Bank Melli Iran: How corporate social responsibility reports may act as a shield in export controls law.

A short (and late – I am in mopping-up mood it seems) post on the AG’s Opinion in Case C‑124/20 Bank Melli Iran – in which he also cites my former colleague proximus Cédric Ryngaert. Hogan AG’s Opinion addresses the rock and the hard stone, or the devil and the deep blue sea dilemma facing corporations in the light of diverging export laws /sanctions law. May a German bank refuse to do business indeed end business with an Iranian bank, under pressure from US secondary export control laws?

More on the external relations aspects of the case is ia here and of course in the Opinion itself. My interest here lies in part of the Opinion: the AG’s view that an EU undertaking seeking to terminate an otherwise valid contract with an Iranian entity subject to the US sanctions must demonstrate to the  satisfaction of the national court that it did not do so by reason of its desire to comply with those sanctions. It must show other motives, such as ethical reservations about doing business with Iran. These reservations may be documented by a genuinely rolled-out CSR compliance program: (88)

‘In order, however, to establish that the reasons given in respect of any decision to terminate a contract on this ground were in fact sincere, the person referred to in Article 11 of the EU blocking statute in question − in the present case Telekom Deutschland – would need, in my view, to demonstrate that it is actively engaged in a coherent and systematic corporate social-responsibility policy (CSR) which requires them, inter alia, to refuse to deal with any company having links with the Iranian regime.’

CSR programs have been used as carrot ia in Trafigura and as stick ia in Vedanta. The view here is very much the carrot or if one likes, the shield function: CSR policies as a defensive weapon against the rock and hard stone dilemma. That is most interesting for the EU corporations concerned and likely to draw the attention of export sanctions practitioners (both in-house and out) to part of the corporation’s blurb which they may otherwise ignore. Yet it may put too much emphasis on fairly unregulated CSR policy drafting, and compliance issues.

Geert.

Nestle & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court. A further restriction of jurisdiction under ATS, with encouragement on corporate culpability as a pudding.

Update 8 September 2021 note the French Supreme Court’s less restrictive approach to ‘aiding and abetting’ in the (criminal law) judgment re Lafarge yesterday. It held complicity in a crimes against humanity case does not require hands-on assistance. As Philip Grant reports, in the view of the French SC it is necessary and sufficient to have had knowledge of the preparation or commission of such acts and that aid or assistance facilitated them; it is not necessary to belong to the criminal organization nor to subscribe to the conception or execution of the criminal plan.

A most late flag on Nestlé & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court, back in June. I reported on the case here and if you follow Lucas’ thread on the case, there is further interesting and impromptu analysis. Readers of the blog may know I have published on the issue before – search tag ‘ATS’ should give you all cases referred to below.

This case reconfirms the mood viz the Alien Tort Statute,  a popular (if not the only!) vehicle for corporate social responsibility litigation: since Kiobel, the USSC has seriously reigned in the scope of application of the ATS. In Nestlé, it would seem to impose a further squeeze on the ATS jurisdictional gateway. In Apartheid and Jesner Bank, ‘aiding and abetting’ by the US corporate headquarters of culpable conduct by their subsidiaries abroad, seemed to be a burden of proof claimants had to meet in order for the action to be admissible under the ATS. In Nestlé the Court in its current composition (sub III of the majority Opinion) suggests that aiding and abetting in that interpretation risks becoming a court-introduced (hence in its view noli sequi) action in tort.

Sub II, the Court is not at all clear what the jurisdictional hurdle might be, except that it is a very high one: ‘Nearly all the conduct that [claimants] say aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms—occurred in Ivory Coast… allegations of general corporate activity—like decisionmaking—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.’ (Interesting contrast here with the UKSC in ia Vedanta).

Not only could one debate whether this decision represents the intention of the ATS (which, even if one applies it in limited fashion, did historically mean to catch at least in part activities outside of the US). One also immediately sees the most unattractive consequence of this judgment: as long as the dirty work is left for foreign affiliates to carry out overseas, one escapes the reach of ATS. As Lucas points out, it is not clear what kind of headquarter engagement could still trigger a suit under the ATS.

