Posts Tagged Corporate social responsibility

Jabir and others v. KiK Textilien und Non-Food GmbH. German court kicks supply chain CSR litigation into the long grass. Questions on Statutes of limitation under Rome II left out in the open.

Jonas Poell, Julianne Hughes-Jennett, Peter Hood and Lucja Nowak reported and succinctly reviewed Case No. 7 O 95/15 Jabir and Others v Kik early January – the ‘next week’ promise in my Tweet below turned out a little longer.

Survivors of a fire in a Pakistani textile supplying factory are suing Germany-based KIK as the “main retailer” of the merchandise produced in the Pakistani premises. Jurisdiction evidently is easily established on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia.

As Burkhard Hess and Martina Mantovani note here, claimants are attempting to have KIK held liable for not having promoted and undertaken, in practice, the implementation of “adequate safety  measures” in the Pakistani factory (producing clothes), thus breaching an engagement  they undertook in a Code of Conduct applicable to its relationship with its contractual  counterpart.

Prof Hess and Ms Mantovani’s paper ‘Current developments in forum access: Comments on jurisdiction and forum non conveniens European Perspectives on Human Rights Litigation’ incidentally is an excellent stock taking on the issues surrounding mass tort (human rights) litigation.

The Dortmund court held that the case is time-barred under Pakistani law which was the lex causae per Rome II, Regulation 864/2007. Now, I have not had access to the full ruling (lest the 3 page ruling linked above is precisely that – which I am assuming it is not), so a little caveat here, however the court’s discussion of limitation periods is startlingly brief. Article 15 Rome II includes ‘the manner in which an obligation may be extinguished and rules of prescription and limitation’ in the scope of application of the lex causae’. Yet as the development inter alia of relevant English statute shows (discussed ia by Andrew Dickinson in his Rome II book with OUP), there are a multitude of issues surrounding statutes of limitation. One of them being Article 1(3) Rome II’s confirmation that evidence and procedure is not within its scope, another Article 26’s ordre public exception which certainly may have a calling here.

I have reported before on the difficult relationship between A1 and A15 in Spring v MOD and in PJSC Tatneft v Bogolyubov.

The court at Dortmund also rejects the argument that parties’ settlement negotiations before the claims were filed amount to choice of (German) law per Article 14(1). That would have triggered the 3 year German limitation period as opposed to the 2 year Pakistani one. Dr Jungkamp, the chamber president, argues that parties did not have any reflection on the Pakistani (or indeed German) limitation period in mind when they corresponded on the ex gratia out of court settlement, hence excluding the intention (animus contrahendi) required to speak of choice of law. I would suggest that is a bit of a succinct analysis to conclude absence of choice of law. Parties need not be aware of all implications of such choice for it to be validly made.

Appeal is possible and, I would suggest, warranted.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.7, Heading 4.8, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

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Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Gize Yebeyo Araya, et al. Some of the unanswered Kiobel and Jesner Bank issues now at the Canadian Supreme Court.

Plenty of goings-on in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category, as regular readers of the blog and /or my Twitter-feed will know. Thank you Jutta Brunnée for alerting us to Nevsun Resources v Gize Ybeyo et al, currently making its way through the Canadian Supreme Court. Thank you also Cory Wanless for pointing out the core of the issue: Nevsun are not contesting jurisdiction (its existence is secure; much like in the EU context) e.g. on forum non conveniens grounds. Rather, the Supreme Court is asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication.

The first question undoubtedly will lead to a discussion of similar issues raised in Kiobel, where they were not discussed by the USSC, and in Jesner Bank, where the USCC refused to be the dealmaker on public international law. The second issue is likely to imply consideration of the very foreign poicy considerations which featured heavily in circuit considerations prior to Kiobel.

Geert.

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

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Bento Rodrigues (Samarco dam victims) v BHP Billiton in the English courts. A new CSR marker.

The media have been reporting on a considerable class action lawsuit, underway in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category.

The class action case was filed against Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton on behalf of 240,000 individuals, 24 municipal governments, 11,000 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and about 200 members of the Krenak indigenous community. It concerns victims of the Samarco dam collapse in Mariana three years ago.

I am reporting the case simply to ensure complete overview of the CSR /jurisdiction /applicable law issues reported on the blog. For as I am co-counsel acting for the claimants, I am not in a position to comment on the case until and if legal analysis will be in the public domain.

Geert.

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

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Unilever. Court of Appeal summarily dismisses CSR jurisdiction against mother company, confirming High Court’s approach. Lex causae for proximity again left undiscussed.

Update 21 September 2018 further litigation on similar issues is underway in Gemfield [AAA and others v Gemfields Plc and Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada]. See overview of issues here.

The Court of Appeal in [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 has confirmed the High Court’s approach in [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, holding that there is no good arguable case (the civil law notion of fumus boni iuris comes closes, as Bobek AG notes in Feniks) against Unilever, which could then be used to anchor the case in the English jurisdiction.

Pro memoria: jurisdiction against Unilever is clear, following Article 4 Brussels I Recast. That Regulation’s anchor mechanism however is not engaged for Article 7(1) does not apply against non-EU based defendants. It is residual English private international law that governs this issue.

Appellants appeal in relation to the High Court’s ruling that neither Unilever nor UTKL (the Kenyan subsidiary) owed the appellants a duty of care. Unilever has put in a respondent’s notice to argue that the judge should have found that there was no duty of care owed by Unilever on the additional ground that, contrary to her view, there was no proximity between Unilever and the appellants in respect of the damage suffered by them, according to the guidance in Chandler v Cape Plc. Unilever and UTKL also sought to challenge that part of the judgment in which the judge held that, if viable claims in tort existed against Unilever (as anchor defendant) and UTKL, England is the appropriate place for trial of those claims. Unilever also cross-appealed in relation to a previous case management decision by the judge, by which she declined an application by Unilever that the claim against it should be stayed on case management grounds, until after a trial had taken place in Kenya of the appellants claims against UTKL.

