Posts Tagged Duty of care

Thou shallt address landfills of waste tyres. The CJEU in EC v Slovenia.

It is too readily assumed by many that general Member States’ obligations under the EU’s environmental laws are context only, and not really legally binding. In my Handbook of EU Waste law however I report on a number of cases where the European Court of Justice has rebuked Member States for having failed to take measures to attain some of these general objectives. These cases relate to waste law, evidently, however in other cases the Court’s case-law extends this to EU environmental law generally.

One can now add C-153/16 EC v Slovenia to this list. Slovenia had attempted to address the continuation of waste tyres storage and processing at an abandoned quarry, in contravention of an expired environmental permit. The company dug in its heels, ia via prolonged litigation, with storage and processing continuing.

The Court of Justice found that Slovenia had infringed the general duty of care provisions, as well as enforcement obligations of the landfill Directive and the waste framework Directive. (On the related issues with respect to hazardous waste, the Court found the Commission’s infringement proceedings wanting).

Not all that glitters is gold, of course. The direct effect of these general duty of care provisions remains an issue, as does the absence, arguably, in EU law of a duty of care directly imposed upon waste holders and processors. For that, citisens need to pass via national law wich as current case shows, is not always up to scratch.

Geert.

 

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Unilever. Accepting CSR jurisdiction against mother companies not the High Court’s cup of tea.

Postscript 13 June 2017 for a similar scenario in the Italian courts (hearings pending) see here: Ikebiri v ENI.

After  Shell/Okpabi, the High Court has now for the second time in 2017 rejected jurisdiction to be established against the foreign subsidiary (here: in Kenya) using the mother company as an anchor. In [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, Unilever is the ultimate holding company and registered in the UK. Its subsidiary is a company registered in Kenya. It operates a tea plantation there. Plaintiffs were employed, or lived there, and were the victims of ethnic violence carried out by armed criminals on the Plantation after the Presidential election in Kenya in 2007. They claim that the risk of such violence was foreseeable by both defendants, that these owed a duty of care to protect them from the risks of such violence, and that they had breached that duty.

Laing J unusually first of (at 63 ff) all declines to reject the case on ‘case management’ grounds. Unlike many of her colleagues she is more inclined to see such stay as ignoring ‘through the back door’ Owusu‘s rejection of forum non conveniens.  I believe she is right. Instead the High Court threw out the case on the basis that the claims, prima facie (on deciding jurisdiction, the Court does not review the substantial merits of the case; a thin line to cross) had no merit. Three issues had to be decided:

i) By reference to what law should the claim be decided? This was agreed as being Kenyan law.

ii) Are the criteria in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 satisfied? (A leading English law case on the test for the duty of care). The relevance of English law on this issues comes about as a result of Kenyan law following the same Caparo test: as I have noted elsewhere, it is not without discussion that lex fori should apply to this test of attributability. Laing J held that the Caparo criteria were not fulfilled. The events were not as such foreseeable (in particular: a general breakdown in law and order). Importantly, with respect to the holding company and as helpfully summarised by Herbert Smith:

  • the pleaded duty effectively required the holding to ensure that the claimants did not suffer the damage that they suffered, and not merely to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety;
  • the pleaded duty also effectively imposed liability on that holding for the criminal acts of third parties, and required it to act as a “surrogate police force to maintain law and order”; and
  • such a duty would be wider than the duty imposed on the daughter, as the actual occupier of the Plantation, under the Kenyan Occupiers’ Liability Act

At 103, Laing J discussed and dismissed plaintiff’s attempts at distinguishing Okpabi. In her view, like in Shell /Okpabi, the mother’s control is formal control exercised at a high level of abstraction, and over the content and auditing of general policies and procedures. Not  the sort of control and superior knowledge which would meet the Chandler test.

iii) Are the claims barred by limitation? This became somewhat irrelevant but the High Court ruled they were not. (This, under the common law of conflicts, was a matter of lex causae: Kenyan law, and requiring Kenyan expert input. Not English law, as the lex fori).

The case, like Okpabi, is subject to appeal however it is clear that the English courts are not willing to pick up the baton of court of prefered resort for CSR type cases against mother companies.

Geert.

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

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Environmental due diligence (met in casu) is clearly part of BIT requirements. Allard v Barbados.