There is little solace in the indication that the Court (both in majority opinion and minority concurrence) accepts that corporations are not as such immune from suit under the ATS (which links to the issues currently discussed in Nevsun Resources). Update 8 September 2021 more on that issue by Doug Cassel here.

There will be more attempts to further refine the ATS scope. At the same time one imagines claimants will study in even greater detail than before, the possibility to bring the suit under more recent US federal laws with clear extraterritorial intent, such as in the field of corruption of export controls. As past (but now gone) ATS litigation shows, human rights and /or environmental suit need not necessarily label themselves as such.

Nomen non est omen. It is the end goal of human rights or environmental protection or, say, environmental justice which determines a suit’s character, no matter what prima facie subject matter the suit addresses. If one can advance these causes by suing under the by-laws of the World Philately Federation, say, one should have a good go at it.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

Josiya ea v BAT ea (tobacco labourers’ exploitation). On documentary proof of link between claimant and defendant.

Josiya & Ors v British American Tobacco Plc & Ors [2021] EWHC 1743 (QB) is the first shot in an important business and human rights case, accusing the defendants of being responsible for working conditions said to include the widespread use of unlawful child labour, unlawful forced labour and the systematic exposure of vulnerable and impoverished adults and children to extremely hazardous working conditions with minimal protection against industrial accidents, injuries and diseases.

I briefly want to flag the 25 June order by Spencer J for it highlights a point I often make when teaching, or sharing my practice experience on, strategic and public interest litigation: that most of these cases are won not by an eloquent speech on grand principles, delivered in Hollywood fashion. Rather, by the dogged determination of invested lawyers, with a keen eye for detail across civil procedure (including standing, statutes of limitation, service, timely filing of procedural , third party and other ways of financing, tort and other applicable law).

The order at issue dismisses an application for strike-out which was essentially based on an alleged lack of documentary proof of claimants’ link to the defendants, leading to claim said to be an abuse of process.

Brussels IA applies to the claim (claim form was filed on 18 December 2020, the particulars of claim – POC on 12 January 2021): claimants aim to avoid forum non conveniens although of course Articles 33-34 might still be raised. Locus causae is said to be Malawi law [19]. Claimants concede [23] they do not at this stage have documentary evidence that categorially links each individual Claimant to one or more of the Defendants or companies within the Defendants’ corporate groups. They tried to obtain this unsuccessfully in pre-trial disclosure.

Claimant’s counsel, Richard Hermer QC, successfully argued a distinction [41]  between what is required for a party to plead the case; and what is required for a party to prove the case at trial.

Held: the claim form without specific identification of the link between individual claimants and specific defendants is not an abuse of process under the circumstances. An application for disclosure may and must be prepared.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

Suing ‘Norsk Hydro’ in The Netherlands. No engagement it seems of Article 33-34 BIa ‘from non conveniens light’.

A quick note on the suit in The Netherlands against “Norsk Hydro” of Norway, for alleged pollution caused by aluminium production in Brasil. No court decisions or orders are available as yet hence I write simply to log the case. I have put Norsk Hydro in inverted commas for the suit really is against Norsk Hydro subsidiaries incorporated in The Netherlands, who are said to control the Brazilian entities. The jurisdictional basis therefore is A4 BIa. As far as the reporting on the case  indicates, there seems little likelihood of A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens light making an appearance seeing as no Brazilian proceedings are reported to be underway which could sink the Dutch proceedings like the High Court did in Municipio de Mariana. That is not to say of course that the defendants might not discover some.

Geert.

EU Private International Law., 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 7.3.1.

Okpabi v Shell. The Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal and the High Court on jurisdictional hurdles in parent /subsidiaries cases. Guest blog by professor Robert McCorquodale.

Update 12 07 2021 Shell have now dropped further jurisdictional objections. The Nigerian daughter companies will therefore be joined to the case at the High Court, together with the English-incorporated mother corporation (Shell dual list in England and The Netherlands).

Those who combine my excitement of having professor McCorquodale contribute to the blog, with his enthusiasm at the end of his post, may find themselves in a perennial game of complimentary renvoi.

Robert, who represented interveners CORE in Okpabi v Shell (one-line summary in live tweeting here), signals the jurisdictional take-aways. The wider due diligence context of the case is considered by Ekaterina Aristova and Carlos Lopez here, Lucas Roorda signals ia the merits bar following the jurisdictional findings and Andrew Dickinson expressed his hope of an end to excessively lengthy jurisdictional proceedings here.

