Op 10 juli 2018 bracht de permanente missie van Ecuador bij de Verenigde Naties een “sneuveltekst” (zero draft) uit van een juridisch bindend instrument over de impact van de activiteiten van transnationale ondernemingen op de mensenrechten. Een werkgroep van de Verenigde Naties zal de tekst nu verder bespreken. Die werkgroep had al in 2014 een mandaat gekregen voor de uitwerking van een verdrag ter zake. Een beperkte groep landen uit het Globale Zuiden onder leiding van Ecuador, gesteund door een coalitie van niet-gouvernementele organisaties, bereidde vervolgens de weg voor de sneuveltekst. Het is onwaarschijnlijk dat deze tekst ook de verdragstekst zal worden, maar hij geeft wel een duidelijke richting aan de discussies die de komende tijd zullen plaatshebben binnen de VN-werkgroep. In deze post bespreek ik kort de inhoud van de tekst en plaats ik die in het bredere debat over de verantwoordelijkheid van ondernemingen om de mensenrechten te eerbiedigen. Ik onthaal de tekst in algemene zin positief, met name omdat hij goed aansluit bij eerdere (niet-bindende) initiatieven. Niettemin zouden de opstellers van het instrument er goed aan doen de relatie tussen due diligence-verplichtingen en juridische aansprakelijkheid van ondernemingen voor schendingen van de mensenrechten te verhelderen. Lees verder
On 19 July 2018, the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations released a zero draft on a legally binding instrument (LBI) – a treaty in fact – on business and human rights. This zero draft will serve as the basis for negotiations during the fourth session of an ‘Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group’ which will take place in Geneva between 15 and 19 October 2018. Quite a number of other posts (including Lopez in Opinio Juris and Cassel in Letters Blogatory) have been published in the wake of the release of the zero draft. None of them focuses specifically on the question of jurisdiction, however. This is remarkable, as it is difficult to escape the presence of the concept of jurisdiction in the LBI. While only one article of the LBI is specifically titled ‘jurisdiction’ (Article 5, which deals with adjudicatory jurisdiction), the term ‘jurisdiction’ also features in five other articles of the LBI. That jurisdiction is so pervasive throughout the LBI is mainly because it is such a multifaceted notion. For different lawyers, it may mean different things. The treaty would benefit from some clarity on the matter, in particular regarding the linkages between the different understandings of jurisdiction. In this post, I make some suggestions in this regard. Lees verder
I was recently invited as a legal expert to reflect on the potential for accountability of Dutch corporations profiting from the labour exploitation of North Korean workers abroad. Already in 2016, a team led by Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University, had issued a report detailing the appalling (forced) labour conditions in which North Koreans work in Europe. This happens in particular in Poland where they are forced to work on shipyards and have to hand most of their wages to the North Korean government. Apparently, North Korea ‘trafficks’ these workers to Poland for self-enrichment purposes. In the wake of this report, investigative work sponsored by the Why? Foundation exposed how various corporations and governments are complicit in these abuses (this work resulted in a documentary, Dollar Heroes, more information can be found here). On that basis, Breuker’s research team produced a follow-up report, released on 6 February 2018, which highlighted the involvement of Dutch corporations, notably as buyers of ships made by North Koreans in Poland. In this post, I explain on what grounds these corporations could be held to account under Dutch criminal law, and in particular how Dutch jurisdiction could be established over them. Lees verder
On 2 November 2017, Natasa Nedeski successfully defended her PhD on ‘shared obligations in international law’ at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). I had the honour of being a member of the reading committee. Nedeski happens to be a former bachelor student of us at Utrecht University (UU). She also pursued an LL.M. in Public International Law at UU, and was a junior lecturer at UU. She subsequently joined Prof. André Nollkaemper’s project on shared responsibility, of which this thesis on shared obligations is one of the outcomes. In this post, I describe and commend the main findings of Nedeski’s thesis. Lees verder
De uitbuiting van huishoudelijk personeel door diplomaten is een oud zeer, ook in Nederland. De Volkskrant schreef vorig jaar dat bij het ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken de afgelopen vijf jaar 26 particuliere bedienden van diplomaten geaccrediteerd in Nederland melding hadden gemaakt van uitbuiting. Het ging daarbij om onderbetaling, slechte arbeidsomstandigheden en ongewenste omgangsvormen. Tot nu toe ging men ervan uit dat die diplomaten op basis van het internationaal recht immuniteit genieten. Dat wil zeggen dat ze niet voor de nationale rechter kunnen worden gedaagd van de staat waar ze geaccrediteerd zijn. Deze immuniteit – die de facto vaak op straffeloosheid neerkomt – werkt misbruik in de hand. Lees verder
Between 18 and 20 May 2017, Ucall organized its second biennial international conference, titled ‘Accountability and International Business Operations: Providing Justice for Corporate Violations of Human Rights, Labor and Environmental Standards’. The conference included presentations by various keynote speakers and panelists, a stakeholders’ roundtable and a PhD masterclass (see the programme). In this post, some tentative conclusions of the conference are offered.
