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

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

 

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

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

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


Introduction

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

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

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

More...


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

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

Introduction

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

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

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


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

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



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

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. 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

Chevron Corporation and Texaco Petroleum Company v The Republic of Ecuador

On 30 August 2018 an international tribunal administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued an award in favour of Chevron Corporation and Texaco Petroleum Company, holding that the Republic of Ecuador had violated its obligations under international treaties, investment agreements and international law. The tribunal found that a $9.5 billion judgment handed down by Ecuador’s Supreme Court in the Lago Agrio case was procured through fraud, bribery and corruption. It also found that the Republic of Ecuador had already released the claims that formed the basis of the judgment years before. The tribunal concluded that the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment is “not final, enforceable, or conclusive under Ecuadorian and international law” and therefore cannot be enforced within or outside of Ecuador and that it “violates international public policy and natural justice”.

Draft Optional Protocol to Business and Human Rights Treaty

On 4 September 2018 the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the UN and other International Organizations in Geneva presented the ‘Draft Optional Protocol To The Legally Binding Instrument To Regulate, In International Human Rights Law, The Activities Of Transnational Corporations And Other Business Enterprises’ (Optional Protocol). The Optional Protocol focuses on ensuring State Parties to the Optional Protocol establish mechanisms that provide access to remedy for victims of human rights violations in the context of business activities of a transnational character. It also provides individuals and group with the ability to make communications to the Committee of experts. More...



The Lafarge Affair: A First Step Towards Corporate Criminal Liability for Complicity in Crimes against Humanity - By Alexandru Tofan

Editor's note: Before joining the Asser Institute as an intern, Alexandru Tofan pursued an LLM in Transnational Law at King’s College London where he focused on international human rights law, transnational litigation and international law. He also worked simultaneously as a research assistant at the Transnational Law Institute in London on several projects pertaining to human rights, labour law and transnational corporate conduct.


The recent indictment of the French multinational company ‘Lafarge’ for complicity in crimes against humanity marks a historic step in the fight against the impunity of corporations.  It represents the first time that a company has been indicted on this ground and, importantly, the first time that a French parent company has been charged for the acts undertaken by one of its subsidiaries abroad.  Notably, the Lafarge case fuels an important debate on corporate criminal liability for human rights violations and may be a game changer in this respect.  This article analyses this case and seeks to provide a comprehensive account of its background and current procedural stage. More...



The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Reactions to the Draft - 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.

 

Since the release of the first draft of the BHR Treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’), a range of views have been exchanged by commentators in the field in relation to the content of the treaty (a number of them are available on a dedicated page of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s website). While many have stated that the treaty is a step in the right direction to imposing liability on businesses for human rights violations, there are a number of critiques of the first draft, which commentators hope will be rectified in the next version.

This second blog of a series of articles dedicated to the proposed BHR Treaty provides a review of the key critiques of the treaty. It will be followed by a final blog outlining some recommendations for the working group’s upcoming negotiations between 15 to 19 October 2018 in Geneva. More...

The Proposed Binding Business and Human Rights Treaty: Introducing the Draft - 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.

By resolution, on 26 June 2014 the UN Human Rights Council adopted Ecuador’s proposal to establish an inter-governmental working group mandated ‘to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises’. The proposal was adopted by 20 to 14 votes, with 13 abstentions, and four years later, in July this year, the working group published the first draft of the treaty (from herein referred to as the ‘treaty’). Shortly after, the draft Optional Protocol to the draft treaty was released. The Optional Protocol focuses on access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses by businesses.

This first blog of a series of articles dedicated to the proposed BHR Treaty provides an overview of the main elements of the draft. It will be followed by a review of the reactions to the Draft, and a final piece outlining some recommendations for the upcoming negotiations. More...

The Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on Human Rights: Changing the Paradigm from ‘Opportunity to Affect’ to ‘Responsibility to Respect’ – By Benjamin Thompson

Editor’s note: Benjamin Thompson is a PhD candidate in business and human rights at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. His PhD research deals with the effects of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' endorsement of operational level, non-judicial grievance mechanisms and their role in improving access to remedy. He recently published an article for Utrecht Law Review’s Special Issue on Accountability of Multinational Corporations for Human Rights Abuses which discussed the roles the new Dutch multistakeholder initiative with the Dutch banking sector might play in improving banks’ performance with respect to human rights.


In November of last year the Asser Institute offered me the opportunity to take part in a roundtable on the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement (DBA), as part of their Doing Business Right Project. Signed in December 2017, the DBA is a collaboration between the banking sector, the government, trade unions and civil society organisations (CSOs), all based within the Netherlands: the first of its kind. It focuses on banks’ responsibility to respect human rights, as stipulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines), within their corporate lending and project finance activities. The DBA has been something of a hot topic in business and human rights circles. However, it has not yet published a public monitoring report, making any evaluation of its performance at this stage difficult. During the roundtable, we discussed the role of the DBA as a potential means to improve the practices of Dutch banks with respect to human rights. A key challenge identified from this discussion, as reported here, was the various ‘interpretive ambiguities inherent in the UNGPs’. A key conclusion was that ‘further dialogue is required... to ascertain what conduct on the part of the banks is consistent with international obligations’.

This is not a unique conclusion to arise from multistakeholder discussions on banks and human rights; the discussion often focuses on what financial institutions are required to do to meet their responsibility to respect human rights under the UNGPs. So much so that questions concerning implementation or evaluation are often left by the wayside. As a result, when presenting my research on the DBA for the Utrecht Centre of Accountability and Liability Law’s Conference on ‘Accountability and International Business Operations’, published here, I decided to focus on how the DBA had responded to those key points of friction where there is the greatest disagreement between how different stakeholders conceive banks’ human rights responsibilities. This blog post seeks to build on this previous entry, hopefully without too much repetition. More...



Transparency vs. Confidentiality: Why There Is a Need for More Transparent OECD National Contact Points - 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.


  1. Introduction

The 2011 update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (hereinafter ‘Guidelines’-for some introductory information, see here) introduced various changes to the 2000 text of the Guidelines, including a whole new chapter on human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. National Contact Points (NCPs) - non-binding, state-based, non-judicial grievance mechanisms established by the adhering states - have since then concluded approximately 60 cases submitted under the newly-introduced human rights chapter.

If an NCP believes that the issues raised in a submission merit further consideration, it accepts the complaint, prepares an initial assessment report and offers its good offices to the parties of the complaint.[1] Parties may reject the offer, accept the offer but fail to reach an agreement in the mediation or, if everything goes well, reach an agreement. In any of these scenarios, the NCP concludes the specific instance with a final assessment report.[2] Between the initial and final assessment reports, however, NCPs are not required to communicate details of the ongoing mediations to the public. Nor do they have to provide any specific details about the agreement of the parties, if at all, along with or after the final report.[3]

NCPs aim to promote the effectiveness of the Guidelines, to handle enquiries and to use a complaint procedure (so-called specific instance procedure) to facilitate settlements of disputes that may arise in case of non-compliance with the Guidelines by enterprises. Although to provide effective remedies to victims of business-related human rights abuses is not explicitly included among their aims, NCPs have the potential to serve as a forum to which victims can turn to obtain effective remedies.[4] They can receive complaints alleging the violation of internationally recognized human rights and offer mediation to the parties of the complaint to find a solution on which both parties agree upon.

In more than 20 out of these approximately 60 cases concluded, parties to the dispute reached a settlement through a mediation procedure facilitated by the NCP. These cases are considered ‘successful’ or ‘positive’ by the OECD.[5] But can these really be considered as such? Do the NCPs function as an effective grievance mechanism which provides access to remedies to victims of business-related human rights abuses in the cases they have settled? Or were these cases found successful only because the NCPs dealing with them claim so, regardless of the actual remedies provided? In this blog, I will elaborate on the concept of ‘success’ as used by the OECD and how the cloudy nature of the procedure raises questions about the successful conclusion of the cases and of the role of NCPs in this regard.More...