human rights & business (and a few other things)

Report on Free Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples & the Mining Industry Launched at Middlesex

This post is adapted from Indigenous Peoples Links’ press release. For more information please contact Andy Whitmore from PIPLinks, who is also a PhD student at Middlesex University School of Law.



Professor James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the launch in Barnet Town Hall

There is now a growing acceptance of the requirement for indigenous peoples’ Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) in many industries, including the extractive industries. This has been reflected by its incorporation into policies of an increasing number of mining companies, although admittedly sometimes in a more diluted form.

As the need for FPIC is introduced into state law, and made a requirement of financing, companies are increasingly struggling with how to implement FPIC. Yet, for indigenous peoples it is clear that their right to give or withhold FPIC should be seen in a context of them as rights-holders, rather than just yet another stake-holder. Therefore, there seemed to be a need for research to act as a basis for constructing a common ground with regard to the requirement for indigenous peoples’ FPIC.

The report, Making Free Prior & Informed Consent a Reality: Indigenous Peoples and the Extractive Sector seeks to do just that. Authored by Cathal Doyle, PhD graduate from Middlesex and Jill Carino from the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights, it advocates for multinational mining companies, the investor community, and state actors to understand the importance of the FPIC principle from ethical, sustainability and economic perspectives. Fundamentally it argues that it is essential to understand FPIC from an indigenous peoples’ rights-based perspective in order to effectively implement it in a manner which is in accordance with indigenous peoples’ exercising their right to self-determination.

The report was launched at Middlesex University on 2nd May, involving a round-table discussion of the report’s contents by indigenous peoples, representatives of the mining industry and invited experts. This was followed by a public launch, at which a number of the indigenous peoples spoke about what FPIC meant to them, following on from a keynote address by the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, Professor James Anaya. Professor Anaya stressed the importance of FPIC as part of a bundle of rights, and yet how, so far, its implementation was often far from adequate. He noted how both the round-table, and the report itself, were an excellent push forward in the implementation of FPIC.

Anne Marie Sam of the Nak’azdli First Nation in Canada stressed what the concept meant to her. Her elders had noted that the “souls of our ancestors are on the land. You take care of the land and the land takes care of you. Our identity comes from the land”. She joined other speakers in passionately advocating for their right to decide their own fate. They stressed the growing importance of indigenous peoples organising, so that they could assert these rights. They also spoke to the emerging theme of indigenous communities defining their own culturally appropriate guidelines for implementing FPIC, which is reviewed – with the aid of case studies – in the report.

The research was conducted on behalf of a consortium of organisations, including Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks), Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), and Middlesex University School of Law, but backed by a larger number of indigenous advisors and organisations.

London’s ‘Secret Slavery Shame’ Walking Tour

Memorial to the abolition of slavery - Fen Court

Yesterday we held the now traditional PhD seminar at Middlesex University School of Law. It was an exciting day with a mix of staff and student presentations about their research. On a personal level it was heartening to see so much knowledge and excitement in the room. As our heads were still buzzing from this full day of work and exchange, we all headed to central London to participate in a Slavery Walking Tour of London by Historian Dr William Pettigrew of the University of Kent.

It was a truly unforgettable experience, covering the theme of slavery from the Roman times of London until the present day. A significant part of the tour focused on the great abolitionist movement, in many ways the first successful large-scale business and human rights campaign. Among a variety of other interesting facts, he mentioned that the former headquarter of the now defunct Royal African Company, which shipped more African slaves to America than any other single organisation in the history of the transatlantic slave trade (about 150,000), is now an LA Fitness branch. He currently is in discussions with them to get a plaque on the wall so that this important historical fact does not get forgotten. Apparently LA Fitness is not so keen on the idea…

Dr Pettigrew also highlighted that the fight against the traffic in human beings is far from over, as slaves still live in London and are typically found in houses of diplomats, where they work as domestic workers.

I highly recommend the tour, as being able to put historical events in context is priceless. It was great fun, despite the extremely serious subject.

