Table of Contents

The Search for Environmental Justice

The Search for Environmental Justice

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series

Edited by Paul Martin, Sadeq Z. Bigdeli, Trevor Daya-Winterbottom, Willemien du Plessis and Amanda Kennedy

This is an extended and remarkable excursus into the evolving concept of environmental justice. This key book provides an overview of the major developments in the theory and practice of environmental justice and illustrates the direction of the evolution of rights of nature. The work exposes the diverse meanings and practical uses of the concept of environmental justice in different jurisdictions, and their implications for the law, society and the environment.

Chapter 14: Is there relief for transnational harm?

Christopher Chaulk

Subjects: environment, environmental law, environmental politics and policy, law - academic, environmental law, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


As multinational corporations expand, so too does the potential for transnational harm. When foreign plaintiffs seek relief in American courts for transnational harm implicating such corporations, these courts have repeatedly dismissed claims under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Foreign plaintiffs have also turned to a centuries-old statute, the Alien Tort Statute (‘ATS’), to try to bring their claims against multinational corporations under the jurisdiction of American courts. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court of the United States in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. severely limited the application of the ATS to corporations for acts of harm occurring outside of the United States. Writing for the majority in Kiobel, Chief Justice John Roberts explained: ‘[c]orporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices’ to bring a corporation within the scope of the Alien Tort Statute. Admittedly, the defendant corporations in Kiobel were not American; however, Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion focused on the presumption of extraterritoriality, not the state of incorporation of the defendants. Against the backdrop of expanding multinational corporations, incorporated both in the United States and abroad, as well as an increasingly restrained American judiciary, is there relief for foreign plaintiffs who have suffered transnational harm facilitated or perpetrated by such corporations? To answer this question, I begin by explaining the position of restraint that the American judiciary has historically adopted in cases involving foreign plaintiffs.

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