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.

A quick (jurisdictional) note on the Cobalt supply chain litigation.

News broke a few weeks back on the class action suit introduced in the USDC for the District of Columbia, against Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla. Swiss-based Glencore (of Mark Rich fame) and Belgium’s Umicore are mentioned in the suit but not added to the defendants. Historical references are inevitably made to the plundering of Congo first by King Leopold personally and in a later stage by the Kingdom of Belgium.

The suit is a strategic one, attempting to highlight the human rights (including child labour) issues involved in the mining of cobalt, used as a raw material in particular for modern batteries, and to propel the corporate social responsibility (CSR) debate on due diligence and supply-chain liability. It is also however a suit seeking damages for the victims of child labour in very dangerous circumstances.

Of note for the blog is the jurisdictional angle: discussed at 18 ff and featuring arguments against the use of forum non conveniens. Claimants put forward they have no practical ability to litigate in DRC: damages under DRC law (therefore assumed to be the lex causae which a Congolese judge would apply were the case litigated in DRC) sought from end-users of cobalt; DRC courts are corrupt; anyone standing in the way of the mining industry is threatened; the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act TVPRA as amended in 2013 allows for extraterritorial jurisdiction; finally and of relevance to a classic locus delicti commissi argument: ‘the policymaking that facilitated the harms Plaintiffs suffered was the product of decisions made in the United States by Defendants’.

Personal jurisdiction is suggested to exist for (at 22) are all U.S. resident companies and they do substantial and continuous business within the District of Columbia – minimum contacts are established, and defendants should reasonably anticipate being hailed into court there.

No doubt there will be intense discussion on the jurisdictional basis, prior to debate on the merits of liability of end-users.

Geert.