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”.

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