Applicable law and statutes of limitation in CSR /business and human rights cases. The High Court, at least prima facie, on shipbreaking in Bangladesh in Begum v Maran.

Update 28 August 2020 permission to appeal and cross-appeal has been granted and is being additionally sought by both parties on various issues.

Hamida Begum v Maran UK [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) engages exactly the kinds of issues that I have just posted about, in court rather than in concept. On 30th March 2018 Mr Mohammed Khalil Mollah fell to his death whilst working on the demolition of a defunct oil tanker in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyar in Chittagong (now Chattogram), Bangladesh. On 11th April 2019 the deceased’s widow issued proceedings claiming damages for negligence under the UK Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976; alternatively, under Bangladeshi law. The scope of the proceedings has subsequently been broadened inasmuch as draft Amended Particulars of Claim advance a cause of action in restitution: more precisely, unjust enrichment.

Application in the current case is for strike-out and /or summary judgment (denying liability) hence the legal issues are dealt with at prima facie instead of full throttle level. One or two of the decisions deserve full assessment at trial. Trial will indeed follow for the application was dismissed.

The case engages with the exact issues in exchanges I had at the w-e.

Proceedings have not been brought against the owner of the yard and/or the deceased’s employer. Both are Bangladeshi entities. Maran (UK) Ltd,  defendant, is a company registered in the UK and, it is alleged, was both factually and legally responsible for the vessel ending up in Bangladesh where working conditions were known to be highly dangerous.

Focus of the oral argument has been whether claim discloses viable claims in English law on the basis of tort of negligence (answer: yes) and in unjust enrichment (answer: no).

The issue of liability in tort is discussed on the basis of English law, which is odd at first sight given Rome II might suggest as a starting point Bangladeshi law as the lex causae ; Justice Jay himself says so much, but only at 76 ff when he discusses Rome II viz the issue of limitation. In applications for summary judgment however, reasoning and order of argument may take odd form as a result of the prima facie nature of the proceedings and the conversations between bench and parties at case management stage.

On the tort of neglicence claimant argues under English law, with direct relevance to the current debate on environmental and human rights due diligence, that a duty of care required the defendant to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its negotiated and agreed end of life sale and the consequent disposal of the Vessel for demolition would not and did not endanger human health, damage the environment and/or breach international regulations for the protection of human health and the environment. The EU Ship Recycling Regulation 1257/2013 was suggested as playing a role, which is dismissed by Justice Jay at 24 for the Regulation was not applicable ratione temporis.

At 30, claimant’s case on negligence is summarised:

First, the vessel had reached the end of its operating life and a decision was taken (perforce) to dispose of it. Secondly, end-of-life vessels are difficult to dispose of safely. Aside from the evident difficulties inherent in dismantling a large metal structure, a process replete with potential danger, an oil tanker such as this contains numerous hazardous substances such as asbestos, mercury and radio-active components. Although these were listed for Basel Convention purposes and for the attention of the buyer, and the deceased was not injured as a result of exposure to any hazardous substance, the only reasonable inference is that waste such as asbestos is not disposed of safely in Chattogram. Thirdly, the defendant had a choice as to whether to entrust the vessel to a buyer who would convey it to a yard which was either safe or unsafe. Fourthly, the defendant had control and full autonomy over the sale. Fifthly, the defendant knew in all the circumstances that the vessel would end up on Chattogram beach. Sixthly, the defendant knew that the modus operandi at that location entailed scant regard for human life.

The gist of the argument under tort therefore is a classic Donoghue v Stevenson type case of liability arising from a known source of danger.

At 42 ff Justice Jay discusses what to my mind is of great relevance in particular under Article 7 Rome II, should it be engaged, giving claimant a choice between lex locus delicti commissi and lex locus damni for environmental damage, in particular, the issue of ‘control’. One may be aware from my earlier writings (for an overview see my chapter in the 2019 OUP Handbook of Comparative environmental law) that the determination of the lex causae for that issue of control has not been properly discussed by either the CJEU or national courts. This being a prima facie review, the issue is not settled definitively of course however Justice Jay ends by holding that there is no reason to dismiss the case on this issue first hand. This will therefore go to trial.

