Workshop on strategic litigation against corporations
In September 2010 ECCHR led a workshop in Bogotá, Colombia, in co-operation with Miseror and Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World). Twenty Latin American, European and US organizations participated in the workshop, as did international lawyers and victims. The 37 participants developed concrete procedural strategies to deal with the human rights violations committed by transnational corporations.
The workshop examined the procedural options for 11 previously selected corporate cases. Different sectors of industry were discussed, as were varied human rights problems. For example, one topic in question was the toxic impact of gold mining on ground and drinking water. People living nearby such mines have suffered damage to their health and were ultimately forced to leave their settlements. The workshop also explored cases of private monopolies of the electricity or water industries that have excluded many impoverished sections of the population from access to these basic amenities. Textile and electronic factories in Central America that supply the European and US markets were also discussed. Such factories are systematically disregarding labor standards, and firing those who engage in trade union activity. Such actions threaten in particular the existence of those employees, predominantly women, who are solely responsible for providing for their families. Such workers cannot risk losing their employment by complaining about their treatment. Almost all of those who defend their rights by proceeding against corporations have to contend with repressive measures that in themselves violate human rights: intimidation, criminalization, surveillance, and even expulsion or murder.
Complaints filed against corporations are hindered not only by financial hurdles but also by the lack of applicable legislation in Europe and North America, and the poor levels of research into internal corporate structures. However, the most significant obstacle is the lack of solidarity among the victims and the scarcity of competent lawyers. There are, moreover, many troubling examples of lawyers who have used such proceedings to further their own interests and have subsequently caused more damage than good. ECCHR worked with the London law firm Leigh Day & Co, the legal office Boye-Elbal in Madrid and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights to counter these problems. They demonstrated how trusting relationships can be built up with the victims, how solid, usable research can be conducted, and how proceedings can be planned and carried out strategically.
The workshop concluded with the adoption of concrete workplans for some of the cases in question. Compensation claims, criminal charges and OECD-complaints are now planned to be filed in Canada and Europe. ECCHR will follow these trials and advise the organizations where possible.
Further workshops are planned for Africa (2011) and Asia (2012)