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.



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.


Loosening the Jurisdictional Straitjacket: The Vedanta Ruling and the Jurisdiction of UK Courts in Transnational Civil Liability Cases - By Maisie Biggs

 Editor’s note: Maisie Biggs recently 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 an intern with the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute in The Hague. She previously worked for International Justice Mission in South Asia and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) in Amsterdam.


“No one who comes to these courts asking for justice should come in vain. The right to come here is not confined to Englishmen. It extends to any friendly foreigner. He can seek the aid of our courts if he desires to do so. You may call this ‘forum shopping’ if you please, but if the forum is England, it is a good place to shop in both for the quality of the goods and the speed of service.”

Lord Denning in The Atlantic Star [1973] 1 QB 364 (CA) 381–2


The United Kingdom Supreme Court today has handed down Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents) [2019] UKSC 20, a significant judgement concerning parent company liability and the determination of jurisdiction for these claims. Practically, it now means for the first time a UK company will face trial and potentially accountability in their home jurisdiction for environmental harms associated with operations of foreign subsidiaries. 

This is a closely-watched jurisdiction case concerning a UK parent company’s liability arising out of the actions of its foreign subsidiary. The claimants are 1826 Zambian citizens from the Chingola region of the Copperbelt Province. This group action is against UK-domiciled Vedanta Resources PLC and its subsidiary KCM, a second defendant which is incorporated in Zambia. The original claims concern discharges from the KCM-owned Nchanga mine since 2005 which have allegedly caused pollution and environmental damage leading to personal injury, damage to property and loss of income, amenity and enjoyment of land. 

Following the initiation of this claim, in 2015 Vedanta and KCM challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts, however Coulson J dismissed their applications. The Court of Appeal then upheld the dismissal of those applications, so the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court. (See our previous blog on the case here).

The Supreme Court today denied the appeal by Vedanta Resources and KCM, and allowed the claim to proceed to merits in England. The Court made it clear the real risk that the claimants would not obtain access to substantial justice in Zambia was the deciding factor in the case. The Court denied there was an abuse of EU law by the claimants using Vedanta as a jurisdictional hook to sue both the parent company and subsidiary in England, and the claimants succeeded in demonstrating there was a “real triable issue”, nonetheless Zambia was held to be the “proper place” for the case. However, because the Court supported the finding of the first instance judge regarding the risks faced by claimants in accessing substantial justice in Zambia, the appeal was denied, and the case can proceed in England. 

This is a significant judgement, as it now means for the first time a UK company will face trial and potentially accountability in their home jurisdiction for environmental harms associated with operations of foreign subsidiaries. Lord Briggs delivered the judgement on four major issues: the potential for abuse of EU law; whether there was a real triable issue against Vedanta; whether England is the proper place for these proceedings; and whether there was a real risk that substantial justice would not be obtainable in that foreign jurisdiction. 

Why is this significant? For those following this case, and the appeals of Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor (Rev 1) [2018] EWCA Civ 191 and AAA & Ors v Unilever Plc & Anor [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 in the English courts, there are two major findings in this judgement that will likely impact future cases concerning parent company liability. Firstly, the reasoning behind the finding of a “real triable issue” between a foreign claimant and UK parent company, and secondly the primacy the Supreme Court placed on the significance of access to justice as a jurisdictional hook for claims in England. More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – March & April 2018 - By Abdurrahman Erol


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

The Headlines

Shell-Eni Bribery Case: On 5 March, the corporate bribery trial against oil companies Shell and Eni was postponed to 14 May by a court in Milan, Italy.  The charges against the companies are bribery and corruption in the 2011 purchase of a Nigerian offshore oilfield, one of the most valuable oilfields in Africa. Although both firms denied the charges, the corruption watchdog Global Witness claimed that hundreds of millions of dollars had been paid to Nigeria’s former president and his former oil minister as pocket bribes. Global Witness calls the case one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the oil sector. The trial in the Milan court is expected to last 12-18 months.

Jesner v. Arab Bank: On 24 April, in a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Jesner v. Arab Bank case that foreign corporations cannot be brought before US courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Between 2004 and 2010, thousands of foreign nationals sued Arab Bank under the ATS, claiming that the Bank’s officials allowed money transfers through the New York branch of the Bank to Hamas who committed violent acts in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Supreme Court held that foreign corporations cannot be sued under the ATS. Furthermore, the Court claimed that international law today does not recognize “a specific, universal, and obligatory norm of corporate [tort] liability”, which is a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit under the ATS. In the Court’s lead opinion, Justice Kennedy stated that "Courts are not well suited to make the required policy judgments that are implicated by corporate liability in cases like this one.” In her dissenting opinion joined by three other justices, Justice Sotomayor claimed that the decision "absolves corporations from responsibility under the ATS for conscience-shocking behavior."