The legal analysis by Sales LJ takes a mere five paragraphs (para 35 onwards). Most of the judgment is taken up by an (equally succinct) overview of risk management policies within the group.

At 35 Sales LJ notes ‘Having set out the relevant factual background in relation to the proximity issue (i.e. whether the appellants have any properly arguable case against Unilever in the light of Chandler v Cape Plc and related authorities), the legal analysis can proceed much more shortly. It is common ground that principles of English law govern this part of the case.

– the ‘common ground’ presumably being lex loci incorporationis.

This is an interesting part of the judgment for I find it by no means certain that English law should govern this part of the case. In one of my chapters for professor Vinuales’ en Dr Lees’ forthcoming OUP book on comparative environmental law, I expand on that point.

The long and the short of the argument is that Unilever did not intervene in the affairs of its subsidiary in a more intensive way than a third party would have done. Reference at 37 is made to the contrasting examples given by Sir Geoffrey Vos in Okpabi, ‘One can imagine … circumstances where the necessary proximity could be established, even absent the kind of specific facts that existed in Vedanta … Such a case might include the situation, for example, where a parent required its subsidiaries or franchisees to manufacture or fabricate a product in a particular way, and actively enforced that requirement, which turned out to be harmful to health. One might suggest a food product that injured many, but was created according to a prescriptive recipe provided by the parent. …’

and, at 38, to the raison d’être of mother /daughter structures,

“… it would be surprising if a parent company were to go to the trouble of establishing a network of overseas subsidiaries with their own management structures it if intended itself to assume responsibility for the operations of each of those subsidiaries. The corporate structure itself tends to militate against the requisite proximity …

– subject evidently to proof of the opposite in the facts at issue (a test seemingly not met here).

Geert.

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

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Chevron /Ecuador: Ontario Court of Appeal emphasises third parties in piercing the corporate veil issues.

In Chevron Corp v Yaiguaje, the Canadian Supreme Court as I reported at the time confirmed the country’s flexible approach to the jurisdictional stage of recognition and enforcement actions. Following that ruling both parties files for summary judgment, evidently advocating a different outcome.

The Ontario Court of Appeal have now held in 2018 ONCA 472 Yaiguaje v. Chevron Corporation that there are stringent requirements for piercing the corporate veil (i.e. by execution on Chevron Canada’s shares and assets to satisfy the Ecuadorian judgment) and that these are not met in casu.

Of particular note is Hourigan JA’s argument at 61 that ‘the appellants’ proposed interpretation of the [Canadian Corporation’s] Act would also have a significant policy impact on how corporations carry on business in Canada. Corporations have stakeholders. Creditors, shareholders, and employees, among others, rely on the corporate separateness doctrine that is long-established in our jurisprudence and that is a deliberate policy choice made in the [Act]. Those stakeholders have a reasonable expectation that when they do business with a Canadian corporation, they need only consider the liabilities of that corporation and not the liabilities of some related corporation.’ (emphasis added by me, GAVC)

Blake, Cassels and Graydon have further review here. Note that the issue is one of a specific technical nature: it only relates to veil piercing once the recognition and enforcement of a foreign ruling is sought.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8.

 

 

 

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Jesner v Arab Bank. Scotus does not play ball on corporate culpability under international law.

For background to this week’s SCOTUS ruling in  Jesner v Arab Bank see my earlier posting. Bastian Brunk has early reflection here, with good summary of the Court’s majority (as well as dissenting) opinion.

Human rights litigation under ATS is not dead. Yet it is clear it is not going to be routine, either. I find the judgment not surprising. While one could certainly from a political point of view bemoan that ATS is not providing the avenue to hold corporate excess to account,  SCOTUS have a point when

  • they emphasise the foreign policy intentions of the ATS when it was originally drafted. Hence the need not to ignore the same foreign policy implications 2 centuries on. Hence also my stance on JASTA.
  • they highlight the continuing de lega lata situation on corporate culpability under international law: the default position remains that corporations are not subjects of public international law. Yes there are hard-core exceptions – and these may be further developing. And yes, plenty over the past 20 years have tried to  change that status quo. Finally the Court could have flagged more of those attempts that raise serious doubt over the position. However it is hardly the role of the US Supreme Court single-handedly to force the hand of the league of nations.
  • separation of powers in the US, too, demands Congress intervene should it want the Statute’s causes of action to be broadened.

All in all a ruling very much in Montesquieu’s spirit. Students of public international law in particular should read the judgment with care: there is plenty in there to chew over.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.2.

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Human rights, CSR: Court of Appeal confirms lack of jurisdiction in Okpabi.

Update 16 May 2018 Vedanta have been given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Update 7 March For a great supplement simply refer to Penelope Bergkamp’s post in which she discusses the wider issues of parent liablity v veil piercing etc.

The Court of Appeal, referring powerfully ia to VTB, has confirmed (albeit with dissenting opinion) lack of the English courts jurisdiction in [2018] EWCA Civ 191 Okpabi et al v Shell. I reviewed the High Court’s decision in same here. Plenty of the High Court’s considerations. e.g. (pro inspiratio) joinder under Brussels I Recast, and the optionally distributive lex causae rule under Article 7 Rome II, do not feature in the Court of Appeal’s approach.

The crucial take-away from the judgment is that the English courts do not believe that headquarter instructed mandatory compliance, equates control. This runs along the lines of Scheindlin USDJ’s approach in Apartheid.

Geert.

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

 

 

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