Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – December 2018 & January 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 of 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.



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

German court rejects KiK lawsuit

On 10 January 2019, a regional court in Dortmund, Germany rejected a lawsuit brought by four affected Pakistanis that related to the death of 262 people and injury of 32 people at a Pakistani textile factory in 2012. The factory was a key supplier to German clothing company, KiK. The case was rejected on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired, despite computer simulation evidence demonstrating that inadequate safety measures were in place at the factory at the time, including no stairs and emergency exits, as well as a lack of fire extinguishers and fire alarms. It was argued that KiK ‘knew or should have known about the structural details if, as they claim, their representatives visited the factory several times’. Read more here and here.

Canadian Supreme Court hears Nevsun appeal

On 23 January 2019, the Canadian Supreme Court heard evidence involving a lawsuit involving Nevsun Resources, a Canadian mining company, which is accused of being complicit in using forced labour by one if its sub-contractors at the Bisha mine in Eritrea. The case was initially brought in 2014 by four Eritrean miners.

In 2016, the British Colombian Supreme Court rejected Nevsun’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was upheld by the British Colombian Court of Appeal in 2017. In 2018, the Canadian Supreme Court allowed Nevsun to appeal the decision of the British Colombian Court of Appeal with the trial being heard earlier this year. The Canadian Supreme Court will need to decide, inter alia, whether it has jurisdiction to hear cases involving alleged breaches of customary international law by a Canadian business involving its actions in a foreign country. Read more here.

Canada introduces bill regulating forced labour and child labour within businesses

On 13 December 2018 a private members bill was introduced in Canada titled ‘C-423 – An Act respecting the fight against certain forms of modern slavery through the imposition of certain measures and amending the Customs Tariff’ (the Bill) to regulate forced labour and child labour in businesses. The Bill requires certain entities[1] to provide the Minister with an annual modern slavery report that sets out the steps it has taken to ‘prevent and reduce the risk that forced labour or child labour is used at any step of the manufacture, production, growing, extraction or processing of goods in Canada or elsewhere by the entity or of goods imported into Canada by the entity.’ Other criteria that must be included in the report includes the entity’s policies in relation to forced labour and child labour and the training provided to employees on these areas. The Bill carries penalties for non-compliance; namely, the relevant entity may be liable of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine of up to $250,000.

UK releases report with recommendations to improve transparency in supply chains provision of Modern Slavery Act

The Independent Review of the UK Modern Slavery Act recently released an interim report. The report notes that the UK Government’s current approach to eradicating modern slavery in supply chains through the transparency in supply chains provision ‘while a step forward, is not sufficient’. Among other things, the report recommends that the UK Government should take the following action to improve its approach to addressing modern slavery in supply chains:

  • Establish an internal list of companies in scope of the transparency in supply chains provision and check with companies whether they are covered by the legislation.
  • Amend the option reporting criteria against which businesses may report, so that they are mandatory criteria against which businesses must report.
  • Set up a central government-run repository to which companies are required to upload their statements and that is easily accessible to the public, free of charge.
  • Empower the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to monitor compliance and report annually.
  • Strengthen the Modern Slavery Act’s approach to tackling non-compliance with the reporting requirement, adopting a gradual approach. For example, initial warnings, fines (as a percentage of turnover), court summons and directors’ disqualification.
  • Introduce sanctions gradually over the next few years so as to give businesses time to adapt to changes in the legislative requirements.
  • Set up or assign an enforcement body to impose sanctions on non-compliant companies.


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.


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]