Transnational corporations and tort. Crunch time in the UK Supreme Court.

Today the Supreme Court, comprising Lord Hodge, Lady Black, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin, Lord Hamblen, will hear the appeal in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell.  The issue is:

“Whether and in what circumstances the UK-domiciled parent company of a multi-national group of companies may owe a common law duty of care to individuals who allegedly suffer serious harm as a result of alleged systemic health, safety and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries as the operator of a joint venture operation.”

Previously the lower courts have found that there was no plausible case for a duty of care being owed by Royal Dutch Shell to those affected by the alleged negligence of its Nigerian subsidiary in failing to maintain its oil pipelines.

The case may turn out to be a landmark in the law of tort. In a previous decision in Vedanta v Lungowe in April 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the lower courts that there was an arguable case that the parent company owed a duty of care to those affected by the operations of its Zambian subsidiary. The observations of Lord Briggs at [61] may prove to be important in today’s contest.

  1. [B]ut I regard the published materials in which Vedanta may fairly be said to have asserted its own assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of proper standards of environmental control over the activities of its subsidiaries, and in particular the operations at the Mine, and not merely to have laid down but also implemented those Page 23 standards by training, monitoring and enforcement, as sufficient on their own to show that it is well arguable that a sufficient level of intervention by Vedanta in the conduct of operations at the Mine may be demonstrable at trial, after full disclosure of the relevant internal documents of Vedanta and KCM, and of communications passing between them.

Kick off is at 10.30 and can be watched by video link.

 

 

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