Summary: In August 2021 the US District Court for Puerto Rico approved a $25 million settlement in Puerto Rico’s favour as part of a lawsuit the Commonwealth filed more than a decade ago against ExxonMobil Corp. and Esso Standard Oil Co. claiming the companies contaminated the island’s groundwater. Environmental impacts on the ground are ultimately human rights issues.
Why this is important: Current developments in case law underline that businesses do have roles and responsibilities when it comes to respecting human rights. These roles and responsibilities derive from existing international norms. The obligation to Protect for States has over the past years been extended beyond the territory of a State once there is “effective” control over the individuals affected by State action/non-action. This means that extra-territorial obligations will become ever more important.
The big theme: Human rights issues are moving up the political and social agenda. And this goes a lot wider than most companies and investors will expect, covering supply chains, and the right to be protected from harm, and for culture and ways of life to be respected. And these rights increasingly have legal and financial teeth.
Summary of a story published in Forbes:
In August 2021 the US District Court for Puerto Rico approved a $25 million settlement in Puerto Rico’s favour as part of a lawsuit the Commonwealth filed more than a decade ago against ExxonMobil Corp. and Esso Standard Oil Co. claiming the companies contaminated the island’s groundwater. The order establishes that Puerto Rico will use the settlement to pay “to repair, restore, and replace injured or lost natural resources…or permanently protect the natural resources…or to investigate and remediate contamination in Puerto Rico, including surveillance, monitoring and treatment of the waters…or for paying oversight and administrative costs,” among other requirements.
This follows the June 2021 decision by a Massachusetts Court. They declined to dismiss a Massachusetts Investor and Consumer Protection Action Against Exxon. In two decisions, a Massachusetts Superior Court denied Exxon Mobil Corporation’s (Exxon’s) motions to dismiss an action brought by the Massachusetts Attorney General asserting that Exxon systematically and intentionally misled investors and consumers about climate change. In the first decision, the court declined to dismiss the action on personal jurisdiction grounds or for failure to state a claim. With respect to personal jurisdiction, the court found that the Commonwealth sufficiently alleged that its investor deception claim arose from Exxon’s contacts with Massachusetts.
Why this is important
In the past two weeks we have mentioned multiple different cases brought to court related to the impact on people of environmental damage. In two the Court reversed a previous decision of NOT hearing the case and in all the link to impact on societies is clear. The current developments in case law underlines that business enterprises of all sizes, sectors, operational contexts, ownerships, and structures, do have roles and responsibilities when it comes to respecting human rights.