 

Okpabi v Shell: Judges’ Approach to Jurisdictional Issues is Crucial

In Okpabi v Shell [2021] UKSC 3, Nigerian farmers brought a claim against Shell’s parent company (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary (SPDC) for environmental and human rights impacts of oil pollution. The claim had been struck out at the initial state on the basis of lack of jurisdiction in relation to the actions of SPDC, and this decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court unanimously swept aside these decisions. It held that when considering issues of the court’s jurisdiction over such a claim, a court must start from the basis that the alleged facts of the claim are true and from there determine if the claim has a real prospect of success.  The defendant should not bring evidence of its own to dispute the alleged facts unless the facts are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable, as otherwise it risks showing that there is an issue to be tried.  If a judge engages with the evidence and makes findings on it in a summary judgment, the more likely it is that the decision to strike out will be overturned. Further, the Court considered that there was a danger of a court determining issues which arise in parent/subsidiary cases without sufficient disclosure of material documents in the hands of the defendants. Both courts below had acted incorrectly and conducted a “mini-trial”, and so the appeal by the claimants was successful.

The Court affirmed Vedanta that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that the Caparo test was inapplicable to these types of cases. The Court also clarified the scope of the duty of care by making clear that control is not determinative, it is the level of management involvement by the parent which is crucial. A parent company’s group-wide policies and standards were relevant in this respect. The Court, unfortunately, did not refer in its decision to any comparative law cases or international developments, even though these had been drawn to its attention.

This decision embeds the position that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that de facto management is a factor to consider. It examined the legal process by which courts consider these jurisdictional issues and made it much harder for a judge to strike out a case at the jurisdictional stage unless the facts on which the claim is based are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable. This could enable quicker proceedings towards the merits in these types of cases.

—Robert McCorquodale – it is my honour to contribute to this excellent blog.

High Court declines jurisdiction in Municipio de Mariana. An important (first instance) #bizhumanrights marker.

Update 27 July 2021 the Court of Appeal today granted the CPR 52.30 application and has given permission to appeal.

Update 10 May 2021 the Court of Appeal have agreed to hear our application to challenge the refusal for PTA.

Update 31 03 2021 the Court of Appeal have confirmed refusal to appeal in an order which fails to engage properly with inter alia the A34 issues.

Update 1 February 2021 Turner J last week refused permission to appeal (which can now still be taken to the Court of Appeal itself).

I am instructed for claimants in the case hence my post here is a succinct report, not a review and it must not be read as anything else.

Turner J yesterday struck out (not just: stayed) the case against the companies jointly operating the facilities that led to the 2015 Brazilian dam break and consequential human and environmental loss in Município De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 2930 (TCC). I reported on the case before here.

Eyre J’s earlier Order had identified the threefold jurisdictional challenge: 1. Forum non conveniens for non-EU defendants; 2. Article 34 Brussels IA for the EU-based defendants; 3. Abuse of process, case management for both.

In his judgment Turner J makes abuse of process the core of the case, hinging his subsequent obiter analysis of forum non and of Article 34 on his views viz abuse. At the centre of his abuse analysis is his interpretation of AB v John Wyeth & Brother (No.4), also known as the benzodiazepine litigation, with the points he takes from that judgment (even after the subsequent CPR rules wre issued) summarized at 76.

At 80 ff is a discussion (see e.g. my earlier review of Donaldson DJ in Zavarco) on the use of case-management powers, including abuse, against EU-domiciled defendants post CJEU Owusu (the ‘back-door analogy per Lewison J in Skype technologies SA v Joltid Ltd [2009] EWHC 2783 (Ch) ).

At 99 ff Turner J pays a lot of attention to the impact of accepting jurisdiction on the working of the courts in England, discusses some of the practicalities including language issues, and decides at 141 in an extract which has already caught the attention of others, that ‘In particular, the claimants’ tactical decision to progress closely related damages claims in the Brazilian and English jurisdictions simultaneously is an initiative the consequences of which, if unchecked, would foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions.’

