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Unocal lawsuit (re Myanmar)

Pipeline, By: SeanMack, Creative CommonsA group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court in 1996.  The plaintiffs alleged they had suffered human rights abuses such as forced labour, murder, rape and torture at the hands of the Myanmar military during construction of a gas pipeline, and that Unocal was complicit in these abuses.  Unocal and Myanmar’s military government were in a consortium for the pipeline’s construction.  The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which Unocal agreed to compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for programmes in Myanmar to improve living conditions and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region (the exact terms of the settlement are confidential).  This settlement was accepted by the court, and the case was closed on 13 April 2005.

Background materials
- “Tentative Settlement of ATCA Human Rights Suits Against Unocal”, Red Orbit, 24 Jul 2005
- “Tale of Rape and Murder on Burmese Pipeline Haunts US”, Andrew Gumbel, Independent [UK], 11 Dec 2003 [overview of case as of Dec 2003]
- Unocal: [PDF] “Background: The Yadana Pipeline and Activist Lawsuits”, 2 Dec 2003
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Yadana Project in Myanmar” [general information regarding Unocal’s activities in Burma]
- Center for Constitutional Rights (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Synopsis” [of Doe v. Unocal lawsuit]
- Earthrights International (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Doe v. Unocal” [background materials]

- Analysis:  [PDF] "The Unocal Settlement: Implications for the Developing Law on Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses", Rachel Chambers, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University [Australia], in Human Rights Brief, Washington College of Law, American University Fall 2005 
- Analysis: “Unocal Announces It will Settle a Human Rights Suit: What is the Real Story Behind Its Decision?”, Anthony J. Sebok, Brooklyn Law School, in FindLaw’s Writ, 10 Jan 2005 
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Activists’ Lawsuits”, 4 Apr 2005 
- Center for Constitutional Rights: “Historic Advance for Universal Human Rights: Unocal to Compensate Burmese Villagers
- Earthrights International: "Court Denies Unocal's Efforts to Shift Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses [in Burma] to its Insurers", Lillian Manzella, 14 Jun 2006
- Earthrights International: Common Questions and Answers, 2 Apr 2005

Certain legal briefs filed in this case [from website of attorneys for plaintiffs, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman LLP]

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All components of this story

4 October 2012

Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma

Author: Conflict Risk Network

Conflict Risk Network and the 21 undersigned institutional investors, asset owners and asset managers...are pleased to submit to the State Department...comment[s] on the “Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma”...We welcome these requirements as a vital mechanism to ensure transparency related to new United States...business operations in Burma...Many of us have expressed concerns about the risks posed by the U.S. Government decision to permit new investment in Burma. We nevertheless support the reporting requirements as a valuable...means to help advance human rights and political reform, consistent with the U.S. Government’s longstanding foreign policy priorities in Burma. [refers to MOGE, Total, UNOCAL, Chevron, Walmart, Costco, Tiffany, Blue Coat]

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2 October 2012

[PDF] Investor Statement for Human Rights and in Support of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute

Author: Boston Common Asset Management & 30 other socially responsible investors & investment managers

The U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS)…has become an essential statute in protecting human rights against abuses, committed both by individuals and corporations…This law is currently being contested in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell)…The U.S. Supreme Court will be considering the ramifications of allowing foreign incidents to be brought to trial in the U.S. courts. Shell and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce…have returned to a long discredited argument: requiring corporate accountability decreases investment. There is no empirical evidence that in the years since the ATS was first used to address corporations, it has decreased investments in the U.S. or abroad…We are investors and investment managers representing $548 billion in assets under management and we support international legal frameworks, including the U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS), to protect human rights.

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4 September 2012

[PDF] Kiobel and Corporate Social Responsibility: An Issues Brief

Author: Professor John Ruggie, Harvard Univ., former UN Special Representative on business & human rights

On October 1, 2012, the United States Supreme Court will rehear arguments in a landmark case...Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum...brought by Nigerian plaintiffs against Shell...alleging that the company aided and abetted the Nigerian military dictatorship in the 1990s in the commission of gross human rights violations, including torture, extra-judicial execution, and crimes against humanity... Should the corporate responsibility to respect human rights remain entirely divorced from litigation strategy and tactics, particularly where the company has choices about the grounds on which to defend itself? Should the litigation strategy aim to destroy an entire juridical edifice for redressing gross violations of human rights, particularly where other legal grounds exist to protect the company’s interests? ... I don’t know what the correct answers to these questions are… What I do know is that if, on top of the many other reputational and legal challenges it has faced over the years, Shell also ends up being held responsible for so radically constricting the ATS, its road back to the corporate social responsibility fold will be long and hard. [also refers to lawsuits against Unocal (now part of Chevron), Total, ExxonMobil, Talisman]

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30 June 2012

[PDF] Submission on Oil & Gas sector discussion paper

Author: Singapore Management University Asian Peace-building and Rule of Law Programme ("SMU-APRL") & Mazars Indonesia

The following submission is in response to the Institute for Human Rights and Business...& Shift’s public call for comments on its proposed discussion paper relating to the oil and gas sector for the European Commission’s consideration...
Key Human Rights Impacts...Impacts on the rights to property and an adequate standard of living...rights to free, prior and informed consultation and/or consent...rights to health, clean water and food...rights of vulnerable groups...
Contextual Factors...Host state governance in SEA [Southeast Asia]...
Key Process Challenges...Embedding respect for human rights in a company...Measure effectiveness of company responses to human rights impacts...
[refers to Shell, Freeport-McMoRan, Unocal (now part of Chevron), Total, MOGE, Petroleum Company of Thailand (PTT), Asia Pulp & Paper, Bursa Malaysia, Singapore Exchange (SGX)]

