The Right to Water, Privatised Water and Access to Justice: Tackling United Kingdom Water Companies' Practices in Developing Countries
South African Journal of Human Rights, pp. 543-562, 2007
28 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2011
Date Written: November 3, 2006
[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.
Keywords: Right to water, multinational corporations, privatization, litigation
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