As noted Rome II is only discussed towards the end, when the issue of limitation surfaces (logically, it would have come first). Claimant does not convince the judge that the case is manifestly more closely connected with England than with Bangladesh under A4(3) Rome II. Then follows the discussion whether this might be ‘environmental damage’ under Article 7 Rome II, which Justice J at 83 ff holds preliminarily and prima facie, it is. Analysis of Article 7 is bound to be of great importance at trial and /or appeal.

At 85 a further issue for debate is trial is announced, namely whether the one-year statute of limitation under Bangladeshi law, should be extended under Article 26 Rome II’s allowance for ordre public (compare Roberts and CJEU C-149/18 Martins v DEKRA – that case concerning lois de police and statutes of limitation. 

Plenty of issues to be discussed thoroughly at trial.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

Jurisdiction, applicable law and the Draft Business and Human Rights Treaty. Some serious conflicts material in CSR /business and human rights laws.

I thought I should post briefly, including for archiving purposes, on one or two developments and recommendations viz the draft UN Business and Human Rights Treaty. This also follows exchanges I had at the w-e on the issue.

See Nadia Bernaz here for an introduction and see here for a document portal. The overview of statements made, shows some attention being paid to forum non conveniens, universal jurisdiction, and applicable law – a summary of those comments re applicable law is here at 84. That same document in Annex II contains the list of experts and further in the Annexes, their views on jurisdiction etc. (incl. forum necessitatis) which anyone wishing to write on the subject (that would include me had I not a basket already thrice full) should consult.

Claire Bright at BIICL also posted her views on the applicable law issues last week, including a proposal to exclude renvoi from the applicable law Article.

Things, they are moving. Including in case-law. That will be my next posting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

Our scoping study on a principle of ‘essential use’ in international and European regulatory (particularly chemicals) law.

Update 15 May 2020 see the ECHA consultation on PFAS regulation launched this very week.

With Kathleen Garnett I have co-authored a paper where we scope the ‘essential uses’ approach to product regulation, particularly in chemicals.

Could calls for the stricter regulation of one particular type of chemical herald the introduction of a new (or not) ‘principle’ in international and EU regulatory law, namely that of ‘essential use’ as a precondition for market authorisation?

The concept of ‘essential use’ or ‘non-essential use’ has been referenced in a number of EU policy papers. Kathleen and I focus on Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (‘PFAS’)  in chemicals legislation and firstly, map the concept of ‘essential use’ in international and EU law; further, discuss its limited application in the case-law of the European Court of Justice; and, before we conclude, carry out a preliminary investigation as to (if it does not currently exist in EU law), whether it might be so included de lege ferenda.

Happy reading. We are submitting to journal.

Geert, Kathleen.

Attempt in the Austrian courts to repeal air traffic tax breaks puts polluter pays and CJEU Deutsche Bahn judgment in the spotlights.

A late-ish flag to keep an eye on Greenpeace’s class-action suit filed in the Austrian courts to have the Austrian tax breaks on air traffic (tax exemption on kerosene fuel for domestic flights and a VAT exemption on international flights) lifted. It is certain to engage the Chicago Convention and the European implementation of same. The argument is inter alia that the non-exemption for rail is a form of State Aid to the airlines. I wrote on the issues in 2016, featuring T-351/02 Deutsche Bahh, arguing that the CJEU could have forced the issue then. What would be most excellent would be for the Austrian courts to refer to Luxembourg so as the CJEU may revisit the issue 14 years on from the judgment of the then Court of First Instance, in a world were many look a lot less forgivingly at the exemptions’ implications for internalising negative environmental externalities.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018.

 

 

Jalla and others v Shell. High Court upholds mother holding jurisdiction, no stay granted on the basis of Brussels Ia’s Article 34 forum non conveniens-light.

Update 18 August 2020 for subsequent procedural judgment unrelated to jurisdiction see [2020] EWHC 2211 (TCC).

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [2020] EWHC 459 (TCC) concerns a December 2011 oil spill which claimants allege companies forming part of the Shell group are responsible for. Anchor defendant in the UK is Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited – STASCO.

Stuart-Smith J on Tuesday last week upheld jurisdiction against the London-based mother holding on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia, and rejected an application for stay on Article 34 grounds. The judgment is lengthy, the issues highly relevant: this post therefore will be somewhat more extensive than usual.