On 2 May 2017, Jelle Leunis obtained his PhD in political science from the Free University of Brussels (VUB) on the accountability of private military and security companies (PMSCs), a topic that in this past has proved of interest to UCall too. The full title of the thesis is: ‘The regulatory governance of armed force: Holding private military and security companies to account’. I had the honor to be a member of the examination committee. In this post, I set out, and subscribe to Leunis’s view that the fetishization of legal mechanisms to hold PMSCs to account has overshadowed the question of how to involve citizens in PMSC-based security governance. Enhancing the political-democratic accountability of the use of PMSCs has obvious merit, but further research will be needed regarding how such accountability could be enhanced for affected populations in conflict areas.
On 28 April 2017, Sofia Barros successfully defended her PhD at Leuven University on the topic of the responsibility of member states in the context of their participation in international organizations (full title: “Governance as Responsibility – Member State Participation in International Financial Institutions and the Quest for Effective Human Rights Protection”). I had the honor of being the co-supervisor of this thesis. In this post, I draw attention to the novelty of the author’s conceptualization of member states as autonomous actors within international organizations. Her approach is unique in that she demonstrates that conferring separate legal personality on international organizations does not negate the abiding role played by member states in those international organizations, with the attendant consequences for responsibility. Lees verder
On 21 April 2017, the Court of Appeal of ‘s-Hertogenbosch convicted Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven to 19 years of imprisonment for, inter alia, complicity in war crimes committed in Liberia. In the late 1990s Kouwenhoven had provided arms to the murderous regime of the Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was later convicted to 50 years of imprisonment by the Special Court of Sierra Leone. This is a rare example of a domestic court holding a corporate actor liable for involvement in the commission of international crimes abroad. In line with the recent Corporate Crimes Principles of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, a corporate actor is defined as a ‘corporate entity or individual acting on behalf of a corporate entity’.. It bears emphasis that Kouwenhoven, while directing a corporate entity, was convicted in his individual capacity. In the Netherlands Kouwenhoven is not a unique case; earlier, another businessman, Frans van Anraat, who had sold raw materials for the production of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, was also convicted of complicity in war crimes (upheld on appeal). The Kouwenhoven case highlights again the potential of complicity to hold criminally to account Western corporate actors who ‘recklessly’ accept the risk that their business dealings with warlords could contribute to the commission of international crimes. The next challenge will be how to prosecute corporate entities rather than individual businessmen for their involvement in international crimes.
On 20 January 2017, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over claims brought by two trade unions against the European Patent Organization (EPO), an international organization (partly) based in The Hague. The Court held that the organization enjoyed immunity from the jurisdiction of Dutch courts in accordance with the EPO Protocol on Privileges and Immunities. This judgment puts an end to a drawn-out and highly public case which threw the spotlight on the poor employment conditions in the EPO, including apparent restrictions of employees’ right to strike and to participate in EPO decision-making. The Supreme Court could be criticized for upholding the organization’s immunity in this case. However, from a systemic point of view, it is heartening that the Court affirmed the principle that conferring immunity from jurisdiction should not affect the very essence of a claimant’s right of access to justice, enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In future cases, claimants can continue to rely on Article 6 ECHR to challenge acts of international organizations before Dutch courts. As far as the EPO case is concerned, it is hoped that, even if the EPO’s immunity was upheld, the Dutch litigation serves as a wake-up call to push through important reforms within the organization.