Thank you Govert Coppens for alerting me to the PCIA award‘s publication. I had reported earlier on this case in which  the Canadian owner of an eco-tourist facility in Barbados sued the Government of Barbados for an alleged breach of the full protection and security provision (among other provisions) in the Canada- Barbados bilateral investment treaty. Peter Allard argues in his claim that Barbados breached its treaty obligations by failing to enforce its domestic environmental laws, which he alleges led to the environment being spoilt and a loss of tourist revenues at his eco-resort.

The Tribunal is careful not to phrase the case as a pioneering case or a case in any way anything but run of the mill. This is evident from its very consideration (at 53) that ‘underlying the claims is a fundamental factual disagreement as to whether the Claimant has suffered loss or damage as a result of any actions or inactions of Barbados.’

This subsequently leads the Tribunal into what is effectively peer review of parties’ opposing expert reports on variety in fish and bird species, salinity, the health of crabs, etc., coming down in favour of Barbados: no convincing case of deterioration was made by claimant. One must bear in mind that the burden of proof lies with the latter. Next the Tribunal concluded that, even if it had found that there was a degradation of the environment at the Sanctuary during the Relevant Period (which it did not), it would not have been persuaded that such degradation was caused by any actions or inactions of Barbados.

The Tribunal further found that, being aware of the environmental sensitivities of the Sanctuary, Barbados took reasonable steps to protect it (at 242). It formulates Barbados’ BIT duties here as being a duty of care, not strict liability. It then undertook due diligence of the steps Barbados had taken to address known environmental concerns for the area and concluded (at 249) that ‘Barbados’ approach in addressing the Sluice Gate and general pollution issues at the Sanctuary as part of its governance of the entire area does not fall short of what was appropriate and sufficient for purposes of the duty of due diligence required by Article II(2)(b) of the BIT.

 

This tribunal was clearly not in a law-making mood but that arguably does not matter. The analysis it undertakes unequivocally and matter of factly establishes that countries’ indifference (quod non in casu) to take steps necessary to contain and remedy environmental degradation are a clear breach of BITS’ core requirements.

Geert.

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If you can’t beat them, join them? Using BITs for environmentally proactive purposes.

Update 29 September 2016. The award was made public on 28 September 2016. It sides with Barbados. Look for my analysis in a separate blog piece.

Thank you for the team at Dechert to remind us of the potential that BITs may be used to pursue proactive, rather than just reactive environmental litigation. A word of explanation: Bilateral Investment Treaties, in particular their investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, are currently under a lot of pressure following the public outcry over the TTIP negotiations. Allowing private investors to sue countries that roll out regulation, using vague principles of protection of property, is seen by many as a form of corporate bullying.

Dechert’s briefing however reminds us firstly, specifically vis-a-vis stubborn air pollution in the Indonesia area, that States may carry responsibility in line with Trail Smelter’s nec utere tuo principle. The possibility for individuals (as opposed to neighbouring States) suing on that basis, is of course complicated by the mechanism of (absence of) direct effect of huge chunks of international environmental law. That is where investor-state can come in handily. Such as in Allard v Barbados at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Dechert’s summary of that case reads ‘the Canadian owner of an eco-tourist facility in Barbados is currently suing the Government of Barbados for an alleged breach of the full protection and security provision (among other provisions) in the Canada- Barbados bilateral investment treaty. Peter Allard argues in his claim that Barbados breached its treaty obligations by failing to enforce its domestic environmental laws, which he alleges led to the environment being spoilt and a loss of tourist revenues at his eco-resort’.

A timely reminder of the good BITs can do, just before I am to speak (again) tomorrow on TTIP and why EU citisens are so suspicious of it.

Geert.

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Risk Communication, Earthquakes and liability

I am not privy to the complete file. Neither do I read Italian to a decent standard, however I have  abbled in risk analysis issues before. The recent decision establishing criminal liability against (inter alia) a number of scientists in the L’Aquila 2009 Earthquake trial, must go down as one of the most mispresented court decisions.

This case is not about a court holding scientists to account for failing accurately to have predicted something unpredictable. Rather, the judgment established liability for the scientists involved  not having met their duty of care in allegedly hastily having put together a risk assessment (under pressure from the local authorities); and most importantly, for their role in the subsequent communication on said risk (again under pressure from the authorities).

Risk communication is often left to the last minute in risk analysis teaching. The L’Aquila trial (likely to be subject to appeal) illustrates its significance. It also shows how easily the world’s media can be wrong footed.

Any reader with access to the full judgment, please do get in touch.

Geert.

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