Parent Company Direct Liability for Overseas Human Rights Violations: Lessons from the UK Supreme Court
61 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2020 Last revised: 2 Sep 2021
Date Written: March 12, 2020
Human rights violations are perpetrated by corporate actors with troubling frequency. In most cases, plaintiffs do not have access to remedy. For 30 years, the United States has been a beacon of hope, its courts adjudicating human rights claims against corporate defendants under the Alien Tort Statute. Then, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Supreme Court closed the door on human rights plaintiffs. This Article charts the rise of the United Kingdom as a venue to bring suit. The U.K. Supreme Court, in a far-reaching judgment from 2019, upheld a decision to allow plaintiffs to sue a London-headquartered parent company for grave environmental damage and harm to local communities’ livelihoods that occurred through the operations of the company’s Zambian subsidiary. The dichotomy in approaches between the U.S. and the U.K. courts has prompted consideration of the following: is there anything that can be drawn from the U.K. litigation to improve access to remedy in the U.S. courts for victims of human rights violations by corporate actors? The article concludes that the argument used in the U.K. case law to attribute liability directly to parent companies should be taken up in the U.S.
Keywords: business, human rights, parent company, tort, liability, jurisdiction, corporate accountability
JEL Classification: K13, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation