This post considers the continuing erosion of the doctrine of asset partitioning as a means of transforming traditional legal concepts into vehicles fopr extending liability upstream to apex corporations in supply chains for human rights related injury.
About this guide
The aim of this guide is to help communities, workers, and civil society organisations supporting them, to understand the process of using legal action in England to hold UK companies to account for harming people in other countries.1
The guide will help you understand the basics of legal action in England against UK companies, but on its own, it does not provide enough information to help assess whether legal action could be an option in a particular situation. This is a complex process which a solicitor will be able to advise you about.
If after reading the guide, you are unsure about whether legal action in England could be an option, and/or you would like to explore what could be possible, you can contact one of the lawyers listed on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website here:
1 The LAW/COURTS referred to throughout the guide are those of England (and Wales), and the position may be di erent in other parts of the UK. Similarly, the position may be di erent for UK companies based outside England/Wales.
UK companies today operate all over the world, in every sector. While this can bring bene ts for communities, sometimes corporate activity can have negative consequences for people and the environment. When this happens, the people who have been harmed often want to seek remedy and to see the company held to account. Legal action in England can be a means of achieving this.
Over the last 20 years, the English courts have established that in certain situations, a UK company operating in another country may owe duties to local communities. If these legal duties are breached, in some circumstances this may entitle members of those a ected communities to take legal action against the UK company in the English courts. This is known as a “civil action/litigation” or “suing”. It will not result in anyone from the company being ned or sent to prison; rather, its purpose is usually mainly to secure nancial compensation. It could also lead to the company changing its practices.
This guide gives an overview of information on the general situations in which legal action in England against UK companies could be possible, the potential outcomes and a summary of the process. Those contemplating litigation will probably already have considered other options as part of their strategy to achieve their goals. The nal section provides links to sources of further information, including information which discusses in more detail some alternatives to litigation.
IN WHAT SITUATIONS COULD LEGAL ACTION IN ENGLAND BE AN OPTION?
Legal action in England could be an option if people have been harmed due to something that a UK company did or something it should have done but failed to do, either on its own or through the actions of its subsidiary for which it might be liable.
In general, the harm might include:
» death, including where people have died as the result of an accident or illness
» rape or sexual assault
» forced labour (including work without pay)
» illness (for instance, due to pollution or working conditions)
» damage to livelihoods (for instance, as the result of pollution, damage to land or illegal eviction)
These are complex issues that will be assessed depending on the particular situation. Other relevant factors may include the number of people a ected and the severity
of the impacts.