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Firestone lawsuit (re Liberia)

Rubber treeIn November 2005 a group of adults and children who live and work on the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia filed a class action lawsuit in US federal court in California.  The plaintiffs made claims against Firestone (owned by Bridgestone Corporation) under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) alleging that the working conditions at the rubber plantation amount to forced labour.  The complaint further claims under ATCA that the company has profited from the use of illegal child labour.  The plaintiffs allege that the supervisors at the Firestone plantation encouraged and even required the adult workers to put their children (some as young as six years old) to work to meet the company’s high production quotas.  According to the plaintiffs, the daily wage of a Firestone plantation worker is $3.19 if the worker can tap 1125 trees in a day.  If the worker only taps 750 trees in a day, he will lose half of his daily wage.  In addition, the plaintiffs made claims under the US Constitution and under California state law.  The defendants moved to dismiss the case arguing that the workers had not pleaded sufficient facts to support their claims of forced labour. 

In April 2006, the case was transferred to federal court in Indiana.  In June 2006, the court ruled on the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The judge denied the motion to dismiss with regard to the plaintiffs’ child forced labour claims under ATCA, but he granted the motion to dismiss with regard to the balance of the claims.  The judge granted the motion to dismiss the claims of adult forced labour finding that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead violations of specific, universal and obligatory norms of international law necessary for a claim under ATCA.  However, the judge did find that the forced child labour allegations were sufficiently pleaded to permit the claims to be brought under ATCA.  On 5 October 2010, the district court in Indiana dismissed the case.  The court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on the basis that, according to the decision in Kiobel v. Shell, no "corporate liability exists under" ATCA.  The plaintiffs appealed this dismissal, and on 11 July 2011 the court of appeals issued a decision in which it affirmed the dismissal, but the appeals court specifically rejected the Kiobel argument that no corporate liability exists under ATCA.


- "Firestone wins Liberian child labor case in US", Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 13 Jul 2011
- "Worldview: Firestone's Rubber Plantation in Liberia", Chicago Public Radio, 15 Feb 2008

- "Exploitation In Liberia", Analyst [Liberia], 21 Apr 2006

- "Modern-day slavery in Liberia", Robtel Pailey, Pambazuka News [So. Africa], 2 Feb 2006

- "Alien Tort Claims Act Lawsuit Alleges Slavery and Child Labor on Liberian Firestone Plantation", William Baue, SocialFunds.com, 30 Dec 2005


- Firestone Natural Rubber Company: Blog - Child Labor Myths, posted by Charles Stuart, Managing Director, Firestone Liberia, 8 Apr 2008

- International Rights Advocates [counsel for plaintiffs]: Bridgestone-Firestone Case Summary

- Stop Firestone: About the lawsuit [campaign regarding child labour and environmental issues]

- Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Company, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 11 Jul 2011
- [PDF] Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Company - Order, US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, 5 Oct 2010
- [PDF] Plaintiffs' Motion and Memorandum in Support of Motion For a Protective Order to Require Defendants to Conduct the Depositions of Plaintiffs and their Third-Party Liberian Witnesses with Interpreters, 23 Apr 2008

- US District court for the Southern District of Indiana: [PDF] John Roe I, et al. v. Bridgestone Corporation, et al. - Entry on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, 26 Jun 2007

- [PDF] Plaintiffs' supplemental brief in reply to Defendants' supplemental brief, 7 Aug 2006

- [PDF] Defendants' motion for leave to file a supplemental brief in response to declaration of Terry Collingsworth and supplemental brief in response to Terry Collingsworth, 26 Jul 2006

- [PDF] Defendants' reply memorandum in support of motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint, 27 Mar 2006

- [PDF] Plaintiffs' memorandum of points and authorities in opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss, 20 Mar 2006

- [PDF] Class action complaint for injunctive relief and damages, 17 Nov 2005

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30 September 2013

[PDF] Out of Bounds - Accountability for Corporate Human Rights Abuse After Kiobel

Author: EarthRights International

This report presents a summary of the history, jurisprudence and politics of the [Alien Tort Statute (ATS)], explaining how this obscure law became one of the most important and hotly contested tools in the area of business and human rights and the target of attack by the corporate lobby, the Bush Administration, and eventually even the Obama Administration. We track the rise of the ATS through its highs, including the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez Machain, to its recent holding in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell). We consider the future of ATS claims and other avenues for human rights litigation more broadly in light of the holding, and conclude that new tools are needed to fulfill U.S. obligations to hold corporations accountable. [Also refers to Arab Bank, CACI, Chevron, Chiquita, Cisco, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Rio Tinto, Total, Unocal (part of Chevron).]

