Old law exhumed by fighters for human rights [USA]

Author: Michael Peel, Financial Times, Published on: 25 May 2009

...On Tuesday, a court in New York will start hearing a lawsuit alleging Shell was complicit in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death and a campaign of terror by Nigerian security forces. The claim – which the company says is false and is defending – is one of a series of similar cases launched against big businesses from round the world...The potential of these lawsuits to generate huge damages and disastrous publicity now hovers, according to one lawyer whose firm defends big companies, “very close to the consciousness of corporate America acting overseas”…These US actions are part of a wider international move to hold companies to account in rich countries over allegedly harmful activities in the poor world. In the absence of a bespoke world civil court to deal with such claims, lawyers are coming up with innovative ways of using existing national laws and procedures…The steadily widening stream of international litigation has opened up largely because of the US Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789…While some corporate lawyers argue the act is being used in cases for which it was never originally intended, the statute’s supporters say it is probably being applied in the same spirit now as it was when it was created. [also refers to Chevron, Trafigura, Unocal, Yahoo!]

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Related companies: Chevron Shell Unocal (part of Chevron) Yahoo! (part of Verizon)