Research Workshop on Business and Human Rights at ESIL Conference – 23 May 2013

On 23 May I will speak at the research workshop organised by the European Society of International Law Interest Group on Business and Human Rights. Below is the programme. More info from my colleague Dr Olga Martin-Ortega (University of Greenwich) on the interest group’s website.


European Society of International Law Interest Group on

Business and Human Rights

 2nd Research Workshop:


Amsterdam, 23rd May 2013 (13:00-16:00)

VENUE: Oudemanhuispoort 4 (main building of the Faculty of Law), University of Amsterdam Room: D118A. Directions here.  

Welcome and IG update: Olga Martin-Ortega

Panel 1: Implementation and Compliance

Chair: Freya Baetens

Nadia Bernaz, “Addressing Slave Labour in Supply Chains through Reporting“

Karin Buhmann, ““Responsible sourcing of natural resources: Enriching EU environmental and trade policies and law through the UN Framework and UN Guiding Principles“

Karen Weidmann, “Monitoring Business Compliance with Human Rights Standards: The Role of the
National Contact Points for the OECD-Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises“

Carmen Marquez Carrasco, Luis Rodríguez Piñero and Laura Iñígo Alvarez, “The implementation of the UN Guiding Principles in Spain”

Panel 2: Accountability and Enforcement  

Chair: Olga Martin-Ortega

Angelica Bonfanti, “Extraterritorial Jurisdiction as a Remedy for Victims of Business-related Human Rights Abuses: European and US Perspectives“

Shannon Dobson, “Corporate Liability in the United States: The Kiobel Case in International Perspective”

Julieanne Hughes-Jennett, “Is litigation before national courts the best response to purported human rights violations involving multinational corporations in developing countries?”

Alessandro Costa, Antonella Sarro, Marta Bordignon, Bandini Chhichhia and Giada Lepore, “Accountability of Banks for Human Rights Violations”

Next steps and activities: Freya Baetens

Backtracking on Responsibility: French Court Absolves Veolia for Unlawful Railway Construction in Occupied Territory

It is a pleasure to welcome Valentina Azarov on Rights as Usual. Valentina heads and lectures on the Human Rights & International Law program at Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine. She has worked with human rights groups in Palestine and Israel from 2008 until 2012, and has done some corporate accountability litigation and advocacy work for Al-Haq. This post is hers.


On 22 March 2013 (a decision that became public more recently), the Versailles Court of Appeal dismissed the case against two French companies, Alstom and Veolia, for their involvement in a contract for the construction of a light railway between illegal Israeli settlements located in East Jerusalem, inside the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, and West Jerusalem, territory located inside Israel’s internationally-recognised borders.

The case was first submitted by the France Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in February 2007 to the Nanterre Court of First Instance requesting the annulment of the contract concluded between the Israeli authorities and the French companies, due to the contract’s unlawful purpose of facilitating the establishment of Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied territory and the movement of Israeli Jewish settlers between Israel and their residences in occupied territory.

In May 2011, following several hearings, the Nanterre Court of ‘Grande Instance’ held that the conventional and customary international law invoked by the claimants – including provisions of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I thereto, including peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) – did not create obligations that are “directly applicable” to private companies. It added that the violations in question were those of the Israeli state; international law violations did not invalidate the contract between the companies, which was governed by Israeli, and not French civil law. The Court also concluded that the claimants failed to demonstrate the proximity and causal link of the company’s actions to the Israeli authorities’ internationally unlawful conduct.

The recent March 2013 decision on appeal confirms and builds on this position, absolving the companies of any responsibility for their involvement in internationally unlawful acts, and maintaining the contracts’ validity under French law. Probably the most damning conclusion of the recent judgment on appeal is that the international law provisions relied on “do not create direct obligations that may be placed upon private companies.” The decision holds that private companies are not subjects of international law and do not have international legal personality – beyond the realm of economic and commercial acts governed by certain international instruments. As such, the international legal obligations relied on by the claimants were neither directly applicable to private companies, nor did they give rise to rights that can be claimed by individuals.