Fifth Anniversary of Rana Plaza: April 24th also marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rana Plaza was a five-story commercial building which housed several garment factories employing around 5000 people. The global outcry after the disaster which claimed at least 1134 lives led to numerous initiatives to change business-as-usual in the garment and textile supply chains in Bangladesh and beyond. Despite these initiatives which employed various approaches to the issue of worker safety in the supply chains, it is widely acknowledged that there is still a long way to go to create a safe working environment for workers in the garment and textile supply chains. On 12 April, the Asser Institute hosted a one-day conference on Rana Plaza to take stock of the regulatory and policy initiatives aimed at improving workers’ safety in the garment supply chain (You will find our background paper here).

 Okpabi v. Royal Dutch Shell - Episode. 3? On 27 April, more than 40 UK and international human rights, development and environment NGOs, later supported by academics from different states, urged the UK Supreme Court to allow two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against the Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell ruling of the Court of Appeal in February which denied responsibility for UK-based Royal Dutch Shell for the pipeline spills, dating back as far as 1989, which affected approximately 40000 Nigerian farmers and fishermen. The NGOs claimed that the Court of Appeal’s decision erred in many ways as it seriously restricts parent company liability and limits the options available to victims of corporate human rights violations seeking remedy in the UK.More...

Doing Business Right – Monthly Report – February 2018 - By Catherine Dunmore

Editor's Note: Catherine Dunmore is an experienced international lawyer who practised international arbitration for multinational law firms in London and Paris. She recently received her LL.M. from the University of Toronto and her main fields of interest include international criminal law and human rights. Since October 2017, she is part of the team of the Doing Business Right project at the Asser Institute.


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

The Headlines

Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell: Court of Appeal finds Shell not liable for Nigerian oil spills

On 14 February 2018, the Court of Appeal in London handed down its Approved Judgment in Okpabi and others v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and another [2018] EWCA Civ 191. The claimants are 40,000 Nigerian farmers and fisherman from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta who allege they have suffered from decades of pollution from pipelines belonging to Shell Nigeria, a subsidiary of the British-Dutch multinational oil and gas company Shell. Indeed, in 2011 the United Nations Environmental Programme published an Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland which reported serious contamination of agricultural land and waterways in the community as well as its groundwater at rates 1,000 times higher than permitted under Nigerian law, exposing Ogale’s inhabitants to serious health risks. Meanwhile the Bille community suffered the largest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills at 13,200 hectares. In its split decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that it lacks jurisdiction as London headquartered parent company Shell could not be liable for any oil pollution in the Niger Delta caused by its wholly autonomous subsidiary. The villagers now plan to seek permission to take the case to the Supreme Court, with King Okpabi of the Ogale Community stating “We have lost our environment, our farmland and our dignity because of Shell’s operations in our community. The English Courts are our only hope because we cannot get justice in Nigeria. So let this be a landmark case, we will go all the way to the Supreme Court”.

Philippines Commission on Human Rights holding overseas hearings for oil majors

The Republic of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights is set to confront oil majors over their climate change impact through hearings in Manila, New York and London. The hearings are in response to a petition lodged in 2015 which seeks to hold forty-seven companies accountable for Philippine communities suffering from extreme weather. Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz explained that holding hearings overseas will make the process inclusive, affording all carbon companies the best chance to confront the impact of their businesses. To date, half of the companies, whose products generated around a fifth of historic greenhouse gas emissions, have not responded to the Commission. Those which have responded, questioned the Commission’s jurisdiction or argued that it was for governments and not private companies to tackle climate change. Several international law experts have also filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the petition which back the Commission’s mandate to investigate private companies over harm experienced by Filipinos. The hearings are due to commence in Manila in March 2018, with the overseas sessions following later in the year. The Commission cannot directly impose penalties on any of the respondents; however, it could recommend ways that the companies might alleviate their future operations’ human rights impact.

Tomasella v Nestlé: Consumers sue Nestlé for child labour chocolate

On 12 February 2018, consumer Danell Tomasella filed a Class Action Complaint in Case No. 1:18-cv-10269 in the Massachusetts federal court. The lawsuit against Swiss food and beverage conglomerate Nestlé USA Inc. alleges that the company regularly imports cocoa beans from suppliers in the Ivory Coast and engages in deceptive marketing by hiding that this chocolate supply chain utilises child and slave labour. The plaintiffs claim that in violation of Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law, Nestlé does not disclose its Ivory Coast suppliers’ reliance on the worst forms of child labour which is of material interest to American consumers. They state that “Nestlé has not required its suppliers to remedy this human tragedy” and that it instead continues to be unjustly enriched by the profits from chocolate sales. The allegations highlight that much of the world’s chocolate is “quite literally brought to us by the backbreaking labor of children, in many cases under conditions of slavery”. Nestlé has responded that such consumer class actions “are not the way to solve such a serious and complex issue as forced child labor”, rather “class action lawyers are targeting the very organizations trying to fight forced labor”. More...