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The Right to Water, Privatised Water and Access to Justice: Tackling United Kingdom Water Companies' Practices in Developing Countries


Damon Barrett


Faculty of Law, Stockholm University; International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex

Vinodh Jaichand


International Human Rights Exchange

November 3, 2006

South African Journal of Human Rights, pp. 543-562, 2007

Abstract:     
[enter Abstract Body]The existence of a “right” to water in international human rights law does not guarantee access to adequate and safe water for the poorest people on the planet. As an economic right, water is non-justiciable. Multinational corporations, often with the support of Western governments and the World Bank, wield massive power in controlling the water supply for many millions worldwide. In most cases the promises of such corporations do not live up to the reality of performance. In the push for profit, the right to water is further infringed upon and with a “commodity” like water, poor performance or negligent policies can result in illness and death. Since the enactment of the Water Industry Act 1999 in the UK, limiting devices such a pre-payment meters and disconnection for non-payment have been illegal. Yet UK multinational water companies continue to use such policies in developing countries where health and safety standards are less stringent and where an absence of legal aid denies the poorest any effective access to justice. Two recent cases in the House of Lords, however, have paved the way for cases against such companies to be heard in the UK courts by allowing the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens to be by-passed in the interests of justice.

This essay considers such a claim on the basis of the English law of negligence. Part I looks at right to water and issues of access; UK multinational water companies’ projects in developing countries; corporate accountability and access to justice. Part II looks at the cholera outbreak in uThungulu, South Africa between 2000 and 2002 and the history of the Water Industry Act 1999 as examples of the dangers inherent in disconnections and the use of pre-payment meters. It continues with an examination of the doctrine of Forum non Conveniens and the House of Lords cases of Connelly v RTZ and Lubbe v. Cape Plc; a note on corporate personality; and finally considers the merits of an argument in negligence against a UK company that employs those techniques that are illegal under the 1999 Act.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Right to water, multinational corporations, privatization, litigation

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Date posted: January 17, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Damon and Vinodh Jaichand, The Right to Water, Privatised Water and Access to Justice: Tackling United Kingdom Water Companies' Practices in Developing Countries (November 3, 2006). South African Journal of Human Rights, pp. 543-562, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1742340

Contact Information

Damon Barrett (Contact Author)
Faculty of Law, Stockholm University ( email )
S-106 91 Stockholm
Sweden
International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex ( email )
Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
Vinodh Jaichand
International Human Rights Exchange ( email )
1 Jan Smuts Ave
Braamfontein
Johannesburg
South Africa
00 27 11 7174333 (Phone)
00 27 86765 6176 (Fax)
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