Standard applications in cases like these now take the form of opposing jurisdiction against UK based defendants using Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non conveniens -light; readers will remember the issues from ia Privatbank (cited by Stuart-Smith J) and other A34 postings on the blog); alternatively, resisting the case go to full trial on the basis that there is no real issue to be tried; abuse of process arguments (against such defendants: based on EU law); and case-management grounds. The latter two are of course disputed following Owusu. And against non-UK (indeed non-EU based defendants), using forum non conveniens; abuse of process; case-management and no real issue to be tried.

[A further application at issue is to amend form claims to ‘correct’ defendant companies, an application which is subject to limitation periods that are disputed at length in the case at issue. This is civil procedure /CPR territory which is less the subject of this blog].

The jurisdiction challenges are what interests us here and these discussions start at 207. The discussion kicks of with core instructions for ‘Founding jurisdiction’ in principle: the five step ladder expressed by Lord Briggs in Vedanta – which of course confusingly include many echoes of forum non as well as Article 34 analysis. Claimant must demonstrate:

(i) that the claims against the anchor defendant involve a real issue to be tried;

(ii) if so, that it is reasonable for the court to try that issue;

(iii) that the foreign defendant is a necessary or proper party to the claims against the anchor defendant;

(iv) that the claims against the foreign defendant have a real prospect of success; and

(v) that, either, England is the proper place in which to bring the combined claims or that there is a real risk that the claimants will not obtain substantial justice in the alternative foreign jurisdiction, even if it would otherwise have been the proper place, or the convenient or natural forum.

For the purposes of current application, Stuart-Smith J focuses on i, ii, and v:

  • When considering whether there is “a real issue to be tried” the test to be applied is effectively the same as the test for summary judgment: reference here is made to Okpabi. It may be important to point out that the ‘real issue to be tried’ test must not be confused as a negation of Owusu. The test effectively has a gatekeeping purpose, not unlike the similar test in e.g The Netherlands as shown in Kiobel.
  • The second condition, reasonableness to try the real issue, Stuart-Smith J concedes that this condition has been heavily debated for it is not entirely clear. He links the condition to the anchor jurisdiction issue: for Stuart-Smith J, the fact that the anchor defendant is sued for the sole or predominant purpose of bringing the foreign defendant into the action within the jurisdiction is not fatal to an application to serve the foreign defendant out of the jurisdiction. He seems to suggest therefore a light reading of the reasonableness requirement and emphasises (at 215) as Lord Briggs had done in Vedanta, that per C-281/02 Owusu, the effect of the mandatory terms of A4(1) BIa is that jurisdiction that is vested in the English Court by the article may not be challenged on arguments which in other circumstances would be forum non conveniens grounds. (This reinforces his flexible reading of the reasonableness requirement).
  • On the fifth condition, Stuart-Smith J at 217 focuses on the scenario of an A4 defendant likely to continue being sued regardless of the English PIL decision (forum non in particular) viz the non-EU defendants (an issue which was quite important in Vedanta, where no A34 arguments were raised). If that is indeed likely then in his view this must have an impact on how the court considers the application of the English rules.

As noted Stuart-Smith J lists these arguments as ‘founding jurisdiction’ and at 227 finds there is a real issue to be tried: a reliable conclusion in the other direction (that STASCO had not retained legal responsibility for the operation of the Northia) cannot be found at this jurisdictional stage.

The Abuse of EU law argument is given short, one para (at 218) shrift, with reference to Lord Briggs in Vedanta (who focused on Article 8(1) CJEU authority for there is little precedent on abuse of EU law).

Turning then to the pièce de résistance: Article 34.  Readers of the blog will have followed my regular reporting on same.

