Corporate Human Rights Violations and Private International Law – The Hinge Function and Conductivity of PIL in Implementing Human Rights in Civil Proceedings in Europe: A Facilitating Role for PIL or PIL as a Complicating Factor?
19 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2011 Last revised: 24 Feb 2015
Date Written: July 26, 2011
In this article the author explores the role private international law (‘PIL’) could play in addressing human rights violations committed by a multinational company operating outside Europe − possibly in a conflict zone − in a civil action in Europe. The article examines the feasibility of civil recourse in a European country seen from the perspective of PIL. Is PIL functioning as a neutral hinge – identifying the competent court(s) and the applicable law in a neutral way − or does PIL lend itself rather to function as a tool, either serving the economic concerns of multinational companies, or the aims of plaintiffs who wish to hold companies accountable? To answer this question, the author analyzes PIL rules and PIL techniques in a technical-legal way and evaluates them with a critical eye. In the analysis, the concept of ‘access to justice’ is used as a central key concept; access to justice is linked both with PIL rules on jurisdiction and PIL rules on applicable law: rules of jurisdiction are decisive in ‘opening’ the door to proceedings in a European country, in which subsequently – to the extent that the rules of applicable law allow this – human rights may be invoked and the interests of third-country victims as ‘weaker parties’ may be protected.
The area of PIL rules to be studied is − mainly – the area of torts, with special attention for issues of negligence, omission, duty of care and complicity. As the PIL rules of European Member States are increasingly being ‘communitarized’, the main PIL rules to be studied and analyzed in this article are sources of European PIL. Thus, the focus will be on the Brussels I Regulation (including aspects of the ongoing revision process of this Regulation, particularly proposals which could either broaden or limit the possibility of starting proceedings in a European country) and the Rome II Regulation as unified European PIL sources, albeit with attention for potential national differences with respect to the application of the Rome II Regulation: evaluating the plausibility of various results is important, because it is conceivable that plaintiffs may choose between several European courts, taking into account in their choice the advantages or disadvantages of the specific way in which national courts will apply the Rome II Regulation (‘shopping’ possibilities for plaintiffs) and because it is conceivable that companies will take into account these differences in their decision where to ‘establish’ their headquarters and where to ‘take decisions’ etc. And indeed, the system of the Rome II Regulation makes it conceivable that different results are obtained depending on the European court that hears the case.
But what is more: the current literature is for the most part rather sceptical about the possibilities the Rome II Regulation offers to third-country victims of violations of human rights committed by companies outside Europe. Accordingly, although the author argues that some of the avenues for plaintiffs allowed by the system of the Rome II Regulation appear to be underestimated in the literature – and although the author also argues that even the current version of the Rome II Regulation has the potential to enhance human rights – it will be recognized that there are hurdles to be taken. This raises the question whether the system of the Rome II Regulation needs to be amended or needs to be ‘fleshed out’ by a set of specific rules. This could comprise actions such as broadening the scope of Article 7 of the Rome II Regulation; unification of mandatory rules – e.g. similar to the way in which the European legislator intervened in international labour law by unifying mandatory rules in the Posting Directive − see the opening offered by the ‘overriding mandatory rules’ of Article 16 of the Rome II Regulation; promulgation – on a European level? – of statutory duties for companies with regard to extraterritorial compliance with human rights standards and creating more possibilities to take into account national or European rules on extraterritorial corporate criminal responsibility for human rights violations − see the opening offered by the ‘rules of safety and conduct’ of Article 17 of the Rome II Regulation; unification of ‘surrogate law’ for cases where the plea of public order of Article 26 of the Rome II Regulation is successfully invoked.
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