For further information on the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2019ForumBHR.aspx

For further information on the work of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx 
Back To Schedule
Monday, November 25 • 16:40 - 18:00
Corporate accountability: Lessons from recent legal cases

Log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Session organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and OHCHR

Webcast of the session:
Meeting link
Meeting number: 848 528 134
Password: xUFKhDFj

Principle 26 of the UNGPs provides that States should consider “ways to reduce legal, practical and other relevant barriers that could lead to a denial of access to remedy.” The way in which legal responsibility is attributed among members of a corporate group under domestic laws often operates as a legal barrier to corporate accountability for human rights abuses. In particular, courts’ approach to the doctrine of separate corporate personality has made it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to take legal action against parent companies in appropriate cases for human rights abuses connected with the activities of their subsidiaries.

In its final report to the Human Rights Council at the conclusion of phase 1 of the OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called upon States to improve the effectiveness of State-based judicial mechanisms to strengthen corporate accountability and access to remedy in cases of business-related human rights abuses, including by “developing policies and legal reforms that respond more effectively to the practicalities of organization and management of business enterprises and which take into account the particular challenges arising from complex global supply chains.”

The tension between separate corporate personality and corporate accountability objectives, and the legislative reforms that may be needed to deal with it, have thus far gone largely unaddressed in National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights. On the other hand, there have been some recent court decisions which could pave the way for more civil litigation against parent companies in the future. In April 2019, the UK Supreme Court in Vedanta Resources Plc v Lungowe confirmed that in certain circumstances a parent company may owe a duty of care towards those affected by its subsidiaries’ operations. A few weeks later, a Dutch court in a case against Royal Dutch Shell Plc ruled that it has jurisdiction to consider whether Royal Dutch Shell was complicit in the Nigerian government’s execution of the “Ogoni Nine” in 1995.

There have been similar attempts to hold parent companies accountable in other countries such as Canada (Hudbay Minerals, Tahoe Resources) and Thailand (Mitr Phol). Legal proceedings have also been initiated in France under the Duty of Vigilance Law and for misleading advertising against Samsung.

In a different but related context, in March 2019, the US Supreme Court in Jam v IFC ruled that the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank Group, does not enjoy absolute immunity from suits related to its financing of projects.

This session aims to:
  1. Analyse critically the opportunities and challenges arising from recent court decisions brought against parent companies;
  2. Discuss the lessons for States in terms of legal and policy reforms that they should introduce in terms of Principle 26 of the UNGPs;
  3. Explore how States could make use of the guidance from ARP I in strengthening access to effective remedy in the context of corporate groups; and
  4. Examine how mandatory human rights due diligence initiatives and the proposed legally binding international instrument could strengthen corporate accountability, including of parent companies in appropriate cases, for business-related human rights abuses.

The session will involve a moderated discussion with panelists comprising lawyers and CSOs related to selected cases concerning corporate accountability of parent companies. There will be opportunities for people to participate in discussion from the floor.

avatar for Surya Deva

Surya Deva

Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Mr. Surya Deva is a WG Member and Associate Professor at the School of Law of City University of Hong Kong.  He holds BA (Hons), LLB and LLM from the University of Delhi and a PhD from Sydney Law School, and has taught previously at the University of Delhi and at the National Law... Read More →

avatar for Dan Leader

Dan Leader

Partner, Leigh Day lawyers
Daniel Leader is a Barrister and Partner in the International Department of Leigh Day and specialises in international claims, group actions, environmental and human rights law.Over the past 25 years Leigh Day has been involved in ground breaking cases on behalf of victims from the... Read More →
avatar for Jennifer Zerk

Jennifer Zerk

Legal Consultant, OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project
avatar for Sandra Cossart

Sandra Cossart

Executive Director, Sherpa
Sandra Cossart is an international lawyer and Sherpa’s Executive Director. After starting her career within the EU institutions, she worked as a corporate lawyer and legal consultant in Paris, Russia and England. She joined Sherpa in 2010 and was at the forefront of some important... Read More →
avatar for Sor.Rattanamanee Polkla

Sor.Rattanamanee Polkla

Executive Coordinator, Community Resource Centre
Sor.Rattanamanee Polkla’s career spans the past twenty years of public interest lawyering in Thailand; she has been involved in many of its most significant recent cases. In 2010, after working for years as an independent public interest lawyer, Sor, together with Prashant Singh... Read More →

Monday November 25, 2019 16:40 - 18:00 CET
Room XXV