Corporate Accountability Lab Blog
This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we are reflecting on the steadfast nonviolent struggle of the indigenous Ogoni people in Nigeria and the human rights and environmental abuse they have suffered at the hands of the Nigerian government and Shell (Royal Dutch Shell’s subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC)).
No, Mars doesn’t have to tell you their chocolate was made using slave labor. But, can consumer protection laws be used to stop corporations from committing human rights abuses? Despite setbacks, over the past twenty years creative human and civil rights attorneys have had some success using consumer protection laws to compel corporate transparency related to supply chain labor exploitation.
Part I of this blog analyzed the extraterritorial application of the “Hot Goods” provision of the FLSA). This post discusses whether the remaining provisions of the FLSA can be applied overseas. The short and sweet answer is rarely. The extraterritorial application of the FLSA is technically not prohibited, but its usability depends on very narrow facts. To better understand the FLSA’s extraterritorial application, we need to dig into its history.
This blog post is Part I of a two-part series exploring the viability of using the FLSA’s “Hot Goods” provision as a tool to increase accountability for egregious labor violations in supply chains. Here at CAL, we focus on international supply chains primarily, but we start this post with an overview of how the “Hot Goods” provision has been applied within the US. Next, we look at the possibility of extraterritorial application to hold actors in international supply chains accountable.
Just under a month ago, my friend Ola Bini was arrested at the airport Quito, Ecuador. Ola, a man whose name inconveniently sounds like “hello” in his adopted home, is a data privacy advocate and widely-recognized tech savant. Sometimes he paints his nails black and he likes that really terrible, dry science fiction--the kind where it’s all science and no character development. But I can forgive him that because he’s a sweet person, generous with his time and expertise, and a zealous but ethical advocate for the human right to privacy.
When I describe CAL’s work to other millennial lawyers, they often tell me “I’m just not that creative.” But these self-identified uncreatives spend their days solving complex problems in sophisticated, nuanced ways. Is this intelligence, but not creativity? What is creativity anyway, and are we born with it, or not?
CAL creates outside-the-box legal mechanisms that give motivated individuals the ability to promote human rights norms by enforcing their own rights.
I knew Charity, the Legal Director and co-founder of CAL, professionally for years. During law school, I spent a summer in DC for an internship, and one night I caught a glimpse of what would become CAL. Charity and some of her law school friends (one of whom would be CAL’s other co-founder) were sitting around brainstorming ideas for legal innovations for corporate accountability.
14 manufacturers. 178 factories across the globe. New rights for thousands of workers and affected communities. This is the initial result of Corporate Accountability Lab’s new test case, showing the potential to revolutionize the way companies do business, and to benefit millions of workers and affected communities producing for the US market.
This week, the AP reported that an estimated one million people, mostly Chinese Muslims, were being held in just one of multiple internment camps in the Xinjiang region of China, and producing sportswear for the US market. Here we lay out four key facts about this case that show how “business as usual” has failed to protect workers and the environment on a massive scale.
This week, we’re lighting candles for a speedy recovery since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fall and fractured ribs on November 7, 2018. RBG’s reputation as a brilliant jurist, women’s rights advocate, and overall spicy human is widely appreciated. Just admit it: you wish you were RBG. You’re even jealous of her work out.
Here at Corporate Accountability Lab, we focus on global supply chains. We talk about forced labor in China and poverty wages in Bangladesh. We talk about workers producing for the US market who lack the most basic protections. And we do this as attorneys, with top notch educations, leveraging the power of our privilege to fight for human rights and the environment. But I’m going to get personal here.
Earlier this year, advocates and tech workers successfully lobbied Google to abandon a project with the Pentagon, code-named “Project Maven.” Google’s role in the project was to provide artificial intelligence (AI) that would analyze massive amounts of surveillance data for drones. I imagine if you did a survey of human reactions to enlisting artificial intelligence to figure out who to kill with a drone, the average person would check the box next to “dystopic hellscape.”
There has been some speculation about whether anti-dumping statutes could be put to good use in a human rights context. This speculation stems in part from a case filed in 2004 by the Southern Shrimp Alliance at the International Trade Commission (ITC), challenging the alleged dumping of Thai shrimp (notoriously forced-labor produced). While the shrimp case (discussed further below) did not specifically allege forced labor, it raised the question of whether anti-dumping claims could be used to challenge forced labor and other widespread abuses that suppress the consumer price of various imports.
One of the best documented and long-standing cases of corporate abuse in the world is the case of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta and their decades-long struggle with Shell. As a multinational oil company, Shell has subsidiaries across the world, extracting the world’s hottest commodity from Australia to Venezuela.
In part 2, I described how the intellectual property (“IP”) morals clause has enormous potential for economic activism. It’s something that we badly need if we want to ensure that our own IP doesn’t end up fueling unethical supply chains, and it’s something that nobody currently uses.