Stuart-Smith’s first discusses authority in abstracto, and his points are as follows:

  • BIa’s section 9, ‘lis pendens – related actions’, harbours two twins. At 222: ‘Articles 29 and 33 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties. Articles 30 and 34 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions are “related” without satisfying the additional prerequisites for the application of Articles 29 and 33 (i.e. the same cause of action and between the same parties).‘ The twins are of course not identical: in each set, one involves action ex-EU, the other looks to intra-EU scenarios.
  • Zooming in on the A30-34 twin: A30 defines ‘related’ and A34 does not. Under A30(3), actions are related where they are “so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from different proceedings.” (at 222) under A34(1)a, the discretion to stay an action under that article does not arise unless “it is expedient to hear and determine the related actions to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from separate proceedings”. Semantically one might suggest the latter therefore is a subset of the former (which would also suggest not all actions that are ‘related’ under A30 are so under A34). Stuart-Smith J however proposes to focus on the commonality of both, which is the presence of expediency, ‘to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from <different: A30> <seperate: A34’ proceedings. Again at 222: ‘Although there is a semantic argument that this means that cases falling within Article 34(1)(a) are a subset of “related actions”, I cannot conceive of circumstances where this would matter: the expediency criterion is a pre-requisite for the exercise of the court’s discretion both under Article 29 and under Article 34.’
  • At 223 then follows the discussion of “risk of irreconcilable judgments”. ‘Because Articles 30 and 34 do not require the proceedings to involve the same cause of action and to be between the same parties, it is plain that the “risk of irreconcilable judgments” to which Articles 30(3) and 34(1)(a) refer cannot require that there be a risk that one judgment may give rise to an issue estoppel affecting the other.’ In other words, the test of irreconcilability is suggested to be more easily met in A30 (and 34) then it is under A29 (and 33). Nevertheless, with reference to Donaldson DJ in Zavarco, Stuart-Smith J suggests the points of difference between the judgments (whether arising from findings of fact or of law) would have to “form an essential part of the basis of the judgments” before A30 or 34 may be engaged.
  • At 225 he then refers to Privatbank, held by the Court of Appeal after proceedings in Jalla had been closed, in which the Court of Appeal held that the fact that actions could not be consolidated and heard together (much as of course such togetherness cannot be imposed upon the foreign courts) is relevant to the exercise of the Court’s discretion and, in the absence of some strong countervailing factor, will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay. At 246, that importance of the impossibility of consolidated hearings is re-emphasised.

At 228 then Stuart-Smith J arrives at the application in concretoHe starts with the defendants’ arguments: ‘In their written submissions the Defendants rely upon a number of claims brought by groups of claimants or communities before various courts in Nigeria and one action of rather different complexion, known as the Federal Enforcement Action [“FEA”]. They submit that the English proceedings against STASCO should be stayed, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments being reached in England and in one or more of the Nigerian proceedings by waiting for the determinations of the Nigerian Courts and then taking proper account of those determinations in disposing of the English proceedings. The Defendants submit that, by the imposition of a stay, the court would avoid “a course of conflict with the courts of a friendly state” and avoid “cutting across executive actions of the Nigerian State in relation to property situated within its territory” which the Defendants submit would be in breach of the act of state doctrine and considerations of comity.‘ He then proceeds to discuss the arguments:

