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...