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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12 June 2006

British PLCs Risk Human Rights Litigation in US, Lawyers Warn

Author: Michael Herman, Times [UK]

British companies with global operations face a growing threat of being sued in the US over their dealings with foreign governments accused of human rights violations, a leading lawyer has warned. Rae Lindsay, a partner at Clifford Chance, said the fear of being held "vicariously" liable for the actions of foreign governments is having a detrimental impact on foreign investment by UK companies...However, Richard Hermer, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers...welcomed the increased litigation. "It is entirely right and appropriate that those companies that involve themselves in disreputable practices are held to account, if necessary, through the courts. [refers to cases involving IBM, Unocal]

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14 June 2006

Court Denies Unocal's Efforts to Shift Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses [in Burma] to its Insurers

Author: Lillian Manzella, Earth Rights International

After it agreed to compensate victims of the pipeline in a historic settlement in 2005, Unocal [now part of Chevron] turned around and sued its own insurance companies for refusing to cover the settlement. Now, the court has denied Unocal's first effort to win part of the case, finding "evidence showing that Unocal utilized the [Burmese] military to provide securtiy for the Yadana project and that Unocal was aware that the military had committed human rights abuses," and that Unocal failed to disclose "its security relationship" with the military.

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20 June 2006

[PDF] Win or Lose in Court

Author: Bill Baue, Business Ethics magazine [USA]

...[The US Alien Tort Claims Act] has the potential to dramatically increase corporate accountability for human-rights abuses...Is it the silver bullet human-rights activists hope for — or just a weak weapon, as some multinational corporations might want to believe? "I think ATCA is the only effective tool out there right now for advancing corporate respect for human rights, and I think it will continue to be a very effective tool,” says Terry Collingsworth, executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund...Collingsworth’s view has yet to be validated by the courts. [refers to cases against Texaco (now part of Chevron), Unocal (now part of Chevron), Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil]

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1 July 2006

[PDF] full report: "Supply and Command - Natural Gas in Western Burma set to entrench military rule"

Author: Shwe Gas Movement

[Report focuses on Shwe gas project operated by a consortium of: Daewoo International, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India, Gas Authority of India, Korean Gas Corporation. Also refers to international companies "that are or have been operating in the A-1 and A-3 blocks": Serica Energy, China Oilfield Services, Helicopters NZ, Swire Pacific Offshore, Ryder Scott, Frontier Drilling, Snamprogetti [part of ENI], Suz Tractebel, and "Companies involved in the A-2 and A-4 offshore blocks and the onshore blocks M and L": China National Offshore Company (CNOOC), China Huanqiu Contracting and Engineering, Asia World, Golden Aaron, Essar Oil, PetroChina]

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1 July 2006

[PDF] full report: "The International Law Standard for Corporate Aiding and Abetting Liability"

Author: EarthRights International

[refers to Talisman, Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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11 July 2006

Korean, Indian firms urged to withdraw from Myanmar

Author: Reuters

Myanmar activists urged a Korean-Indian consortium on Wednesday to quit an offshore gas project they fear could lead to human rights abuses and prop up the military junta with billions of dollars in royalties. Shwe Gas Movement...called on the venture led by Daewoo International to stop dealing with the junta until it ends more than 40 years of army diktat in the former Burma...Daewoo operates and owns 60 percent of the gigantic A-1 block while India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp has a 20 percent stake and marketing firm Gas Authority of India Ltd and Korea Gas Corp have 10 percent each...A Daewoo official said the consortium would not withdraw. "Our position is that it's not the right time to discuss a human rights abuse issue because we are still at a stage of exploring the gas field and have yet to begin development," the official said in Seoul. [also refers to Total, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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31 August 2006

Why all companies should address human rights (and how the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre can help)

Author: Christopher Avery, Annabel Short, Gregory Tzeutschler Regaignon - Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[this chapter appears in the the ICCA Handbook on CSR and Corporate Culture; a list of chapters in the handbook and ordering details can be found at] The following sections set out why human rights are relevant to all companies, and why it is important that all companies take human rights seriously. i. International standards require companies to address human rights... ii. Only human rights provide companies with a framework of globally recognised principles... iii. There are increasing expectations for companies to manage human rights issues... iv. There are significant risks for companies that don’t respect human rights... v. Companies benefit from taking a proactive stance on human rights... vi. Human rights are universal standards that go beyond national laws... [refers to ABB, adidas-Salomon, Anglo American, Barclays, BHP Billiton, Body Shop, BP, BT, Cape PLC, Carrefour, Chiquita, Chevron/Texaco, Coca-Cola, Co-operative Financial Services, ExxonMobil, Ford, Gap, Hewlett-Packard, ING, McDonald’s, MTV Networks Europe, National Grid, Nike, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Occidental, Premier Oil, Rio Tinto, Shell, Statoil, Taco Bell (part of YUM!), Talisman Energy, Union Carbide/Dow, Unocal, Wal-Mart]

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1 October 2006

Global Lawyer: The Death of Alien Tort

Author: Michael Goldhaber, Corporate Counsel [USA]

...[In] a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals..., multinationals are in the dock for propping up apartheid. But if the defendants prevail, South Africa could be Waterloo for the notion that companies can be accountable for human rights abuses outside the United States...[The] most consequential alien tort question — whether a company can be liable for aiding and abetting human rights abuses — is still unresolved... The South African Apartheid Litigation seeks a sweeping $400 billion... In late 2004 Judge John Sprizzo...categorically rejected claims based on a corporation aiding and abetting human rights abuses, because "aiding and abetting" is not universally prohibited conduct...The judge gave special weight to the views expressed by the South African and U.S. governments. South Africa wrote in its amicus brief that, as a society, it has rejected reparations...[S]ooner or later the question of aiding and abetting will reach the Supreme Court...[W]ith the current composition of the Supreme Court, any test claim may be doomed. [also refers to Ford; IBM; lawsuits against Unocal (now part of Chevron), Occidental]

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13 October 2006

Oil Companies Revamp Ethical Plans as Legal Risk Grows

Author: Benoit Faucon, Dow Jones

[A lawsuit against ExxonMobil relating to alleged abuses by the Indonesian military in Aceh] exemplifies how oil companies now face a rising risk to their reputations from the use of extra-territorial legislation. [They] increasingly invest in more risky and unstable parts of the world, leaving them open to charges of collusion with questionable regimes or practices... And that means the companies are implementing new, more stringent corporate policies, while at the same time trying to avoid a public airing of uncomfortable allegations in the courts. [also refers to lawsuits against Total (regarding Burma), Shell (regarding Nigeria), Talisman (regarding Sudan), BP, Unocal (now part of Chevron, regarding Burma)]

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26 October 2006

[PDF] Nestlé Sued in U.S. for Complicity in Murder of Colombian Union Leader - Wife Claims Food & Beverage Giant Retaliated for Husband’s Exposure of Company’s Use of Expired Milk in Popular Drink

Author: International Labor Rights Fund

Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has been sued for complicity in the murder of a Colombian trade union leader by paramilitary forces with which the company has had a long-standing relationship. The suit was filed in U.S. [federal court]...on behalf of the wife of the slain unionist and his labor union, SINALTRAINAL. Gladys Francisca Mendoza Mejia claims that her husband, Luciano Enrique Romero Molina, was killed by paramilitaries associated with Las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) in retaliation for his discovery and exposure of Nestle’s use of expired milk in its popular Milo brand drink. [also refers to Deer Park (part of Nestlé), Coca-Cola, Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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