  • Firstly he discusses at length the status of the FEA (which counsel for the defendants focused on) as well as a number of other actions pending in the Nigerian courts.
  • Of note is his observation at 234: ‘It is a fact material to the exercise of the court’s discretion on these applications that the Defendants in these proceedings rely upon the existence of the FEA as grounds for imposing a stay pursuant to Article 34 while at the same time SNEPCO is maintaining its root and branch opposition to the validity (as well as the factual merits) of the FEA.’
  • At 237 he notes the not carbon copy but nevertheless overlap between proceedings, at the level of claimants, defendants, and facts, but not the allegations of negligence and Rylands v Fletcher which are not directed at STASCO in the FEA proceedings. Of note is that he adds in fine that the potential problem of double recovery is simply an issue with which the English and Nigerian courts may have to grapple in due course.
  • At 241 he holds obiter that expediency is not met here for a stay would not reduce the risk of irreconcilable judgments. Here, the true nature of forum non (I realise of course A34 is only forum non light) re-emerges: the English proceedings will continue after the stay in all likelihood will have been lifted (there will continue to be a case to answer for STASCO). ‘(A)lthough the English court would afford due attention and respect to the findings of the Nigerian courts, the findings of the Nigerian courts in the FEA and the other actions would not bind the English court to make equivalent findings even on the most basic matters such as whether the December 2011 Spill reached land.’ However ‘in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal [in Privatbank, GAVC] that expediency is a theoretical concept, I will proceed on the assumptions (without deciding) that, for the purposes of Article 34, (a) the actions in Nigeria are related actions and (b) it is expedient to determine the related actions together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from different proceedings.’
  • That leaves the question whether a stay is necessary for the ‘proper administration of justice.’
    • At 242 the elements of recital 24 are considered in turn. Stuart-Smith emphasises in particular that while the damage occurred in Nigeria, there is a strong international element that is alleged to give rise to a duty of care owed by STASCO to the Claimants; and he underlines the uncertainty as to the length of the Nigerian proceedings).
    • At 245 he concludes that no stay is warranted: I shall recall the para in full (underlining is mine, as is the lay-out):
      • ‘Balancing these various considerations together, I am not satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
      • I start with the fact that jurisdiction is based on Article 4 and that it is contemplated that the proceedings against STASCO may continue after a temporary stay to await the progress of the Nigerian actions.
      • Second, the length of that stay is indeterminate whether one looks at the FEA or the other actions; but on any view it is likely to be measured in years rather than months, thereby rendering these Claimants’ claims (which were issued late) almost intolerably stale.
      • Third, a stay would prevent any steps being taken towards the resolution of the difficult limitation and other issues which the earlier parts of this judgment identify; and it would prevent any other steps being taken to ensure the swift and just progression of the English action if and when the stay is removed. That is, in my judgment, a major drawback: if and to the extent that there are valid (i.e. not statute-barred) claims to be pursued, there is a compelling interest of justice in their being pursued quickly. Otherwise, as is well known, there is a risk that valid claims may fall by the wayside simply because of the exorbitant passage of time.
      • Fourth, although the factual connection with Nigeria is almost complete, the English court’s jurisdiction is not to be ousted on forum non conveniens grounds and, that being so, there is no reason to assume that imposing a stay until after the Nigerian courts have reached their conclusions will either cause the English proceedings to be abandoned or determine the outcome of the English proceedings or eliminate the risk of irreconcilable findings altogether. I am certain that the English court would and will, if no stay is imposed at this stage, remain vigilant to the need to respect the Nigerian courts and their proceedings; and I do not exclude the possibility that circumstances might arise at a later stage when a pause in the English proceedings might become desirable in the interest of judicial comity and respect for Nigeria’s sovereign legal system.
      • Fifth, I bear in mind the fact that the scope of the FEA action is not clear, so that it is not clear what issues will be determined, save that the issue of STASCO’s responsibility and actions will not be as they are not before the Nigerian Court. Turning to the other actions, STASCO is only a party to the HRH Victor Disi Action which, though technically pending, cannot be assumed to be certain to come to trial. The status of the remaining actions, where STASCO is not a party, is as set out above but does not give confidence that one or more of those actions will emerge as a suitable vehicle for determining issues relating to the spill so as to fetter the freedom and resolve of the English court to reach a different conclusion on behalf of different claimants and in an action against STASCO if that is the proper result.
      • Sixth, in my judgment, the proper administration of justice is better served by taking interim steps to bring order to the English proceedings, specifically by addressing the issues of limitation and, potentially, existence and scope of duty, which are disclosed in the earlier parts of this judgment. The outcome of those steps should determine whether and to what extent STASCO is available as an anchor defendant.’

There is an awful lot here which may prove to be of crucial relevance in the debate on the application of Article 34. Most importantly, Stuart-Smith’s analysis in my view does justice to the DNA of A34, which includes a strong presumption against a stay.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

Confédération Paysanne, precaution and GMOs. French High Court issues its final ruling taking CJEU findings to their logical conclusion.

A short post to flag the French Conseil d’Etat’s final ruling in which on 7 February it held that organisms obtained via in-vitro mutagenesis techniques should be subject to GMO regulation and that consequently as EurActiv summarise the French authorities must update regulation to include such crops within six months, which includes identifying the agricultural plant varieties which have been obtained by these techniques and subjecting them to the assessments applicable to GMOs.

The ruling follows the CJEU’s mutagenesis finding in C-528/16, reviewed at the time on Steve Peers’ blog here and subsequently by KJ Garnett in RECIEL here. The ruling put agro-bio industry narrators in a spin but in essence is an utterly logical consequence of EU law.

Geert.

Canadian Supreme Court gives go ahead for consideration of the CSR issues in Nevsun Resources.

