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International human rights lawyer speaks at UN conference on business and human rights

Human rights lawyer and Head of the International department at Leigh Day, Richard Meeran, has spoken at the United Nations in Geneva this week.

Posted on 18 October 2019

Richard was invited to provide his expert views at the open-ended intergovernmental working group for the elaboration of an International Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights. For the past four years Richard has acted as an expert to the Working Group and he has spoken at its earlier sessions.
Richard’s presentations at the conference were directed towards strengthening the draft instrument in relation to victims’ access to justice in multinational home states.  He emphasised in particular the importance of the following in business and human rights cases: 
  • Eliminating application of forum non conveniens, a doctrine applied in common law countries, which resulted in gross injustice to victims of Bhopal, South African asbestos miners and Ecuadorian victims of oil pollution    
  • Rejecting strict adherence to the “corporate veil” and providing (as per the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the Vedanta case) for legal liability of multinational parent companies whose acts and omissions, in relation to overseas subsidiary operations, cause harm
  • Ensuring effective access to documents, especially internal corporate documents 
  • Providing for class actions
  • Ensuring that the security of victims and witnesses are protected 
  • Ensuring that national limitation statutes allow sufficient time, especially in complex claims against multinationals, to carry out investigations with the assistance of legal representation
  • Ensuring that costs rules are in place that do not deter victims from pursuing legal action or lawyers from representing them         
The conference spanning five days features speakers from national delegations of member states and academia, and a wide range of representatives from civil society and business. 
The Working Group was mandated by a UN Human Rights Council Resolution in June 2014 to elaborate on an internationally legally binding instrument on business and human rights. This followed in the wake of the adoption by the UN in 2011 of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on business and human rights. The UNGPs provide guidelines for states and businesses, designed to prevent human rights abuses arising from business operations and to ensure that victims obtain an effective remedy when abuses occur. The UNGPs have been endorsed by national governments (including the UK) and businesses globally.
Richard was asked to speak at the event due to his 25 years of experience pioneering claims against multinationals on behalf of workers and communities in developing countries. His cases and the multinational cases undertaken by Leigh Day generally have been central to the debate on business and human rights. Richard has previously written blogs on the initial draft of the legally binding instrument (the “Zero draft”) and the Revised draft.