Human Rights and Corporate Wrongs

Human Rights and Corporate Wrongs

Closing the Governance Gap

Corporations, Globalisation and the Law series

Simon Baughen

The effects of globalisation, together with the increase in foreign investment and resource development within the developing world, have created a context for human rights abuses by States in which transnational corporations are complicit. This timely book considers how these ‘governance gaps’, as identified by Professor John Ruggie, may be closed. Simon Baughen examines the status of corporations under international law, the civil liability of corporations for their participation in international crimes and self-regulation through voluntary codes of conduct, such as the 2011 UN Guiding Principles.

Chapter 5: Tort claims against transnational corporations in the US

Simon Baughen

Subjects: business and management, corporate social responsibility, law - academic, corporate law and governance, human rights, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


Since the Bhopal gas explosion of 4/5 December 1984 a substantial number of tort claims have been brought before the US courts against US parent corporations in respect of the overseas activities of their subsidiaries. Claims may be filed in state courts, or in the federal district courts under the diversity jurisdiction set out in Art. III of the US Constitution. The Bhopal gas explosion resulted in claims being filed against Union Carbide in the Southern District of New York, and since then tort claims have been filed before the same court in respect of oil pollution in the Amazon basin, and in respect of pollution caused by mining operations in Peru, and in various States in respect of personal injuries allegedly sustained by workers on banana plantations who handled the pesticide DBCP. Some human rights claims have also been brought as tort claims in parallel with ATS claims in the district courts or in state courts. However, only a handful have come to trial. A tort claim brought in parallel with an ATS claim was heard in the District Court in California in 2008 where the jury found for the defendant. A tort claim brought before the state court in California in the DBCP litigation initially resulted in an award of damages for the Nicaraguan plaintiffs which was subsequently overturned following findings of fraud on the part of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

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