I have reported earlier on the issues which yesterday led to the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court 2020 SCC 5 Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, in which the Supreme Court was asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication in the case at issue. The case does not have jurisdictional issues to consider so I shall leave the substantive public international law analysis (not my core area) to others: Dr Ekaterina Aristova’s Twitter feed referenced below should give readers plenty of pointers, as does (which came out just as I was finalising this post) Stephen Pitel’s analysis here.

The case does raise the kinds of questions upon which the US Supreme Court (Kiobel; Jesner) refused to be drawn, particularly issues of corporate culpability under public international law. Again, this is not my area of core expertise and my thoughts here are merely that.

Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd. The Eritrean workers started proceedings in British Columbia against Nevsun and sought damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity. They also sought damages for breaches of domestic torts including conversion, battery, unlawful confinement, conspiracy and negligence.

Nevsun brought a motion to strike the pleadings on the basis of the ‘act of state’ doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government. Nevsun also took the position that the claims based on customary international law should be struck because they have no reasonable prospect of success.

The act of state doctrine is “a rule of domestic law which holds the national court incompetent to adjudicate upon the lawfulness of the sovereign acts of a foreign state” (R. v. Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No. 3), [2000] 1 A.C. 147 (H.L.), at p. 269) (Lord Millett). The doctrine exists in Australian and English common law (with plenty of discussion) but is not part of Canadian common law. At 30 Abella J for the majority explains the connections and differences with the doctrine of state immunity. [The doctrine was also at stake in [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India on which I reported earlier].

The motion was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in majority has now agreed, arguing  (ia at 44-45)

The act of state doctrine and its underlying principles as developed in Canadian jurisprudence are not a bar to the Eritrean workers’ claims. The act of state doctrine has played no role in Canadian law and is not part of Canadian common law. Whereas English jurisprudence has reaffirmed and reconstructed the act of state doctrine, Canadian law has developed its own approach to addressing the twin principles underlying the doctrine: conflict of laws and judicial restraint. Both principles have developed separately in Canadian jurisprudence rather than as elements of an all‑encompassing act of state doctrine. As such, in Canada, the principles underlying the act of state doctrine have been completely subsumed within this jurisprudence. Canadian courts determine questions dealing with the enforcement of foreign laws according to ordinary private international law principles which generally call for deference, but allow for judicial discretion to decline to enforce foreign laws where such laws are contrary to public policy, including respect for public international law.

Nor has Nevsun satisfied the test for striking the pleadings dealing with customary international law. Namely it has not established that it is “plain and obvious” that the customary international law claims have no reasonable likelihood of success.

Of note is at 50 the insistence with reference to authority that ‘deference accorded by comity to foreign legal systems “ends where clear violations of international law and fundamental human rights begin” ‘, and the majority’s opinion’s references to the stale nature of the established concept that public international law exists for and between States only.

Clearly the case is not home and dry for the lower courts will now have to address the substantive issues and may still hold for Nevsun. Moreover claimant’s case is based on parts of international law traditionally considered ius cogens – of less use in other corporate social responsibility cases involving environmental issues or more ‘modern’ social rights other than the hard core ius cogens category. Hence in my initial view the precedent value of the case may not be as wide as one might hope. However the clear rejection of the act of state attempt is significant.

Of interest finally is also the judgment at 75 and at 109 citing Philippe Sands’ (KU Leuven doctor honoris causa) formidable East West Street in support.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

NN v Barrick Tz Limited (Acacia) in the English courts. Another CSR /jurisdictional marker with likely role for Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia.

I have for the moment little to go on in a new claim, launched in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category. The claim was apparently filed against Barrick Tz Limited, formerly Acacia Mining, domiciled in the UK, alleging human rights abuses by security forces at the company’s North Mara mine.

Of jurisdictional note undoubtedly will be the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia: forum non conveniens – light, and a likely application for summary judgment by defendant. There is as far as I know no mother holding issue involved, unlike in Vedanta or Bento Rodriguez /Samarco.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

The French Constitutional Court on exporting environmental pollution and health hazards.

I seem to be having my environment cap firmly on this week so I am happy to thank Le Monde for flagging the judgment of the French Constitutional Court 2019-823 of 31 January in which it sanctioned (against the wishes of applicants, the Union des industries de la protection des plantes, essentially Bayer, Syngenta, BASF)  the Government’s ban on the manufacturing of and exportation of pesticides banned for use in France but hitherto available for export, mostly to Africa.

