In August 2021, the Mexican government sued American manufacturers Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Colt, and others in the US District Court of Massachusetts. Mexico claims that the defendants’ business practices led to a proliferation of guns in Mexico, thereby contributing to gun violence and causing Mexico to incur extraordinary costs for health care, law enforcement and criminal justice administration. Because of the remote connection between the gun manufacturers’ activities and Mexico’s alleged harm, the case raises important questions about scope of liability.

In US tort law, the element of proximate cause controls the scope of liability by requiring some degree of connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s harm. This blog argues that although past similar cases were dismissed because of a failure to adequately plead proximate cause, the legal standard applied in those cases is not appropriate for this context.

On 23 February 2022, following the earlier recommendation for a directive by the European Parliament, the EU Commission presented its (long overdue) proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive that aims to regulate corporate conduct in order to prevent and remedy human rights violations and environmental harm related thereto. Given the numerous legislative initiatives, proposals and debates at the national level, the Commission concludes that the proposal answers to a ‘clear request by Union Citizens (…) to address these and other adverse impacts’. This blogpost highlights some aspects of the proposed rules on civil liability and provides some initial thoughts on whether the proposed Directive will be a leap forward for the further development of civil liability standards or whether it might stifle progress.

On 26 May 2021, two separate shareholder meetings at leading oil companies made major headlines, when they provided a theater for “shareholder rebellions” by climate activists and investors. At Exxon Mobil, the small, San Francisco-based hedge fund Engine No. 1 successfully campaigned to replace three of the company’s board members with its own candidates who are committed to pursuing a green business strategy. On the same day at Chevron, 61% of the company’s shareholders voted in favor of a proposal by the Dutch organization Follow This to cut carbon emissions. Can shareholder rebellions also work in the context of business and human rights violations?

This blog offers a short overview and discussion of the possible impact of recent landmark decisions against Shell in the Netherlands and the UK. These decisions shed light on the parent-subsidiary relationship in the search of accountability for human rights violations committed by, or with the assistance of, businesses.

While novel technological innovations powered by lithium-ion batteries, including the ubiquitous smart device and the sleek electric car, may be shiny on the outside, inside lies an element that has led to the suffering of millions: cobalt. Tech giants are allegedly “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. This blog examines whether a form of accomplice liability might be established in the context of complex and often muddy supply chains, such as that of cobalt in the tech industry.

 Several courts in North American jurisdictions have begun to address the issue of whether a person can face a domestic tort claim for international law violations, and if so, whether all persons—both natural and legal—are subject to such suits. This blog aims to provide some reflections about these recent North American developments and the intersection between tort law and international law, particularly in the context of business and human rights harms.

Many NGOs are actively fighting human rights abuses around the world. One of their strategies is to create transparency around the impact of the behaviour of States and non-State actors on the enjoyment of human rights. In this context, businesses have been under increasing scrutiny. Although the availability of information on the negative impact of corporate activities now seems tremendous, the instances of businesses being held liable for human rights abuses, especially when taking place abroad, are rare.The situation of Friends of the Earth and ING provides an interesting case study of how civil society could play a role in establishing liability through increase of transparency.

The US Alien Tort Statute (ATS) was considered one of the foremost judicial avenues for vindicating human rights violations until two Supreme Court cases limited its scope, leading practitioners and scholars to pronounce its death as a tool for human rights litigation. Although it no longer allows for cases against foreign companies for harms occurring on foreign soil, this blog argues that it is not dead.

In cross-border tort cases for human rights violations, there is the strict rule that the law of the State where the harm occurred applies to the determination of civil (tort) liability. The nature and scope of foreign tort law generally develops into a battle of so-called experts. There is a significant risk that courts will commit errors in the interpretation and application of foreign law and that the fundamental principle of iura novit curia (‘the court knows the law’) can hardly be observed if foreign law needs to be applied. The question arises whether the rule of lex loci damni is in need of modernization.

This week, the UK Supreme Court is set to issue its highly anticipated judgement in Vedanta and another v. Lungowe and others, and the business and human rights community is paying close attention. The case is expected to define the scope of parent company liability for harms caused by acts of their subsidiaries abroad, and will have wide-ranging consequences on human rights litigation in the UK, including whether victims of human rights violations and grave environmental harms caused by subsidiaries of UK-based companies can avail themselves to UK courts.

Over the course of the past several decades, an increasing number of civil cases have been brought before European and North American courts against transnational corporations for their role in the commission of grave human rights violations, the majority occurring in the global south.1 This trend illustrates the push to hold powerful actors engaged in international business accountable when they play a role in the commission of mass atrocities and serious human rights abuses.

At the 2018 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the theme of the conference, “human rights due diligence”, was buzzing. As momentum gathers to push the business and human rights debate from the realm of soft guidelines and recommendations into legally binding standards, recent advances, including a new French law on the corporate duty of vigilance, illustrate how due diligence laws are a promising development.