At 146 ff follow the obiter considerations of the remaining grounds, Article 34 Recast, forum non conveniens and case management stay. On Article 34 viz BHP Plc, the issue of ‘relatedness’ is discussed with reference of course to Euroeco and the tension between that case and Privatbank, as I flag ia here, holding at 199 in favour of Privatbank as the leading authority (hence focus on desirability of hearing cases together rather than on practical possibility). On relatedness, Turner J does not follow the approach of either Zavarco or Jalla, both of course first instance decisions.

At 206 Turner J takes the instructions of recital 24 Brussels Ia’s ‘all circumstances of the case’ to mean including circumstances which would ordinarily be part of a forum non consideration, despite Owusu, and at 231 Jalla is distinguished (at least practically; Jalla is not authority for the judge here) and i.a. at 221 Turner J lists his reasons for allowing an Article 34 stay (again: these are obiter views). As already noted, these echo his findings on abuse of process.

The forum non conveniens analysis viz BHP Ltd at 235 ff, applying Spiliada, delivers inter alia on an inherent implication of Lord Briggs’ suggestions in Vedanta: that a commitment of defendants voluntarily to submit to the foreign alternative jurisdiction, hands them the key to unlock forum non. At 241: ‘In this case, both defendants have offered to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Brazil. Thus the force of any suggestion that there may be a risk of irreconcilable judgements against each defendant is attenuated.’

Conclusions, at 265:

(i) I strike out the claims against both defendants as an abuse of the process of the court;

(ii) If my finding of abuse were correct but my decision to strike out were wrong, then I would stay the claims leaving open the possibility of the claimants, or some of them, seeking to lift the stay in future but without pre-determining the timing of any such application or the circumstances in which such an application would be liable to succeed;

(iii) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claim against BHP Plc by the application of Article 34 of the Recast Regulation;

(iv) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claims against BHP Ltd on the grounds of forum non conveniens regardless of whether the BHP reliance on Article 34 of the Recast Regulation had been successful or not;

(v) If my findings on the abuse of process point were wrong, then a free-standing decision to impose a stay on case management grounds would probably be unsustainable.

Appeal is of course being considered.

Geert.

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

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

First analysis of the European Parliament’s draft proposal to amend Brussels Ia and Rome II with a view to corporate human rights due diligence.

Update 10 March 2021 the forum necessitatis and other amendments to Brussels Ia and Rome II were rejectedUpdate 16 April 2021 Thalia Kruger has succinct additional analysis and references here. Of note is here remark that the Resolution would leave it up to Member States to qualify any EU law as lois de police: clearly that would indeed be an odd move.

Update 28 October 2020 see also Chris Tomale’s further critical reflection here.

Update 22 October 2020  see for comparative purposes Jan von Hein’s critical comments on the EP draft work for a Regulation on the civil liability for artificial intelligence. There is a clear tendency in the institutions to draft tailor-made regimes for the PIL aspects of whatever hot topic hits them – it is generally neither a wise nor a necessary move.

Update 12 October 2020 Jan von Hein has weighed in on the debate here. Update 9 October 2020 Giesela Ruhl has further review of the Rome II elements here.

Thank you Irene Pietropaoli for alerting me to the European Parliament’s draft proposal for a mandatory human rights due diligence Directive. The official title proposed is a Directive on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate  Accountability). Parliament also proposes insertions in both Brussels Ia and Rome II. For the related issues see a study I co-authored on the Belgian context, with links to developments in many jurisdictions.

I do not in this post go into all issues and challenges relating to such legislation, focusing instead on a first, preliminary analysis of the conflicts elements of the proposal.

A first issue of note in the newly proposed Directive is the definitional one.  The proposal’s full title as noted uses ‘corporate due diligence and corporate accountability’. However in its substantive provisions it uses ‘duty to respect human rights, the environment and good governance’ and it defines each (but then with the denoter ‘risk’) in Article 3. For human rights risks and for governance risks these definitions link to a non-exhaustive list of international instruments while for the environment no such list is provided.

The proposed Directive points out the existence of sectoral EU due diligence legislation e.g. re timber products and precious metals, and suggests ‘(i)n case of insurmountable incompatibility, the sector-specific legislation shall apply.’ This is an odd way to formulate lex specialis, if alone for the use of the qualifier ‘insurmountable’. One assumes the judge seized will eventually be the arbitrator of insurmountability however from a compliance point of view this is far from ideal.

