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: new reports on product liability law and the Internet of Things, Bangladesh’s garment sector, and corporate lobbying on climate change, diversity and inclusion, and tax reform; and a new lawsuit seeing to hold oil companies accountable for the costs of climate change.

  • On April 10, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights released a new report, Five Years After Rana Plaza: The Way Forward, looking at efforts to address safety concerns in Bangladesh’s garment sector in the five years since the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013. The report notes that nearly 250 global brands and retailers have joined either the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh or the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (which will largely phase out at the end of 2018). The report finds that “Bangladesh now has a deeply bifurcated garment sector” with significantly more safety improvements having been made in factories that have direct relationships with global brands and urges brands and retailers to “expand their collaboration to address factory-safety issues in thousands of subcontracting facilities that also are producing their apparel.”
  • On April 12, Oxfam America released a new report, Dollars and Sense: Corporate Responsibility in the Trump Era. The report looks at three substantive issues areas — climate change, diversity and inclusion, and tax reform — and compares the “policies, values, and public messaging” of 70 of the largest companies in the United States with the lobbying activities of those same companies. Ultimately, Oxfam concludes that “while America’s biggest corporations are using their voice for good, their advocacy on these important social issues through lobbying is substantially more muted. When we look at how these firms spent their lobby dollars in the first year of Trump’s presidency, we see that public messages are often not backed up by companies’ political power. Moreover, companies frequently outsource much
    of their federal lobbying and advocacy to trade associations that espouse views directly contradictory to the policies and values companies claim they hold.”
  • On April 16, the Center for Democracy & Technology released a new report, Strict Products Liability and the Internet of Things, which explores ways in which product liability law may be updated to address the impacts of potential flaws embedded within, and failures of, devices with integrated Internet connectivity. While product liability law generally limits claims based on financial losses, the report notes the growing potential for physical harm and property damage as a result of flaws embedded with Internet-connected products. The authors also note that policymakers in both the United States and Europe have begun to explore the need for new regulations to address potential harms caused by the Internet of Things.
  • On April 17, Starbucks Corporation announced that it would close more than 8000 stores in the United States on the afternoon of May 29 in order to provide racial bias training to nearly 175,000 employees. The company’s announcement comes after an incident in which two African-American men were arrested at a Starbucks store in Philadelphia on May 12. The two men, who have stated that they were waiting for a colleague before making a purchase, allegedly refused a request to leave the store and the store manager called 911. Starbucks has stated that it will work with racial bias experts in developing the training, including representatives of the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Anti-Defamation League.
  • On April 17, three communities in Colorado filed a lawsuit against Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil alleging that the companies have caused and contributed to climate change and that the communities are suffering adverse impacts as a result of alterations in the climate. The communities, which include Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder, also allege that defendants knew or should have known that their activities would contribute to climate change impacts. Plaintiffs are demanding that the companies be compensated for past and future damages as well as costs to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Similar lawsuits have been filed by the City of New York and communities in California.

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