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...

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

More information and registration Here!

Modern Slavery in our backyard: Dutch shipbuilders, Polish shipyards and North Korean Slaves - Asser Institute - 6 February

Slavery has long been banished by law in Europe (since 1863 in The Netherlands), but it has not disappeared from the face of this earth, nor apparently from the territory of the European Union. Thus, a recent report by the Leiden Asia Centre (under the coordination of Prof. Remco Breuker and Imke van Gardingen) showed how workers from North Korea were brought to Poland in order to work in slavery-like conditions for the shipbuilding industry there. In coordination with the researchers, a team of journalists shot the documentary Dollar Heroes on North Korean workers around the globe which will be shown at the end of the event. It will be preceded by a panel discussion on the legal accountability of a Dutch shipbuilding firm which ordered and controlled the construction of ships in the polish shipyards where North-Korean workers were active. Indeed, in November 2018, a North-Korean worker lodged a criminal complaint with the Dutch prosecutor’s office against the Dutch firm. This case raises important questions on the potential criminal liability of corporations for instances of slavery inside their transnational supply chains.

15:00 - 16:30 – Panel discussion on the criminal liability of Dutch shipbuilders for the exploitation of North Korean workers in Polish Shipyards:

  •        Imke van Gardingen (FNV)
  •        Barbara van Straaten (Prakken d’Oliveira)
  •        Prof. Cedric Ryngaert (Utrecht University)
  •        Prof. Remco Breuker (Leiden University)
  •        Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) - Moderator

16:30 – 18:00 – Showing of Dollar Heroes followed by a Q&A with Sebastian Weis (Vice) and Prof. Remco Breuker (Leiden University)

Please register HERE!

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...

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...