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10 July 2013

Corporate liability for violating international law under The Alien Tort Statute: The corporation through the lens of globalization and privatization

Author: Joel Slawotsky, in International Review of Law

The article addresses the question of whether the changing roles of “public actor” states and “private actor” corporations should impact the legal liability of corporations in international law…The objection to corporate liability under the ATS [Alien Tort Statute] stems from the dichotomy between public state and private actors…Rather than comparing corporations to private individuals, this Article argues that global corporations can and should be compared to public actor states. Several developments militate strongly in favor of corporate liability…Large global corporations now have the ability to cause widespread damage, a power traditionally held only by states…Two, the line of demarcation between states and corporations has been greatly reduced in recent years as the role and functions of states and private actors have become interchangeable…If large global corporations can be treated as actors similar to sovereigns, corporations should have similar duties and responsibilities towards the public as a state government.[Refers to Bridgestone, ExxonMobil, Bridgestone-Firestone (part of Bridgestone), Rio Tinto, Shell]

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10 December 2012

[PDF] Corporate Liability in a New Setting: Shell & the Changing Legal Landscape for the Multinational Oil Industry in the Niger Delta

Author: Essex Business and Human Rights Project, Univ. of Essex [UK]

The purpose of this report is to analyse the law that is relevant to decisions about the management of the international oil companies that are operating in the Niger Delta. The focus is on the Shell Group, the largest company operating in the area, but the conclusions can have application to other companies in a similar position…This report…considers the possibility of…litigation against Shell in Europe and the United States. Further, it [aims to] enable investors to evaluate the significance of the Nigerian operations impacts on their holdings in the Group as a whole. Finally, apart from impacts on the environment and local communities, the report will consider two additional matters that should concern any oil company operating in the region: the treatment of employees in the Delta, as well as any potential liability for corrupt practices under US and European law. [also refers to Bridgestone-Firestone (part of Bridgestone), Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Nigerian Agip Oil Company (joint venture Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Eni, ConocoPhillips), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Trafigura, Total E&P Nigeria].

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26 September 2011

Corporate liability under Alien Tort Statute: Don't elevate form over substance

Author: Robert A. Schwinger, Thomas E. Butler All Articles, National Law Journal [USA]

A number of recent appellate decisions have reached conflicting outcomes on whether liability under the Alien Tort Statute...extends to corporate entities. While the resolution of this judicial conflict will likely turn on particulars of statutory interpretation, the courts should consider in these analyses a principle...: that the courts should avoid having liability turn on artificial distinctions that look to the form of an enterprise's structure but ignore its reality. To do so, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, artificially distorts the market by dissuading companies from choosing those structures for their operations they consider most advantageous. Whatever the merits might be of expansive Alien Tort Statute liability in the international business context, no good purpose is served by construing that statute so that it ends up governing which business structures are used to conduct foreign operations. [refers to Exxon Mobil, Firestone, Coca-Cola, Drummond, Copperweld, Shell, DelMonte]

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10 August 2011

Supreme Court May Consider Whether Companies Can Be Sued Over Human Rights [USA]

Author: Lawrence Hurley, Greenwire blog, New York Times

Recent court rulings on the question of whether oil companies and other multinationals can be sued in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations overseas has made the issue ripe for Supreme Court intervention...Although it is notoriously tough to predict whether the high court will take a case, the chances appear reasonably high in large part because there is a split within the federal appeals court on the issue. There is also the possibility that the court could pass on Kiobel but then take up one of the other cases at a later date. "Although it's not clear which of the individual cases the court will review, it seems to be virtually certain that the justices will take up this question within the next two terms," said Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein of the Goldstein, Howe & Russell law firm...Attorneys for the corporate defendants dispute whether the 11th Circuit has really tackled the question head-on. They also have high hopes that the D.C. Circuit will reverse itself after the en banc rehearing...

