The Observer: British firms escape abuse lawsuits: “One of the allegations that is still likely to get a hearing is a high-profile case against Shell that claims that the oil giant colluded in Nigeria's brutal oppression of Ogoni villagers”
Sunday July 4, 2004
Barclays, BP and other British companies facing allegations of human rights abuses in apartheid-era South Africa are set to avoid legal action following a US Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling, delivered last week, curtails the scope of the Alien Tort Claims Act, an 18th-century US law under which companies can be sued in the American courts for human rights breaches committed anywhere in the world.
Lawyers believe that most of the apartheid claims will now be dismissed because the abuses they allege - including exploiting black labour and lending money to South Africa's government in the 1970s and 1980s - will no longer be judged serious enough to trigger the act.
One of the judges behind the ruling, David Souter, singled out the apartheid cases as being among those that may no longer be eligible. NatWest, Standard Chartered, Anglo American, IBM and others have also been sued by black former workers. All the multinationals deny the allegations.
The Supreme Court's move follows intense lobbying by the Bush administration, the International Chamber of Commerce and the British government. Other cases that may now be dismissed include a lawsuit claiming that Coca-Cola was involved in anti-union violence in Colombia.
However, the ruling leaves room for cases accusing corporations of the most serious human rights violations, such as genocide, murder, torture and slavery. Amnesty International expressed relief that the decision had upheld the act's 'core principles'.
One of the allegations that is still likely to get a hearing is a high-profile case against Shell that claims that the oil giant colluded in Nigeria's brutal oppression of Ogoni villagers in the early Nineties.
Unocal, the Californian energy firm, is also facing claims of severe abuses in Colombia.