Kiobel v. Shell Oil Corporation: Supreme Court Gives Corporations Free Pass

June 4, 2013

Several months ago, we reported on a case before the Supreme Court, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, in which nine activists from the Ogoni community in the Niger Delta (the ‘Ogoni Nine’) were executed for protesting against the devastating impact of Shell’s operations there. A case was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) in the US, and was decided in April.

The case hung on two points:

  1. Can the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) be used to seek redress for victims of human rights abuses when foreigners carry out such abuses in foreign countries?
  2. Can corporations, as opposed to individuals working for corporations, be held liable for human rights violations under the ATS?

On the first point, the Court found that the location of human rights abuses is the primary factor, and that the ATS applies only to defendants in the US or on the high seas. With this decision, the Supreme Court has done away with the most effective tool human rights activists have used to seek redress for the victims of global human rights abuse and have overturned thirty years of precedent.

On the second point, a US corporation could be sued under the ATS provided those abuses took place in the US or on the high seas. The Court has unanimously given to US corporations a free pass to go into business with any foreign despot or tyrant and to partake in human rights abuses with impunity in any foreign country in their endless pursuit of profits.  

How this ruling affects the hearts and minds of the global community once American corporations, in cahoots with anti-democratic regimes, employ human rights abuses as a routine course of business, to run roughshod over the protest of local communities, is yet to be revealed.

Now is the time to get involved – we must reign in giant, multinational corporations run amok! We must start by getting them out of the US Constitution so we can put them in their place domestically and offer support to people of the world whose human rights, natural environments, and communities are being trampled.

If you’re not already involved in the Move to Amend campaign please take this opportunity to sign up to volunteer or become a monthly donor. We cannot win without your active support!