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Opinion

Lawyers’ insights on corporate legal accountability: Richard Rogers, Climate Counsel, UK

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

1.What are the biggest challenges you face in your corporate legal accountability work?

In representing victims, the greatest challenge is identifying a legal forum that is willing to accept jurisdiction, but is also independent, impartial, and accessible (especially in terms of costs). For example, there is no point filing a case in Cambodian courts on behalf of Cambodian victims of land grabs, because the same powers that illegally grab the land, also control the courts. Similar challenges exist in most kleptocracies. At the same time, it can be hard to find a jurisdictional link and/or extremely expensive, to file a case in jurisdictions where courts function properly, such as the UK or USA.

2.What key opportunities do you see for promoting corporate legal accountability (at the national, regional or international levels)?

The best opportunities come from the new national or regional laws that have teeth. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights had the heart, but not the muscle. Laws such as the French Vigilance Law and the UK Modern Slavery Act are much more persuasive to businesses. The upcoming EU regulation offers more hope.

3.What key lesson(s) have you learned in your efforts to advance corporate legal accountability?

First, corporations will only incur expense on human rights due diligence if there is a solid legal or, at least, reputational risk – so mandatory laws are important. Second, within a corporation, the push for human rights compliance tends to be personality driven – so it’s crucial to identify the corporate allies. Third, many business operations enhance human rights – give credit where credit is due.