelt Province. This group action is against UK-domiciled Vedanta Resources PLC and its subsidiary KCM, a second defendant which is incorporated in Zambia. The original claims concern discharges from the KCM-owned Nchanga mine since 2005 which have allegedly caused pollution and environmental damage leading to personal injury, damage to property and loss of income, amenity and enjoyment of land. 

Following the initiation of this claim, in 2015 Vedanta and KCM challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts, however Coulson J dismissed their applications. The Court of Appeal then upheld the dismissal of those applications, so the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court. (See our previous blog on the case here).

The Supreme Court today denied the appeal by Vedanta Resources and KCM, and allowed the claim to proceed to merits in England. The Court made it clear the real risk that the claimants would not obtain access to substantial justice in Zambia was the deciding factor in the case. The Court denied there was an abuse of EU law by the claimants using Vedanta as a jurisdictional hook to sue both the parent company and subsidiary in England, and the claimants succeeded in demonstrating there was a “real triable issue”, nonetheless Zambia was held to be the “proper place” for the case. However, because the Court supported the finding of the first instance judge regarding the risks faced by claimants in accessing substantial justice in Zambia, the appeal was denied, and the case can proceed in England. 

This is a significant judgement, as it now means for the first time a UK company will face trial and potentially accountability in their home jurisdiction for environmental harms associated with operations of foreign subsidiaries. Lord Briggs delivered the judgement on four major issues: the potential for abuse of EU law; whether there was a real triable issue against Vedanta; whether England is the proper place for these proceedings; and whether there was a real risk that substantial justice would not be obtainable in that foreign jurisdiction. 

Why is this significant? For those following this case, and the appeals of Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor (Rev 1) [2018] EWCA Civ 191 and AAA & Ors v Unilever Plc & Anor [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 in the English courts, there are two major findings in this judgement that will likely impact future cases concerning parent company liability. Firstly, the reasoning behind the finding of a “real triable issue” between a foreign claimant and UK parent company, and secondly the primacy the Supreme Court placed on the significance of access to justice as a jurisdictional hook for claims in England. More...






New Event! Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden - 23 May - Asser Institute

This autumn, two oil industry executives may be indicted in Sweden for aiding and abetting international crimes in Sudan. Furthermore, the public prosecutor will also likely seek forfeiture of $400 million from their company, Lundin Petroleum, reflecting the benefits derived from its Sudanese operations. The case follows the 2018 French indictment of LafargeHolcim for alleged crimes committed in Syria, showing that corporate liability for international crimes is gaining traction, before European courts at least.

This event aims to discuss the Lundin case, which has the potential of becoming a landmark trial because of the novelty and complexity of the legal issues that the court will have to decide. In particular, with regard to the assessment of the individual criminal liability of the executives of Lundin, the determination of the applicable standards of proof, the question whether a lack of due diligence is sufficient for a finding of guilt, and the limits and overlap of individual criminal liability of corporate directors on the one hand and corporate criminal liability of organisations on the other.

The event will feature three speakers, who will be presenting the various dimensions of the case and will put it into the more general context of the current legal developments with regard to criminal liability of corporations (and their executives) for human rights violations:

  • Egbert Wesselink will provide an introduction to Sudan’s oil war, describe Lundin’s role in it, and examine the human rights responsibilities of the company and its shareholders.
  • Dr. Mark Taylor will discuss how the Lundin case sits in global developments regarding the criminal liability of corporations for human rights abuses in the context of conflicts.
  • Miriam Ingeson will give a Swedish perspective to the legal framework of the case and analyse the legal issues that it raises at the intersection between national and international law.

The speakers:

  • Egbert Wesselink serves as Senior Advisor in PAX, the Dutch peace movement, where he is responsible for the programme on Natural Resources, Conflict and Human Rights, that focusses on the impact of international enterprises on the rights and interests of communities, notably in Sudan, South Sudan, DRC and Colombia. He represents PAX in several multi-stakeholder initiatives, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in an effort to increase the impact of emerging international guidelines, and advises various enterprises.
  • Dr. Mark Taylor is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Private Law, University of Oslo and presently a Visiting Fellow at the Amsterdam Center for International Law, University of Amsterdam. Mark writes on legal and policy frameworks applicable to responsible business and will publish the book “War Economies and International Law: Regulating the Economic Activity of Armed Conflict” (based on his PhD thesis) with Cambridge University Press. Mark is an advisor to various initiatives in the field of responsible business and is a member of the Norwegian Ethics Information Commission (2018-2019), a government commission which is considering a proposed law on human rights information in the global value chains of Norwegian business.
  • Miriam Ingeson is a PhD candidate at Uppsala University, Sweden.  Her research project explores corporate criminal liability in international criminal law, and the intersection of domestic criminal law and public international law. She has previously held positions with the Swedish Prosecution Authority, the Folke Bernadotte Academy and the Swedish Ministry of Justice.

The moderator:

  • Dr. Antoine Duval is Senior Researcher at the Asser Institute and the coordinator of the Doing Business Right project.

For some background material on the case and its wider context, see www.unpaiddebt.orgwww.lundinhistoryinsudan.com.

More information and registration Here!