Huge multi-national corporations are notorious for acting irresponsibly, especially if their bad behavior ensures higher profits. From damaging the environment to the support of oppressive regimes in other countries, the reprehensible behavior of multi-nationals in countries where the rule of law is not completely enforced has been well documented. However, a recent settlement between Shell Oil and a group of Nigerian families (to avoid appearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan) will, hopefully, started a trend that will allow the rule of law in the U.S. to keep multinationals in line abroad.
In the mid 1990s, individuals connected with Shell Oil were accused of the jailing, torturing, and killing of peaceful activists in Nigeria who had protested against the corporations’ destruction to the environment. The activists had also called for more of Nigerian oil wealth to be distributed to the poor. Such violations of human rights would have gone unnoticed if not for a 1789 statute, the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens to bring cases to U.S. courts for human rights violations occurring overseas. The Shell Oil case was in the process of being brought before a U.S. court, under this statute, before a settlement was reached.
This situation is unique, not only in its innovative use of the American justice system, but also in the way in which litigation was used to defend the rights of the defenseless, abroad. As all of us involved in the legal system know, improved safety standards and corporate/individual accountability are both celebrated effects of necessary and proper litigation here in America. However, using litigation to protect the human rights of those that have been mistreated by foreign corporations overseas is both novel and noble. Lawsuit Financial hopes, indeed, all of us can only hope, that this settlement provides an opportunity to begin building a solid legal, international human rights and justice foundation. We shall see….
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.