The case I would suggest is one that is also very suited to a business ethics class. Interestingly the Act also mentions that it applies to the degree it is not incompatible with WTO rules – the WTO is not addressed in the judgment.

Applicants’ case is grounded on the freedom of ‘enterprise’ or ‘commerce’, as expressed in the 1789 Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen – but also the Decret d’Allarde 1791. To the mix of objectives to be balanced, the Court adds the protection of public health (Constitutional recital, 1946) and the Environment Charter 2004, from which the court deduces that environmental protection, as common heritage of mankind, is a Constitutionally ringfenced objective.

At 6 the Court without much ado posits that the French Government in pursuing environmental policy, justifiably may take into account the extraterritorial environmental consequences of activities on French soil.

Having referred to the EU ban on the use of the substances at issue, based on scientific considerations discussed at length in the run-up to the EU law at issue, the Court at 9-10 refers to the principle that it should not overzealous in second-guessing the exercise by Parliament of its balancing exercise. At 11, it notes that the 3-year transitionary period gives corporations ample transitionary time in line with their freedom of commerce.

To the Court, it’s all very much self-evident. For environmental policy and extraterritoriality, its findings are quite relevant.

Geert.

 

 

A language Fest: Sharpston AG on the Basel Convention and mixtures of wastes in Interseroh.

Update 6 July 2020 The Court held at the end of May (at the time of writing, an EN version is still not available). Given the mixed messages in the language versions of the Regulation’s Annexes, it gives priority to the international agreement which the Regulation is meant to transpose, ie the Basel Convention. From the statutory build-up of the relevant Basel Annex, it holds that mixtures of wastes cannot be classified under one of the relevant entries of the green list; and also that up to 10% impurities do not impact the classification.

In C-654/18 Interseroh Sharpston AG opined on 30 January, in answer to a German court wishing to ascertain whether a waste stream composed principally of paper products should be categorised as so-called ‘green’ waste and therefore subject to the flexible control procedure provided in the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation 1013/2016. The referring court also asks whether such waste can still be categorised as ‘green’ if it contains up to 10% impurities.

The Regulation combines rules of purely EU origin, with a sometimes complex combination of OECD and 1989 Basel Convention rules. It generally employs a listing system with corresponding light signals (green and amber, previously also red) with the green list being the most desirable to exporters: these only require compliance with the same rules as ordinary commercial transactions.

Regardless of whether or not wastes are included on the list of wastes subject to the Green Control Procedure (Appendix 3 of the EU Regulation), they may not be subject to the Green control procedure if they are contaminated by other materials to an extent which (a) increases the risks associated with the wastes sufficiently to render them appropriate for submission to the amber control procedure, when taking into account the criteria in Appendix 6 to this Decision, or (b) prevents the recovery of the wastes in an environmentally sound manner’.

In the dispute at issue Interseroh collects used sales packaging (lightweight packaging) from private final consumers throughout Germany which it then consigns to recovery. It ships the prepared waste paper across the border for recycling in a paper factory in Hoogezand (Netherlands). New paper and new paperboard is produced from the waste paper. The Netherlands purchaser, ESKA stipulates that the waste paper must meet the following specifications. It should be composed of at least 90% used, residue-drained, system-compatible paper, paperboard or cardboard (PPC) articles and PPC-based combinations, with the exception of liquid packaging board including packaging parts such as labels etc. Also, the waste stream must contain no more than 10% impurities (‘the mixture of wastes at issue’).

The Dutch and German import cq export authorities differ as to the inclusion or not of the transported wastes at issue, with the Dutch taking a more relaxed approach on the basis of the Dutch version of the relevant Basel entry B3020.

