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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1 January 2012

[PDF] Corporate Liability of Energy/Natural Resources Companies at National Law for Breach of International Human Rights Norms

Author: Oliver Salas

While there are established rules to invoke the liability of States for their breach of international law obligations, there is no equivalent to hold corporations liable for violating human rights norms...[T]he lack of obvious international remedies for human rights abuse committed by corporations, means that corporate activities remain largely governed by national law...The lack of specific fora to bring human rights claims against corporations also means that liability for breach of international human rights norms is essentially a matter for national courts to deal with...This paper evaluates the challenges posed to domestic judicial mechanisms to address corporate liability of NRCs for their alleged violation of international human rights norms. [refers to BP, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Occidental Petroleum, Rio Tinto, Talisman, Trafigura Beheer, Union Carbide, Unocal]

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31 August 2011

U.K. Shell Deal Spotlights Value of Common Law Model for Human Rights Litigation

Author: Michael Goldhaber, American Lawyer

Royal Dutch Shell has been sued so many times over its conduct in Nigeria that its cases offer a laboratory experiment for human rights litigation…[T]he "Bodo" case…emerged from obscurity three weeks ago. On Aug. 3, four months after farmers and fishermen from the village of Bodo filed a common law complaint in London high court, Shell's Nigerian subsidiary admitted liability for a pair of oil spills in return for the parent company's dismissal from the suit…[P]arental liability for the conduct of foreign subsidiaries has been called the leading legal question in European business human rights… [T]he common law model of corporate human rights accountability is starting to make the Alien Tort Statute look pretty weak by comparison. Bodo confirms that plaintiffs may have other options if the corporate alien tort hits a dead end. [also refers to Chevron, Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin), Trafigura, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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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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1 May 2011

Free Burma: Transnational Legal Action and Corporate Accountability [book]

Author: John Dale, assistant professor of sociology, affiliate faculty of Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution, George Mason Univ. [USA]

Through the experience of the Free Burma movement, John G. Dale demonstrates how social movements create and appropriate legal mechanisms for generating new transnational political opportunities. He presents three corporate accountability campaigns waged by the Free Burma movement. The cases focus on the legislation of “Free Burma” laws in local governments throughout the United States; the effort to force the state of California to de-charter Unocal Oil Corporation [now part of Chevron] for its flagrant abuse of human rights; and the first-ever use of the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act to sue a corporation in a U.S. court for human rights abuses committed abroad.

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10 February 2011

Stanford Center on the Legal Profession and StanfordACS present Chip Pitts: The [US] Constitution and Corporate Social Responsibility

Author: Chip Pitts, at Stanford Law School [USA]

I think there is a partial but significant overlap [between the US Constitution and CSR]...When you think about the meaning of a Constitution, the way it's a framework for business, but also a framework for values, I think you can begin seeing the relationship...I like to think of a corporation as a constitutional,...a mini form of government...I think it's important to look at...the Alien Tort Claims Statute...I'd like to look at the broader sense in which the Constitution of the US relates to what I believe is an emerging global constitution...I'd like to give a very brief example from one area,...private military contractors, which is a good example of the ways that there can be governance gaps... [refers to Talisman, Shell]

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1 February 2011

Better Safe than Sorry

Author: Susan Aaronson, Professor & Ian Higham, Research Assistant - Elliott School of Intl. Affairs, George Washington Univ in Policy Innovations

...Building on years of research and multi-stakeholder dialogue, [UN Special Representative on business & human rights John] Ruggie outlined a framework and Guiding Principles to help firms “operationalize” their human rights responsibilities...While some business associations have expressed generic support for Ruggie’s efforts, most firms have said little. BASF, Talisman, and Novo Nordisk are among the few firms that commented on...the Guiding Principles...The Guiding Principles are not perfect, but they will help firms operationalize, monitor, and audit their human rights performance. Therefore, they represent a strategy that firms should test. Most firms have done very little to ensure that they do not undermine the human rights... [also refers to SNCF, Aetna, JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo), Nestle, Mars, Whirlpool, Toyota, General Motors, Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, Freeport-McMoRan, Yahoo!, Unocal (now Chevron), Barclays, BP, Control Risks, Credit Suisse, ExxonMobil, Gap, Hewlett-Packard, Imperial Tobacco, Shell, Cerrejón Coal (joint venture Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Xstrata), Phillips Van Heusen ]

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22 December 2010

Canadian Multinationals and Alien Torts

Author: George Waggott, Lang Michener LLP

It was long argued by corporations and foreign governments that the application of the ATCA…gave jurisdiction to the American courts over non-American companies in foreign countries…[T]he broad interpretation of the ATCA was narrowed in the 2009 case of The Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman Energy Inc…[The] company which was accused of aiding and abetting the Sudanese government in the forced movement and genocide of civilians residing near oil facilities. [T]he Court of Appeals…imposed a higher pleading standard…a multinational… corporation… could not be liable without actual intent to commit...The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court…, but the Supreme Court declined to address the issue…For now, the Talisman ruling has removed what had been an effective weapon for human rights groups to force changes in the behaviour of multinational corporations. [also refers to Unocal (part of Chevron), Shell, Coca-Cola, Dow, Rio Tinto]

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1 November 2010

[PDF] The past and present of corporate complicity: Financing the Argentinean dictatorship

Author: J.P Bohoslavsky & V. Opgenhaffen, in Harvard Human Rights Journal

This paper examines the main legal aspects of corporate civil responsibility for facilitating serious violations of human rights, focusing specifically on bank activity. It analyzes, in detail, the Argentinean case and the financial support received by the last military dictatorship...[It inspects] a missing element along this spectrum of Argentina’s long search for accountability and justice: the role of foreign financial institutions and the potential to claim that they were complicit in supporting a regime well-known to have been committing mass human rights violations...Finally, the authors suggest that the assistance provided by private financial institutions played a significant enough warrant a closer examination and possible future legal action on the basis of complicity in crimes against humanity...[also refers to Barclays, Chiquita, Isuzu, Nestlé, UBS, Yahoo!, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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8 October 2010

Shortening the Long Arm of the Law [USA]

Author: [opinion] John B. Bellinger III, former US State Dept. legal advisor, New York Times

For more than a decade, dozens of multinational corporations have been sued in federal courts in the United States for alleged human rights violations under the...Alien Tort Statute. Now these suits may be over. In August...[the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals] ruled that corporations may not be held liable for violations of international law...If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, it will remove an effective weapon for human rights groups to force changes in the behavior of multinational corporations...[and] the impact of their activities on local populations and the environment...Even...[without] the threat of lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute, [corporations] should ensure that their international operations...comport with accepted human rights principles. [refers to Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Talisman Energy, Rio Tinto, Coca Cola, Pfizer, Caterpillar, Yahoo]

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7 October 2010

Trial trails

Author: Economist

...the second circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled on September 17th that corporations could not be held liable under the Alien Tort Claims Act for breaches of international law abroad...But the respite may be short-lived. Courts in other countries, such as the Netherlands and Britain, have recently become more active in punishing firms for misdeeds abroad and human-rights campaigners have taken note. John Ruggie, the special representative for the United Nations secretary-general on business and human rights, will wind up his six-year study with a report next year that could also lead to new restraints on corporations. [refers to Shell, Unocal (part of Chevron), Talisman, Dow Chemical]

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