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1 August 2011

[PDF] Exaggerated rumours of the death of an Alien tort? Corporations, human rights and the remarkable case of Kiobel

Author: Odette Murray, David Kinley (Sydney University) & Chip Pitts (Stanford Law School), in Melbourne Journal of International Law

...[W]e have become accustomed to assuming that corporations are proper subjects of litigation for alleged infringements of the ‘law of nations’ under the Alien Tort Statute (‘ATS’). But, in a dramatic reversal of this line of reasoning, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Kiobel v Royal Dutch...has dismissed this assumption and concluded that corporations cannot be sued under the ATS. This article explores the Court’s reasoning and the ramifications of the decision, highlighting the ways in which the Kiobel judgment departs from both Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent. The authors take to task the critical failure of the majority in Kiobel to distinguish between the requirements of legal responsibility at international law and that which is necessary to invoke ATS jurisdiction in the US District Courts...

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18 July 2011

The Global Lawyer: Corporate Alien Tort Rouses from Its Deathbed

Author: Michael D. Goldhaber, Am Law Daily [USA]

…[US Court of Appeals judges] Richard Posner…and…Judith Rogers…[have] lined up behind corporate liability for human rights violations under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute…[which] was snuffed out in the Second Circuit in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum last year...[I]n Flomo v. Firestone, Judge Posner affirmed the dismissal of claims by Liberian rubber tappers that Firestone had encouraged child labor...Posner summarily rejected the central premise of Kiobel--that corporations have never been prosecuted for violating customary international law...[In] Doe v. Exxon...Judge Rogers reinstated claims by Indonesian villagers that Exxon is liable for incidents of torture, killing, and arbitrary detention allegedly committed by security forces dedicated to an Exxon facility...Rogers...also notes that the principle of corporate liability is generally accepted under domestic…law, and general principles of law are a standard source of customary international law...Commentators immediately noted that the deepening of the circuit split on corporate liability strengthens the case for granting cert [Supreme Court review] in Kiobel. [also refers to Talisman]

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13 July 2011

Firestone wins Liberian child labor case in US

Author: Jonathan Stempel, Reuters Africa

A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing the Firestone tire company of illegally using child labor in Liberia, but found that U.S. law allows companies to be held liable for human rights abuses abroad…Judge Richard Posner…rejected claims by 23 Liberian children who challenged working conditions on a…latex-producing rubber tree farm in Liberia…Posner…concluded there was an inadequate basis to infer that Firestone violated customary international law in using the child labor…Posner nonetheless accepted the plaintiffs' argument that corporate liability could exist under the Alien Tort Statute where "violations are directed, encouraged, or condoned at the corporate defendant's decisionmaking level." He said the 2nd Circuit ruling concluded incorrectly that because corporations have never been prosecuted for violating customary international law, there was no principle under that law to bind them…[refers to Bridgestone, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell]

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10 June 2011

Victims and courts fight to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses, challenging Kiobel [USA]

Author: Marco Simons, EarthRights International

[O]n May 18, a federal court in Illinois declined to follow Kiobel. In a case involving Hungarian Jews who allege theft of their property by Hungarian banks during the Holocaust, the court allowed claims of "[g]enocide by looting and aiding and abetting genocide by looting" to proceed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS)…[T]he court quotes extensively from Judge Leval's concurring opinion in Kiobel, and "agrees with the concurring opinion in Kiobel that there is a sufficient legal basis to hold corporations liable under the ATS for genocide." Second, the corporate liability issue was argued in the appeal in the Flomo v. Firestone case before the Seventh Circuit...Last, the plaintiffs in the Kiobel case...have filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to take the case.

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+ Español - Hide

Author: Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot, Universitat Jaume I, España

[L]a práctica de los tribunales federales de los Estados Unidos sobre el Alien Tort Claims Act of 17891, en lo referente a su juego respecto de las empresas multinacionales, estaba generando un fuerte rechazo de éstas…[L]a decisión a cargo del citado Tribunal en Kiobel v. Royal Dutch...ha producido un drástico cambio de criterio en el Tribunal de Apelación del Segundo Circuito Federal…y se ha presentado recurso ante el Tribunal Supremo por los demandantes en Kiobel, es previsible que la máxima sede federal acepte entrar a revisar el caso, llevando así a cabo la unificación de doctrina...el propio concepto de personalidad, es más bien la imposición a las multinacionales de deberes en cuanto a la observancia de tales Derechos, lo que indica que ostentan un estatus legal...los Estados Unidos ya lo han hecho mediante el ATCA y su extensa práctica a través de los tribunales federales...

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