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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4 April 2005

The story you haven't heard about... The Activists' Lawsuits

Author: Unocal

Groups who oppose Unocal's investment in Myanmar filed two lawsuits that attempt to link Unocal's investment with various unrelated events in the country. These lawsuits became grist for a publicity campaign against the company, even though actions by Unocal or Total (the project operator) are not at issue in either case. [also refers to Total]

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2 April 2005

Common Questions and Answers for ERI [EarthRights International, regarding settlement with Unocal regarding Burma]

Author: EarthRights International

...this an historic victory for human rights because the plaintiffs, who are by any measure among the least powerful people in the world, have sued a large American oil company for human rights abuses including forced labor, rape and murder - and won.

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1 April 2005

[PDF] Business befriends human rights

Author: Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association, in European Lawyer

Companies and their legal advisers are waking up to the fact that upholding human rights not only creates a stable environment based on the rule of law, it is also vital for commercial success...[refers to Alien Tort Claims Act cases against Coca-Cola, Unocal, ExxonMobil, Nike, ChevronTexaco, Ford]

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24 March 2005

U.S.: Rights Advocates Hail 'Landmark' Settlement With American Corporation

Author: Jeffrey Donovan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Human rights advocates say the case [against Unocal regarding Burma]...could help make it easier for multinational corporations to be held accountable for human rights violations committed in the course of their work...Unocal has always denied it knew anything about the alleged abuse. But this week, the California firm and lawyers representing the plaintiffs announced they had reached an out-of-court settlement... [also refers to lawsuits against Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Del Monte (Fresh Del Monte Produce), Total; also refers to Gap]

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22 March 2005

Unocal settlement with Myanmar villagers finalised

Author: Dan Stormer, AFP

US oil giant Unocal and a group of villagers who accused it of condoning slave labour while building a key gas pipeline in Myanmar said they had finalised a settlement of the case...Both sides in the dispute declined to say how much the out-of-court settlement would cost Unocal...In a statement...Unocal said it "reaffirms its principle that the company respects human rights in all of its activities and commits to enhance its educational programs to further this principle."

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14 March 2005

The Arm of the Law gets Longer

Author: Mark Taylor and Christian H. Ruge, Fafo, in Aftenposten [Norway]

Norwegian companies operating in war zones, occupied territories, and dictatorships must be better prepared to answer critical questions about whether their operations are in accordance with international law [following] recent revelations of questionable business conduct-including timber imports from Burma and Norwegian corporate powerhouse Aker-Kvaerner's involvement with the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay and in Iran...

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+ Español - Hide

Author: Diego E. López Medina, Profesor de las universidades de los Andes y Nacional, en Semana [Colombia]

El Pacto Mundial es una iniciativa inicialmente loable que permite un acercamiento distinto entre las empresas multinacionales y los derechos humanos y que permite continuar el debate sobre la responsabilidad social corporativa. Su implementación en Colombia sería benéfica ya que el sector privado nacional ha estado más comprometido con una responsabilidad social basada en la caridad religiosa que en un reconocimiento político de los derechos de sus conciudadanos. [se refiere a Unocal, ChevronTexaco, Degussa, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, Occidental]

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31 January 2005

Discussing corporate injustice

Author: Oliver Balch, Guardian [UK]

While the World Social Forum prides itself on diversity of opinion, delegates appeared agreed on one matter: corporate social responsibility (CSR) falls short of their goal for a just and equitable economic system. [refers to Unocal, Dow Chemical]

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19 January 2005

The limits of human rights legislation [USA]

Author: Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times

Federal Judge John Sprizzo delivered what the US business community wanted to hear late last year when he ruled that international corporations could not be sued in his court over working in apartheid South Africa...But...the business community...suffered something of a set-back a few weeks later. In mid-December, Unocal, the US oil company, announced it had reached a decision in principle to settle Alien Tort litigation over alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Burma...corporate and human rights lobbyists are eyeing each other for signs of attempts by the business community to push for legislation to curtail the scope of the [Alien Tort] statute in the new US Congress..."I think a signal has been sent," says Mr [Owen] Pell [attorney who defended companies in apartheid lawsuit] of last summer's Supreme Court decision. "You companies are capable of knowing right from wrong...if you put yourselves on the side of wrong, then there is some room under this statute for you to get sued..." [also refers to ChevronTexaco, Shell, Talisman]

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18 January 2005

Gas Deal Wins Kudos, But Activists Warn of Rights Abuses [Burma]

Author: Ranjit Devraj, Inter Press Service

While a new trilateral deal for Burma to export natural gas to India through Bangladesh augurs well economically for New Delhi, activists warned that the Burmese military regime could implement the project using forced labor. [refers to Daewoo International, Korean Gas Corporation, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), Unocal]

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