The Court then proceeded to dismiss the legal character and relevance of the companies’ obligations under their own voluntary codes, as well as the UN Global Compact. In so doing, the Court adopts a position that strikingly backtracks on the important international developments concerning the responsibility of multinational companies under international law, including to ‘protect, respect and remedy’ human rights. It also undoes what has come to be a commonly accepted position of international lawyers, as well as political and economic experts concerning multinational companies’ advanced international legal personality, which is oftentimes much more developed than other non-state subjects of international law, also due to the growing influence of companies over political and social realities worldwide.

Finally, although the Court ruled that the “occupying power can and should re-establish a normal public activity within the occupied country through administrative measures in the usual areas addressed by State services” and that as such “the building of a tramway by Israel is not prohibited”, it did not mention or discuss the fact that the railway was built for the purpose of linking illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, a service that neither benefits the Palestinian population, nor purports to do so. Since the Israeli government was not present in the proceedings, the Court stated that it cannot accept the petitioners’ claim that the contract between the French and the Israeli company constructing the railway had been concluded to further an ‘illicit’ purpose (that of Israel’s settlement project in occupied territory).

The Veolia case is also an interesting case study for the variety of means and methods used to promote and bring about respect for human rights and international law by corporations – including campaigning, advocacy and litigation. Many of these measures bore fruit, with early on in 2011 being an important turning-point, when, following overwhelming pressure, Veolia withdrew from the railway project. More recently, in February 2013, a top Norwegian financial adviser noted in a presentation to the largest pension fund in the UK, Hermes Investment Management, that Veolia is an outstanding example of a company that has suffered “expensive damage”, including loss of large contracts and reputational costs, due to its involvement in internationally unlawful acts in the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2012, Veolia was excluded from public contracts with UK local councils, under UK and EU procurement law, due to its involvement in the international law violations. Despite these successes, Veolia continues to provide services to the Israeli authorities involved in international law violations. It is servicing a landfill in the Jordan Valley area of the occupied West Bank, near the illegal Israeli settlement of Masua, and it continues to provide Veolia buses to transport settlers from illegal settlements in occupied territory to Israel.

The recent Versailles Court’s decision unsettles, if not significantly undermines, the position of a group of French parliamentarians and a report commissioned by the French National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission, condemning Israel’s creation of a spatial and racial “apartheid” in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. It also puts the French government in an uncompromisingly awkward position vis-à-vis its, and the EU institutions’, existing foreign policy and legal commitments, including that of ensuring respect for “human rights and fundamental freedoms” and the “rule of law” (Article 6 of the EU Treaty), also set out in the ‘EU guidelines on the promotion of compliance with international humanitarian law’ in third countries. In this sense, the Court’s conclusions create both a legal and political dissonance for their apparent incompatibility with the stern condemnations made by French and EU institutions of Israeli settlements in occupied territory and their institutional practice vis-à-vis settlements in terms of EU-Israel relations.

Who, if not the EU, and its Member States, will ensure that the international legal order is not rendered into disrepute and that private actors operating from within the jurisdiction of the EU are not involved or contributing in any way to violations of international law by foreign authorities? It is undoubtedly in the interests of both France and the EU to ensure that their multinational companies do not undermine, or act in blatant contradiction of, the EU’s commitment to its proclaimed foreign policy and to the rule of law, international and internal.

Valentina Azarov, Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine.

Fairness Conference at Middlesex University on 21-23 May

The current climate of economic and political strife across Europe makes the need for fairness in society more pressing than ever. But is our society fair? Middlesex University is bringing together its top thinkers, researchers and academics from across disciplines – joined by a range of external speakers – to shine a light on the issue.

This cross-cutting conference will unpick the notion of what is fair in society, and how it impacts individuals, businesses and countries. Fairness in politics, our human rights, how fairness affects creative industries, health care and the environment will all be amongst the topics on the agenda. Given the speakers lined up for the conference, I expect business and human rights to come up during the discussions.

The three-day conference is packed with external experts including columnist Will Hutton, John Redwood MP, and legendary human rights defender Bianca Jagger.

The conference is aimed at anyone with an interest in the issue of fairness – from public sector managers, academics and business leaders to the general public.

You can send an email to with any questions about the conference, or book your free place directly.

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