  • The Dutch version reads „De volgende materialen, mits deze niet vermengd zijn met gevaarlijke afvalstoffen:
    Oud papier en karton:
    – ongebleekt papier en karton of gegolfd papier en golfkarton; – overig papier en karton, hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van gebleekt chemisch pulp, dat niet in bulk is gekleurd; – papier en karton hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van mechanisch pulp (bv. kranten, tijdschriften en soortgelijk drukwerk); – overige, met inbegrip van: 1. gelamineerd karton, 2. ongesorteerd afval
  • The German version: “Folgende Stoffe, sofern sie nicht mit gefährlichen Abfällen vermischt sind:
    Abfälle und Ausschuss von Papier und Pappe
    – ungebleichtes Papier und Wellpapier und ungebleichte Pappe und Wellpappe; – hauptsächlich aus gebleichter, nicht in der Masse gefärbter Holzcellulose bestehendes anderes Papier und daraus bestehende andere Pappe; – hauptsächlich aus mechanischen Halbstoffen bestehendes Papier und daraus bestehende Pappe (beispielsweise Zeitungen, Zeitschriften und ähnliche Drucksachen); – andere, einschließlich, aber nicht begrenzt auf: 1. geklebte/laminierte Pappe (Karton) , 2. nicht sortierter Ausschuss.
  • The English version: The following materials, provided they are not mixed with hazardous wastes:
    Waste and scrap of paper or paperboard of:
    – unbleached paper or paperboard or of corrugated paper or paperboard; – other paper or paperboard, made mainly of bleached chemical pulp, not coloured in the mass; – paper or paperboard made mainly of mechanical pulp (for example, newspapers, journals and similar printed matter); – other, including but not limited to: (1) laminated paperboard, (2) unsorted scrap.

According to the wording of the German-language version, point 2 of the fourth indent covers ‘nicht sortierten Ausschuss’ (‘unsorted scrap’) and not ‘nicht sortierte Abfälle’ (‘unsorted waste’), as the Dutch Supreme Court held on the basis of the Dutch language version (‘ongesorteerd afval’). The term ‘scrap’ is not synonymous with the terms ‘waste’ or ‘mixture’. In addition, a distinction is drawn in the French language version between ‘mélange de déchets’ and ‘rebuts non triés’, just as in the English-language version between ‘mixture of wastes’ and ‘unsorted scrap’. The terms ‘scrap’ and ‘waste’ are therefore not synonymous. Since, in the Dutch language version of the heading of Basel Code B3020, the term ‘waste’ is not used, but it instead reads ‘papier, karton en papierproducten’, the term ‘afval’ in point 2 of the fourth indent in the Dutch-language version does not cover the entire entry, but only what does not come under the first three indents.

Specifically, on 20 May 2015, the Raad van State (Council of State, Netherlands) ruled in proceedings involving ESKA that a waste paper mixture, regardless of the presence of impurities, comes under Basel Code B3020. Accordingly, any such mixture of wastes constituted ‘Green’ listed waste and came within the list of wastes subject to the Green control procedure under Article 18 of Regulation No 1013/2006. It did so on the basis of the Dutch language version of Basel Code B3020. ESKA had previously been employing the stricter prior notification procedure under Article 4 of the Regulation.

Interseroh then brought an action before the referring German court seeking a declaration that it is entitled to ship the mixture of wastes at issue to other EU Member States in accordance with the Green control procedure.

Sharpston AG at 27 starts by pointing out that the shipments at issue are kosher commercial and regulatory transactions: at least 90% of the mixture is made up of what can be described generically as paper, paperboard and paper product wastes. The waste also includes a maximum of 10% impurities. This, in other words, is not a cowboyesque trafficking practice. She then explores the legislative history of the amended Annexes, paying less attention to the linguistic analysis perhaps than one might expect – object and purpose is, after all, a guiding principle in the interpretation of texts with seemingly diverging language versions. She concludes from that assessment (please refer to her Opinion itself; there is little point in me paraphrasing it here) that the lighter, green list procedure can only apply if the notifier shows with scientific evidence that the level of impurities does not prevent the recovery of the wastes in question in an environmentally sound manner. She also acknowledges at 72 (as the EC already did in its 2009 FAQs) that clarity on the issue is wanting: ‘establishing what is a tolerable level of contamination is a matter that is due (perhaps, overdue) for examination’. However given the lack of formal regulatory guidance on the issue, the Article 28 procedure of Regulation applies: where the competent authorities of the Member State of dispatch and the Member State of destination cannot agree on the classification of a particular consignment of wastes (and hence on whether the more flexible Green control procedure in Article 18 may be used), the Annex IV amber list procedure must be applied.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.