Access to Justice
Corporate malpractice has major implications for individuals and communities. For example, oil spills from Shell pipelines in Nigeria are estimated to have affected the lives of 11,000 people. Environmental contamination can be devastating for people who rely on agriculture or fishing to make a living. When incidents like these happen, the companies concerned must be held to account and affected people must be able to access justice.
CORE has been involved in collaborative work with its US and European counterparts in commissioning research looking at Access to Judicial Remedy, alongside research and analysis on non-judicial remedial mechanisms. More recently, we have worked practically on this issue by holding workshops on access to documents and information, and on the proposed mine in Phulbari and the campaign against it.
When corporations abuse human rights or damage the environment, it’s vital that the people who are affected can seek redress from the company concerned. Redress can range from an apology and guarantees that the abuse will not happen again, through to financial compensation and commitments to carry out environmental clean-ups. Providing redress is important for corporations as well as affected people and communities because it creates a culture of respect for human rights and the environment and leads to improved corporate practice.
Ideally, people should be able to access justice in their own country but various legal and practical barriers mean that this is often impossible. Where a UK-linked business is accused of violating human rights or damaging the environment overseas, the UK courts should be able to hear the case. At present this is very difficult due to mutually reinforcing procedural and financial hurdles, such as inequality of resources between the parties and difficulties accessing evidence. For this reason, CORE wants to see the following changes:
- Make it easier for victims to access information needed to show the role of the UK company in causing harm;
- Reverse the burden of proof so that a multinational corporation parent company is responsible for proving it was not responsible for causing the harm.
- The UK Government should establish an effective non-judicial redress mechanism for overseas victims of corporate human rights abuses.
In this video Shanta Martin of Leigh Day discusses some of the issues surrounding wrongdoing by UK corporations overseas and barriers to justice for those affected:
The Third Pillar
Victims of human rights abuses experience several barriers to judicial remedy in the home states of corporations. This joint project with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) builds on existing work exposing these common barriers. The report identifies the most feasible solutions and recommendations to improve access to judicial remedy in the US, the UK, and certain EU countries. The final project report was launched in December 2013.
Council of Europe Process
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has adopted a set of Recommendations to its member States on Business and Human Rights, which focuses on access to remedy. CORE represented the European Coalition for Corporate Justice in the drafting group meetings, together with FIDH, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists. The agreement is a significant achievement and if adequately implemented, can contribute to an enhanced system of legal accountability of business enterprises involved in human rights abuses and access to effective remedy for those who suffer harm. For more details on the process please visit here.
Evaluating Redress Mechanisms project
Together with the University of Essex, CORE was a UK partner in a five-year research project coordinated by academics at the University of Melbourne, Australia. In 2011 the United Nations endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights, the third pillar of which is ‘redress’, in recognition that despite the best efforts of civil society, governments and responsible businesses, human rights are sometimes harmed as a result of business activity. However, there are significant barriers to judicial redress for workers and communities who find their human rights threatened or harmed by businesses. Problems with jurisdiction, cost and timeliness leave many without any meaningful option for redress.
Over recent years a number of non-judicial redress mechanisms have been developed to address this need. The project evaluated these existing mechanisms in terms of their formal powers and functions, as well as their informal dynamics. The project aimed to:
- Provide evidence for and advice regarding sound institutional design and operation for existing and future redress mechanisms, and;
- Provide evidence and advice for communities, workers and their supporters about how to make best use of non-judicial mechanisms in seeking redress for human rights harms.
Research was conducted in Australia and the UK as home countries of transnational businesses, and India and Indonesia as host countries, exploring 12 case studies – three each in agribusiness, extractives and the garments sector in each host country. More information on the research can be found here.
European Civil Justice project
This project – now closed – aimed to improve access to civil justice in the EU for victims of human rights abuses related to activities of European multinational companies in developing countries. In order to stimulate discussion on civil justice, CORE and its partners disseminated the findings of the Third Pillar report through four high-profile conferences, in Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels. The report EU’s Business: Recommended actions for the EU and its Member States to ensure access to judicial remedy for business-related human rights impacts summarizes the outcomes of these conferences.
Project site: http://www.accessjustice.eu/en
CORE’s project partners include:
National Contact Point Reform
In the report Obstacle Course: How the UK’s NCP handles human rights complaints under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Amnesty International examines how complaints have been dealt with by the UK National Contact Point across three stages – initial assessment, mediation and determination. It assesses the extent to which the NCP complies with the OECD Guidelines’ implementation procedures and the extent to which the NCP’s statements and decisions are aligned with the Human Rights chapter of the Guidelines. Recommendations are made for improving the effectiveness of the UK NCP with regard to these findings.
Access to Justice