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Unocal lawsuit (re Myanmar)

Pipeline, By: SeanMack, Creative Commons

In 1996, a group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court. Plaintiffs allege Unocal was complicit in human rights abuses they suffered such as forced labour, murder, rape, and torture during the construction of a gas pipeline. 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 of the people in the pipeline region. 


A 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

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)]

🚫Read the full post here

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)]

Read the full post here

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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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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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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10 June 2006

Total Denial

Author: Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Total Denial is the inspiring story of fifteen villagers from the jungles of Burma whose quest for justice eventually leads them to bring suit in a U.S. court against two oil giants - UNOCAL [now part of Chevron] and TOTAL - for human-rights abuse.

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5 June 2006

[PDF] Order denying Unocal’s motion for partial summary judgment regarding Lexington’s defense of concealment

Author: United States District Court - Central District of California

[Defendants]: Lexington insurance company...Zurich Re...New Hampshire Insurance...Gerling-Konzern Allgemeine Versicherungs...Lexington has provided evidence showing that Unocal utilized the Myanmar military to provide security for the Yadana Pipeline project and that Unocal was aware that the military had committed human rights abuses prior to the project in proposed pipeline areas. Lexington has also provided evidence showing that Unocal disclosed only its business expansion into Myanmar and the Yadana Pipeline, not Unocal’s security relationship with the Myanmar military...

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1 May 2006

Amnesty International UK and USA's Human Rights, Trade and Investment Matters

Author: Amnesty International

This collection of articles explores some of the connections between trade, investment and human rights, examines the role of financial institutions in shaping standards, considers the potential for integrating human rights into trade and investment agreements, and reflects on the opportunity to advance the process of developing universally recognised standards for business. [companies referred to include BP, Shell, Unocal]

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22 March 2006

Ominous Outlook for the UN Norms

Author: Lillian M. Manzella, EarthRights International

ERI [EarthRights International] hereby calls on John Ruggie to:
- Give Due Consideration to the Norms...
- Address Binding Accountability for Corporations...
- Clarify the International Standard for Corporate Complicity...
- Maintain a Broad Approach to Standards for Corporate Accountability...
- Ensure Broad Consultation and Transparency...
Unfortunately, the interim report suggests that the final report will not include any substantive changes or even suggestions for changes in the accountability gap that led to this process and thus, the SRSG will not be able to meet his mandate. However, miracles may happen, and hopefully the SRSG will listen to the calls of civil society, change his focus and use the experience of the representatives that came before him to lead us to common binding international standards.

🚫Read the full post here