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  • Can anything be done to stop a multinational company

  • that wants to abuse your rights?

  • In this episode, we'll show you how international law

  • keeps the world's biggest companies in line.

  • Coming up: Nike's big ticking off...

  • A sweet victory for Cadbury's workers...

  • And how Shell's oil spills in Africa are dealt with in UK courts...

  • First up: is the law strong enough to stop companies breaking it?

  • Sometimes companies take it on themselves

  • to look after their workers well.

  • Chocolate makers Cadbury have sometimes been praised

  • for actively improving the lives of their plantation workers:

  • something called Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR.

  • But, without an international legal body to enforce rules,

  • what can be done when companies don't choose to behave well?

  • Time for some clever legal work.

  • In the early 2000s, Nike denied claims its workers

  • were being mistreated in foreign factories.

  • So, a man called Mark Kasky took Nike to court,

  • using American advertising laws forbidding companies

  • from making 'false and misleading' claims over those denials.

  • Nike defended themselves aggressively,

  • going all the way to the country's top court

  • to argue that they could say what they liked

  • under free speech rules.

  • Eventually, Nike lost and agreed to pay

  • to strengthen workplace monitoring.

  • We asked Mark whether he was worried about taking on Nike in court.

  • The fact that it was Nike made... made no difference. In fact, there...

  • there was a level playing field, we felt,

  • in terms of the way the court would decide.

  • Nike may have had a lot more money, but we felt we had the stronger case,

  • even though we had lost at the local Municipal and the Appeals level.

  • And we felt that there was no wayNike can't...

  • they can't use money to beat you; facts have to beat you.

  • The... the logic of their case has to beat you.

  • So, that shows that it doesn't matter how much money a company has;

  • you have to rely on facts to win in court.

  • How did he actually sue Nike?

  • First of all, we sued at the... well, I...

  • we sued at the Municipal Court level, which is local, and we lost there.

  • Then we appealed it to the Appeals Court and we lost there as well,

  • but we still felt we had a legitimate case

  • and so we appealed to the California Supreme Court and there we prevailed.

  • What this tells us is that you can challenge a court's ruling

  • and try to win your case again by going to a higher court.

  • So, what happened in the Supreme Court?

  • When the California Supreme Court ruled in my favour, they were saying,

  • 'If you're making statements, factual statements,

  • about your productwhere they're produced, how they're produced,

  • what's in them

  • and your intention is to convince people to buy your product,

  • those statements must be true.

  • And if it... if they aren't true, you will be sued and you will lose.

  • So, this tells us that if a company lies about how it behaves,

  • it risks being found out in court.

  • Mark used a clever tactic

  • by fighting over Nike's statements, not their working conditions.

  • Conditions in other countries improved.

  • So, how do you challenge a foreign multinational

  • who's doing something wrong in your country?

  • Let's go to Nigeria now, where the Bodo community live,

  • relying on fishing and farming.

  • In 2008, two massive oil spills from a Shell oil pipeline

  • polluted their land and killed much of the marine life they relied on.

  • Shell initially offered only food as compensation.

  • The Bodo community took legal action in UK courts,

  • even though the spills were in Nigeria.

  • In 2014, four months before the case was due to be heard in court,

  • the case was settled for £55 million.

  • British law firm Leigh Day worked on the case.

  • Daniel Leader, from Leigh Day, explained

  • why this case was not heard in a Nigerian court.

  • The case was heard in the UK because we decided

  • to sue the UK-registered parent company

  • for the failures of its Nigerian subsidiary,

  • and the law in the UK is that if you can demonstrate

  • the parent company was involved in some way

  • in the failures of its subsidiary,

  • then there's no reason why you can't hold it to account

  • for those failures in the UK courts.

  • And the rule, broadly, is that the country

  • where the harm occurred

  • is the system of law that the courts will apply.

  • So, if you are a Nigerian fishermen suing Shell in the UK,

  • the UK judge will apply Nigerian law

  • and get expert evidence as to what the relevant Nigerian law is.

  • You can sometimes sue a parent company in one country

  • for the actions of its subsidiary in another country.

  • You need to show the parent was controlling the subsidiary.

  • What problems do multinational companies present lawyers?

  • The fundamental issue is that

  • they will not only hide behind their corporate structure

  • but they'll also argue that they should be held to account locally,

  • in the local jurisdictions,

  • and the problem with that is actually you can't get justice

  • if you are a poor community in Nigeria, or Kenya, or Zambia,

  • because you simply don't have the resources to take on

  • multinational companies within those legal systems.

  • Multinational companies can argue cases should be heard locally

  • to make it easier for them to win, rather than going to foreign courts,

  • which may be more affordable for poor communities.

  • So, do multinationals have to follow international human rights laws?

  • So, the answer is increasingly they... they do,

  • following the creation of something called

  • the UN general principles on business and human rights,

  • which everyone agreed to internationally

  • all countries and corporations agreed to internationally

  • about ten years ago, which applies human rights norms to companies.

  • At the moment, they do not have the force of law: they are voluntary.

  • But, there are moves afoot to give them legal standing.

  • There are voluntary rules on human rights for companies,

  • called the UN Guiding Principles.

  • Many countries and organisations accept them.

  • Campaigners are pushing for them to be binding.

  • We've seen how using law internationally can mean

  • you can fight cases in courts that suit you better.

  • Sometimes this means companies can't hide from the law.

  • Mark Kasky's case showed us how using national law cleverly

  • can have a big, and positive, international impact.

Can anything be done to stop a multinational company

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Are companies above the law? BBC Learning English

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/10/12
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