In a classic 5-4 split, the Supreme Court ruled today that foreign corporations cannot be sued for egregious human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute. Here is our fast-and-dirty take on the opinion. In short: the majority’s opinion appears to have more to do with market fundamentalism than the administration of justice, and sets a problematic precedent for victims’ access to remedy.
In part 1, I described the creation of the +CAL copyright licenses. I explained how and why our licenses ensure that the people and environmental inputs that comprise global supply chains are protected by the same “duty of care” that we have as consumers in the United States. Wonky lawyers may be quick to see why this is big deal, but fortunately we’re not all wonky lawyers. In this part, I’m going to discuss in economic terms why our licenses are exciting and why they lay the groundwork for a new frontier in economic activism.
In March 2017, I began working with CAL on a copyright license. Our intent was to create a license that could be used by anyone to condition the use of their copyrighted works on the user’s *contractually enforceable* promise to protect human rights and the environment across the supply chains in which the copyright is used. This is a three-part post is about the creation of the license, the discovery of some exciting new potential for intellectual property commons and economic activism, and the birth of a new folk hero of the commons named activistartmachine. You can shortcut to our software license here and our Creative Commons Plus license here.
So, it’s December 20. You meant to finish your Christmas shopping early this year, like you do every year, but then life happened and here you are. Again. You want to shop local, ethical, blah blah blah, but it’s too late to order from Etsy, you missed the renegade craft fair, and there is just nothing at Ten Thousand Villages your dad would tolerate. And let’s be serious, you don’t have time for hand-making gifts for 20 people.
Environmental and human rights activists and organizations have acquired some serious enemies. Most of us know that challenging the world’s most powerful corporations is a risky business, but how risky is it?
As we reflect on our first year in operation, we find much to be grateful for. In this short time, we have not only established a terrific board of directors, an impressive group of subject matter advisors, and obtained our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, we have made extraordinary progress on our substantive work as a lab.
This hour is well worth your time if you are interested in human rights law in the United States. If their conclusion about Jesner is correct, and corporate liability becomes more limited, we need to be ready with new strategies. That's what we're up to here at the Lab.
On October 11, 2017, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case called Jesner v. Arab Bank, in which 6000 victims of terrorist acts allege that the Arab Bank enabled terrorism through serving as the financial institution of terrorist organizations. This case stands out from the pack of human rights-related Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases on the facts in some ways, but it is the vehicle by which the Court may finally decide if corporations can be sued under the ATS.
Nike boasts of empowering women, but its garment workers tell a different story. Can you imagine the irony of sowing Equality on a shirt for a brand which is complicit in the firing of pregnant women? Wage theft? Mass faintings? Union-busting? While Nike markets themselves as champions of women’s equality, the abuses behind their factory doors expose that the only thing they champion is their own bottom line.
Since its passage in 2010, human rights advocates have wondered whether they could use the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSCA) to litigate against companies that use forced labor abroad. Hailed as ushering in a new era of legal corporate accountability, the CTSCA obligates any large company doing business in California to publicly disclose its efforts to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking in its supply chain. Here, we take a closer look at the CTSCA and how it has been used to date, and investigate whether a creative litigator could use it to benefit any of the estimated 21 million forced laborers around the world.
On July 1st, 2017, CAL's co-founder Charity Ryerson was interviewed by Amy Guth for a segment on WGN Radio regarding the plight of children around the world. Charity talks with Amy about CAL’s recent work and the importance of maintaining the rights of children.
I’ve been toying with the idea of whether Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals could be used for anything but evil. Rather than repeat the many, many detailed and well-researched critiques of ISDS, this post is about whether ISDS could be used to benefit the public, rather than just expand corporate power.
I see two ways to approach this: (1) by redefining who could be a “foreign investor”, and (2) by exploring human rights counter-claims brought by governments.
It was reported today, on May Day no less, that a woman in Arizona found a note from a Chinese prison laborer in a purse she bought from Wal-Mart. Convict labor-produced goods have been making it into American (2) and European markets for years, and these notes are one of the few ways it has been uncovered. Considering that the U.S. has an unambiguous law prohibiting the importation of goods produced with forced, convict, and child labor, why is this still happening?
One of the reasons I find Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL) so exciting is that it creates a space from which we can design and test interdisciplinary, praxis-driven experiments to stop corporate abuse. As we collectively struggle to properly diagnose the structural failures that have led to the current crisis of corporate impunity, I’m trying to work out whether or not it would be fair to understand corporate accountability in our justice system today as a club good, as opposed to a public good. If we can fairly characterize corporate accountability--holding corporations legally accountable for harms they’ve committed--as a club good, we can better expose the structural faults we collectively seek to repair.