Five on Friday – Five Recent Developments that We’ve Been Watching Closely

It’s Friday and time for another overview of developments in the field of business and human rights that we’ve been monitoring.

This week’s post includes: a lawsuit by the City of New York seeking compensation for the costs incurred as the result of climate change; a lawsuit in France alleging that a company’s statements regarding its ethical sourcing commitments are deceptive to consumers; and the establishment of a new Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise by the Government of Canada.

  • On January 9, the City of New York filed a lawsuit against five multinational oil companies, BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, alleging that the companies should be held accountable for present and future damages to the city resulting from the impacts of climate change. Specifically, the suit alleges the companies should help pay for costs incurred as the city seeks to adapt to the impacts of climate change, including through the construction of infrastructure to protect the coastline and through necessary improvements to water and sewage systems. Ultimately, the suit requests a judgment that would calculate the city’s current and future climate change-related costs and that would determine what percentage of those costs should be paid by the companies. Similar lawsuits have previously been filed by several cities and counties in California.
  • On January 11, two civil society organizations, Sherpa and ActionAid France, filed a lawsuit in France against Samsung Global and its French subsidiary, Samsung Electronics France. The suit alleges that the company has engaged in deceptive trade practices and misleading advertising, citing the company’s public statements with regard to its ethical sourcing commitments alongside documentation of alleged abuses at factories in South Korea and China. The lawsuit alleges that French consumers were mislead by the company’s statements with regard to its sourcing practices.
  • On January 16, Hermes Investment Management issued a blog post highlighting the risks of child labor in the cobalt supply chain. Pointedly, the investment management first stated,”even though many big brand companies claim to have a zero tolerance policy towards child labour, cobalt somehow seems to be the exception to the rule.” The post referenced recent research reports by Amnesty International and African Resources Watch that have documented the prevalence of human rights abuses in connection with cobalt mining and called upon companies to improve their due diligence efforts with regard to their mineral supply chains.
  • On January 17, the Government of Canada announced that it would establish a new independent Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. The position will be “mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad” and “will seek to assist wherever possible in collaboratively resolving disputes or conflicts between impacted communities and Canadian companies.”  In addition, the position will also be empowered to investigate activities and recommend remedies in instances where harm has occurred. The Ombudsman will focus initially on the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors, with the intent of expanding coverage to additional sectors in future years.

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