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.
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Landmark High Court case against UK mining company over alleged Sierra Leone worker abuse
On 29 January 2018, a landmark six week hearing began at the High Court in London in a case brought by 142 claimants from Sierra Leone against Tonkolili Iron Ore, a subsidiary of the UK based African Minerals. The case involves allegations of worker abuse in 2010 and 2012 at the Tonkolili Iron Ore Mine in Sierra Leone, including complicity in rape, assault, false imprisonment and the police murder of a protestor complaining over pay and conditions. Human Rights Watch previously reported how the government and African Minerals forcibly relocated hundreds of families from verdant slopes to a flat, arid area, thereby removing their ability to cultivate crops and engage in income generating activities. The claimants’ lawyers, Leigh Day, stated that the case “demonstrates that those companies headquartered in the UK that operate abroad in rural and isolated environments can be held to account when their operations face serious allegations of human rights abuses”. Tonkolili Iron Ore denies responsibility for the incidents against workers and villagers and claims full responsibility lies with the Sierra Leone police. Unusually, the trial will see the judge, Mr Justice Turner, travelling to Freetown for two weeks so that evidence can be taken from witnesses in person, after some witnesses were unable to obtain visas for the United Kingdom.
West Kalimantan villagers file complaint against the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
On 23 January 2018, a complaint was filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s national contact point in Switzerland by an Indonesian community rights group against the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for its failure to address complaints made by residents of two West Kalimantan villages. The indigenous Dayak community in Kerunang and Entapang villages had previously filed an urgent complaint with the RSPO accusing one of its members, Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby, of stealing their tribal land through its subsidiary Mitra Austral Sejahtera. They allege that Mitra Austral Sejahtera breached the RSPO Principles and Criteria for the Production of Sustainable Palm Oil relating to commitment to transparency, compliance with applicable laws and regulations and responsible consideration of employees, and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills. It is alleged that the RSPO failed to respond to the request for the return of tribal lands and accordingly failed to meet its obligations under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Sime Darby has stated that the land dispute has been discussed at the RSPO's annual meetings since 2012, and that it looks “forward to the cooperation of the communities towards ensuring that the eventual return of their land is socially, environmentally and economically viable”.
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