For Immediate Release

Contact:
Shari Ireton
University of Washington School of Law
206.685.9002

2010-01-25

UW Hosts Business and Human Rights Discussions

The UW School of Law will host a major public event on business and human rights on Friday, February 12 from 3:30 - 5 p.m., featuring a panel of leading attorneys who have represented victims in human rights litigation against major corporations.

Panel participants include:

  • Judith Chomsky, human rights lawyer and cooperating attorney with the Center for constitutional Rights. She represented the Saro-Wiwa family in their lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell.
  • Jennie Green, Associate Professor of Clinical Law University of Minnesota Law School and former clinic professor at the International Women's Human Rights Clinic and Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
  • Katherine Gallagher, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), where she focuses on holding individuals, including US and foreign government officials, and corporations, including private military contractors, accountable for serious human rights violations. Among the cases she has worked on are Arar v. Ashcroft, Corrie v. Caterpillar, Saleh v. Titan and Estate of Atban v. Blackwater
  • Marco Simons, Legal Director, Earthrights International. Simons has also worked for Hadsell & Stormer, Inc., a Pasadena civil rights law firm, which is co-counsel with Earthrights on Doe v. Unocal and Bowoto v. Chevron.

Recent examples of lawsuits in the U.S. include Texaco's alleged corporate complicity in the dumping of more than 19 billion gallons of untreated toxic wastewater at the company's oil operations in Ecuador. In 1993, a class action lawsuit was filed against Texaco's parent company, Chevron, on behalf of the 30,000 Amazon residents affected by the pollution. Other recent lawsuits have focused on the involvement of Unocal in Burma, Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria, and Rio Tinto in Papau New Guinea. The Rio Tinto case is being pursued by Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which specializes in class-actions and large-scale, complex litigation.

The public session will be followed on February 13 by a special expert roundtable where 10-15 leading plaintiffs' attorneys will gather to discuss more than a decade of major human rights lawsuits brought in the U.S. against corporations for their alleged involvement in grave human rights violations and environmental harms overseas. These lawsuits have been brought under an 18th century statute, the federal Alien Tort Claims Statute and the workshop will explore some of the major procedural and substantive issues encountered in litigation of key statute corporate cases. The workshop is being held to inform the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The SRSG will be represented at the meeting.

"I appreciate the University of Washington Law School's initiative in convening this meeting on key procedural and substantive issues - from plaintiff counsel's perspective - arising from the last decade of corporate-related litigation under the Alien Tort Statute," said Professor Ruggie. "I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the discussion".

The SRSG was appointed in 2005 by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with a broad mandate to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability regarding human rights, including the role of states. In June 2008, after extensive global consultation with business, governments and civil society, the SRSG put forth a conceptual and policy framework for managing business and human rights challenges based on three pillars: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedy, both judicial and non-judicial. The UN Human Rights Council unanimously welcomed the framework, and extended the SRSG's mandate by three years with the task of operationalizing it. The workshop will focus on issues relating to the access to judicial remedy part of the SRSG's mandate.