On Sunday night I returned from Vancouver where I participated in a wonderful workshop on “Global Capital, Global Rights,” co-sponsored by Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. The conference, which was organized by Simon Fraser Professor Alec Dawson, focused on efforts to hold extractive industries liable for environmental harm in developing countries. Half of the capital raised in the world for mining operations comes from Canada and there has been considerable effort by Canadian environmental activists to hold companies accountable. I spoke on the topic “Toward Transnational Norms of Corporate Accountability for Environmental Harm,” focusing on both the history of Alien Tort Statute litigation in U.S. courts and new transparency initiatives.
Professor Liisa North from York University discussed seven cases that have been filed in Canadian courts against Canadian mining companies for harm caused abroad. Three of the cases have been dismissed, but four are still pending. In one decision the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of an action against the Canadian Stock Exchange and a copper mining company for human rights violations in Ecuador, holding that the Exchange had no duty to consider possible harm even when informed of prior violations. Two other cases were dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds. When one was refiled in Guyana the court there ordered the plaintiffs to pay the defendants’ legal costs. A copy of Professor North’s paper on “Generating Rights for Communities Harmed by Mining: Legal and Other Action,” is posted online at: http://globalcapitalglobalrights.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/liisa-north1.pdf.
Luis Angel Saavedra from the Instituto Regional de Asesoria en Derechos Humanos (IREDH) in Quito, Ecuador spoke about the long-standing litigation against Chevron for Texaco’s pollution of the Oriente region of the Amazon. He also noted that Chinese companies are now significant offenders. Karyn Kennan from the Halifax Initiative discussed the narrow defeat in the Canadian Parliament of private member Bill C-300, which would have established accountability mechanisms for Canadian extractive industries that receive political and financial support from government agencies. The proposed legislation would have created criteria that companies must comply with in order to be able to receive government assistance. It also would have created an independent complaints mechanism, something the Canadian government has purported to implement, but with the requirement that complaints can only be heard if all parties agree. Ms. Kennan also highlighted the effort by John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, to establish the “Protect/Respect” Framework (see http://www.business-humanrights.org/SpecialRepPortal/Home/Protect-Respect-Remedy-Framework) and Guiding Principles on Business and Human RIghts to inform its implementation. John McKay, the member of the Canadian Parliament who had introduced Bill C-300, discussed the intense lobbying campaign from Canadian mining companies that helped defeat the bill. He is now seeking to win adoption of legislation that would require Canadian companies to make the same kind of disclosures concerning payments to foreign officials that companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange now are required to make by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Financial Reform legislation.
Drina Saric from the Inter-American Development Bank spoke about Bolivia President Evo Morales’ nationalization of foreign enterprises and the impact of the new Bolivian Constitution, which expressly seeks to extend rights to nature. A group of Achuar from Peru who were in Vancouver for an indigenous rights conference at the University of British Columbia also addressed the workshop. They emphasized that extractive industries fulfill only a small percentage of the commitments that are made to indigenous communities when permits are being sought. All in all, it was a really terrific workshop. Copies of the workshop papers are available online at: http://globalcapitalglobalrights.wordpress.com/workshop-papers/
During the last week of April, the Chinese government fined ConocoPhillips and ordered the company to pay restitution of $192 million for its 3,000-barrel oil spill last year in China’s Bohai Bay. Ed Crooks, Conoco’s New Chief Plans Culture Shake-up, Financial Times, May 2, 2012, at 17. On May 5 the last operating nuclear powerplant in Japan was taken offline. The Tomari No. 3 plant has been the only one of Japan’s 54 nuclear powerplants that has been in operation for the last several weeks due to political pressure in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Mure Dickie and Jonathan Soble, Japan Shuts Down Nuclear Power, Financial Times, May 4, 2012.