28 February 2012

Big business vs. human rights: SCOTUS to decide

Can U.S. corporations be held liable for complicity in human rights abuses committed abroad? Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which asks this question.

In a recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, EarthRights International cofounder and executive director Ka Hsaw Wa summarizes the case:
The plaintiffs are Nigerians who suffered abuse under a brutal military dictatorship in the mid-1990s; they sued Royal Dutch Petroleum, better known as Shell, over its alleged support of this violence. Shell is arguing that corporations are not responsible for human rights abuses under such circumstances; that individual employees who are complicit in torture, summary executions and other crimes against humanity can be held liable, but not corporations. An appeals court decided that international law, which is considered under the Alien Tort Statute, backed up that claim.

That decision misreads international law, which does not shield corporations from responsibility, and is a major setback for human rights cases based on Doe vs. Unocal. The justices will consider whether the U.S. will become a haven for companies that are allegedly complicit in the most heinous crimes or whether it will continue to provide a legal forum for accountability and justice.
In its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, SCOTUS decided that corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment rights as people.

Would they dare now to decide that corporations don't also bear the same responsibilities and accountability?

>> Read the LA Times piece on the Kiobel case: When big business and human rights collide

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