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1 May 2012

Government Must Ensure Businesses Respect Human Rights [Ireland]

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway [Ireland]

A new report calls on the Government to ensure that companies respect human rights and to provide guidance to businesses on the requirements of human rights due diligence, including when operating overseas. Such due diligence should be a mandatory requirement underpinned by legislation, according to the report’s authors at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in NUI Galway. ‘Business and Human Rights in Ireland’ aims to contribute to policy, practice and law on business and human rights in Ireland. [refers to Apple, Shell, Statoil, Penneys/Primark (part of Associated British Foods), Gama Construction Ireland Ltd (part of Gama Turkey)] [Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Shell & Integrated Risk Management Services to respond to the report. Shell responded & Integrated Risk Management Services said it had no comment to make]

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3 April 2012

Myanmar: Investing in the Future of Democracy and Human Rights

Author: Salil Tripathi, Institute for Human Rights and Business [UK]

The results of Sunday’s historic elections in Myanmar...may convince the European Union to lift sanctions...The challenges...[investors] will face in making sure their investments are...based on internationally accepted principles, are many...The “patrons”...are mainly companies from China, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, and some from India. Their interests range from oil and gas to shipping as well as some manufacturing, and other resource-based industries...[F]ertile land [is] being grabbed from farmers for commercial purposes. Workers have begun to strike in the few plants operating...Concern over forcing people to work against their will persists. Too little is known about the antecedents of business partners...The starting point for all investors should be the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights...[C]ompanies need to ensure that the human rights due diligence steps...inform their decisions including on securing the free, prior informed consent of those who are using the land...recruiting workers without discrimination and recognizing their right to associate freely and bargain collectively...ensuring that investors do not perpetuate the past by allying with business groups that may have had an unsavory record and recognizing the importance of paying taxes... [refers to Heineken, Triumph, Unocal, Total]

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13 March 2012

Another Supreme Court boost for corporate unaccountability?

Author: Phil Mattera, Facing South

Global corporations often think they are above the law, but for more than a decade some of the most egregious human rights and environmental violators have had to answer for their overseas actions in U.S. courtrooms. It now appears that the conservatives on the Supreme Court want to put an end to this key tool of corporate accountability. The controversy surrounds a once-obscure 1789 law known as the Alien Tort Statute or the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). It allows foreign citizens to bring civil actions in U.S. courts involving violations of international law or a treaty signed by the United States. The long dormant law was revived in the 1980s by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as a vehicle for pursuing individual human rights violators and later came to be used against corporations as well. [refers to Chevron, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Shell, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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+ Español - Hide

Author: Ka Hsaw Wa, Los Angeles Times

…[En Birmania] en 1996…para allanar el paso de un gasoducto construido por…Unocal [parte de Chevron] y otras corporaciones multinacionales…encontré a Jane Doe 1…demandante principal…contra Unocal [por abusos de derechos humanos]… interpuesta en Los Ángeles, donde Unocal tenía su sede. El caso se basó en el Estatuto de reclamación por agravios contra extranjeros de 1789 [ATCA]…El caso de Jane Doe fue el primero en aplicar esa ley a corporaciones acusadas de responsabilidad por violaciones de derechos humanos… En 2005, Unocal aceptó una solución [pero el caso] ha servido para fundamentar demandas semejantes…[A]hora el uso del Estatuto…se encuentra bajo ataque…[pues] la Corte Suprema considerará argumentos en [el caso] Kiobel contra Royal Dutch Petroleum…Shell…[por violencia en Nigeria]. Los jueces considerarán si EE.UU. se convertirá en un refugio de…compañías supuestamente cómplices de…crímenes…o si seguirá proporcionando un foro legal para la…justicia…

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26 February 2012

When big business and human rights collide

Author: Ka Hsaw Wa, EarthRights International in Los Angeles Times

Among the thousands of interviews I've conducted as a human rights investigator…, one of the most difficult was in 1996, outside a refugee camp along the Thai-Burma border…I had gone to the camp to investigate reports that villages were being uprooted and brutalized to make way for a natural gas pipeline built by…Unocal and other multinational corporations. There, I met a young mother from my Karen ethnic group whose baby had recently been killed by Burmese troops providing security for the pipeline. That was Jane Doe, as she would later be known. She would go on to help establish the legal principle that U.S. corporations can be held liable for complicity in severe human rights abuses abroad. Now, a case being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court…may mean that future Jane Does will have no such recourse against corporations.

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21 February 2012

Corporate Accountability Now

Author: Corporate Accountability Now is a joint project of EarthRights International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School

On February 28, 2012, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that will determine whether corporations can be sued for their complicity in torture, crimes against humanity, and other human rights abuses [Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, and Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority]. These cases have profound implications for the future of corporate accountability in the United States. [Site has profiles of the following additional lawsuits: Holocaust settlements; Doe v. Unocal; Wang Xiaoyang v. Yahoo!; Blackwater cases; Apartheid cases; Almog v. Arab Bank; Chiquita cases; Sarei v. Rio Tinto; Abu Ghraib cases; Doe v. Cisco; Doe v. Exxon Mobil; Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners]

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