Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – July & August 2019 - 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.

 

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

Revised Draft of Treaty on Human Rights and TNCs has been published

The Revised Draft has been released here by the Permanent Mission of Ecuador. The Draft comes ahead of the intergovernmental negotiations to be held at the 5th session of Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights (OEIGWG). For further comment and context, see Larry Catá Backer's blog, the BHRRC's debate the treaty section on the revised draft, as well as the BHRJ Blog's series on the revised draft.

Business Roundtable redefined the group’s Purpose of a Corporation 

A prominent group of business leaders has redefined its purpose of a corporation to include stakeholder interests. In a statement signed by 181 CEO members of the Business Roundtable, an American group of business leaders, the statement of “the purpose of a corporation” has been altered from the long-standing commitment to shareholder primacy, to a broader ‘Commitment to All Stakeholders’. The change was announced in an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal and signed by 181 members, including the business leaders of Amazon, American Airlines, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Lockheed Martin, Morgan Stanley, UPS, and Walmart.

Chairman of Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, explained in the release: “The American dream is alive, but fraying. Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”

This reconceptualisation of the purpose of corporations has been met with cautious enthusiasm; however, the statement has no bearing on the legal obligations of the signatories, and whether this materially alters business conduct by the signatories’ companies is yet to be seen.

The ‘Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation’ can be found here.

UK Supreme Court to hear Okpabi case against Shell

The Supreme Court has granted permission for Nigerian communities to appeal their case concerning environmental degradation against Royal Dutch Shell. Previously the Court of Appeals rejected jurisdiction for the claimants, however the Court’s reasoning was fundamentally undermined by the subsequent Supreme Court judgement in Vedanta. See our previous post here concerning how these cases are related, and how Vedanta has paved the way for jurisdiction to be found in the Okpabi case. See the statement by Leigh Day, working with the appellants, here.

In another case concerning the liability of a UK parent company for harms perpetrated abroad by a subsidiary that hinged on jurisdiction, the Supreme Court refused permission in AAA v Unilever PLC for Unilever subsidiary employees to appeal. Leigh Day have announced they will now move to file cases with the UN Working Group and the OECD.

Samsung France indicted for deceptive commercial practices for not abiding by CSR statements

NGOs Sherpa and ActionAid France have successfully obtained an indictment against Samsung France for deceptive commercial practices. Preliminary charges were lodged in April by a Paris investigating magistrate in the first French case in which ethical commitments have been recognised as likely to constitute commercial practice.

The organisations argue that public ethical commitments by Samsung to workers' rights were misleading, citing alleged labour abuses and child labour in factories in China, South Korea and Vietnam. The case represents a novel approach to litigating extraterritorial business human rights abuses; even in the aforementioned Vedanta case in the UK, there was a similar (brief) suggestion that CSR-style public commitments could be actionable.

Guatemalan shooting victims announce settlement with Pan American Silver in Canada

It has been announced that landmark 2017 Canadian case Garcia v. Tahoe Resources has been resolved between the parties. The case concerned remedy for 2013 shooting of protesters by Tahoe Resources mine security on April 27, 2013 outside Tahoe’s Escobal Mine in south-east Guatemala. The resolution included a public apology from Pan American Silver, who acquired Tahoe Resources earlier this year, while other terms of the settlement remain confidential. Settlements were reached with three of the claimants earlier, but the remaining four only settled on 30 July when PAS issued a public apology and acknowledgement of the violation of their human rights by Tahoe.

In 2017, the BC Court of Appeal confirmed jurisdiction over the case in Canada, finding that the “highly politicized environment” surrounding the mine meant that there was a “real risk” that the plaintiffs would not obtain justice in Guatemala, permitting the claimants to use the Canadian forum. The head of security for the mine is also facing criminal proceedings in Guatemala.

Remedy being reached has led to celebration from commentators, however no further legal precedent has been set than that from the 2017 appeal, so it might have limited value for future claimants. It has been surmised that settlement was reached because of the overwhelming evidence in the case: video footage from security cameras showed protestors being shot in the back as they fled the mine site.

See also: The GuardianBrazilian mining company to pay out £86m for disaster that killed almost 300 people and San Francisco ChronicleSuit alleging US chocolate makers collaborated in slave labor proceeds for US developments.

 More...


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

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

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

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

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.