As for the proposed amendment to Brussels Ia, this would take the form of a forum necessitatis as follows:

Article 26a
Regarding business-related civil claims on human rights violations within the value chain of a company domiciled in the Union or operating in the Union within the scope of Directive xxx/xxxx on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability, where no court of a Member State has jurisdiction under this Regulation, the  courts of a Member State may, on an exceptional basis, hear the case if the right to a fair trial or the right to access to justice so requires, in particular: (a) if proceedings cannot reasonably be brought or conducted or would be impossible in a third State with which the dispute is closely related; or (b) if a judgment given on the claim in a third State would not be entitled to recognition and enforcement in the Member State of the court seised under the law of that State and such recognition and enforcement is necessary to ensure that the rights of the claimant are satisfied; and the dispute has a sufficient connection with the Member State of the court seised.

This proposal is a direct copy paste (with only the reference to the newly proposed Directive added) of the European Commission’s proposed forum necessitatis rule (proposed Article 26) at the time Brussels I was amended to Brussels Ia (COM (2010) 748). I discussed the difficulty of such a forum provision eg here (for other related posts use the search string ‘necessitatis’). The application of such a rule also provokes the kinds of difficulty one sees with A33-34 BIa (including the implications of an Anerkennungsprognose).

Coming to the proposed insertion into Rome II, this text reads

Article 6a
Business-related human rights claims
In the context of business-related civil claims for human rights violations within the value chain of an undertaking domiciled in a Member State of the Union or operating in the Union within the scope of Directive xxx/xxxx on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability, the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of the damage sustained shall be the law determined pursuant to Article 4(1), unless the person seeking  compensation for damage chooses to base his or her claim on the law of the country in which the event giving rise to the  damage occurred or on the law of the country in which the parent company has its domicile or, where it does not have a domicile in a Member State, the law of the country where it operates.

I called this a choice between lex locus damni; locus delicti commissi; locus incorporationis; locus activitatis. Many of the associated points of enquiry of such a proposal are currently discussed in Begum v Maran (I should add I have been instructed in that case).

A first obvious issue is that the proposed Article 6a only applies to the human rights violations covered by the newly envisaged Directive. It does not cover the environmental rights. These presumably will continue to be covered by Rome II’s Article 7 for  environmental damage. This will require a delineation between environmental damage that is not also a human rights issue, and those that are both. Neither does the proposed rule apply to the ‘good governance’ elements of the Directive. These presumably will continue to be covered by the general rule of A4 Rome II, with scope for exception per A4(3).

My earlier description of the choice as including ‘locus incorporationis’ is not entirely correct, at least not if the ‘domicile’ criterion is the one of Brussels Ia. A corporation’s domicile is not necessarily that of its state of incorporation and indeed Brussels Ia’s definition of corporate domicile may lead to more than one such domicile. Does the intended rule imply claimant can chose among any of those potential domiciles?

Locus delicti commissi in cases of corporate due diligence (with the alleged impact having taken place abroad) in my view rarely is the same as locus damni, instead referring here to the place where the proper diligence ought to have taken place, such as at the jurisdictional level in CJEU C-147/12 OFAB, and for Rome II Arica Victims. This therefore will often co-incide with the locus incorporationis.

Adding ‘locus activitis’ as I called it or as the proposal does, the law of the country where the parent company operates, clearly will need refining. One presumes the intention is for that law to be one of the Member States (much like the proposed Directive includes in its scope ‘limited liability undertakings governed by the law of a non-Member State and not established in the territory of the Union when they operate in the internal market selling goods or providing services’). Therefore it would be be best to replace ‘country where it operates’ with ‘Member State’ where it operates. However clearly a non-EU domiciled corporation may operate in many Member States, thereby presumably again expanding the list of potential leges causae to pick from. Moreover, the very concept of ‘parent’ company is not defined in the proposal.

In short, the European Parliament with this initiative clearly hopes to gain ground quickly on the debate. As is often the case in such instances, the tent pegs have not yet been quite properly staked.

Geert.

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

(3rd ed forthcoming February 2021).

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 Jay 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.