Top Stories

December 15, 2014

Human Rights

US corporations fending off human rights lawsuits thanks to Supreme Court ruling

A landmark US Supreme Court decision in 2013 that made it almost impossible to sue foreign companies in US courts for alleged roles in overseas human rights abuses is proving to be a blessing for US firms too, according to a Reuters report. In the year and a half since the ruling, companies such as Chiquita Brands, IBM and Ford have successfully invoked the Supreme Court’s reasoning to fend off lawsuits alleging they were involved in human rights abuses in South Africa, Colombia and elsewhere. In the seven cases involving US companies that federal appeals courts have decided since the Supreme Court rulings, corporate defendants have won five. Only one ruling was an outright win for plaintiffs. With rulings tending to favour companies, human rights lawyers are thinking twice before filing new lawsuits, with only one new human rights lawsuit filed against a US company since the ruling in April 2013. (Reuters)

Responsible Investment

Investors question forecasts from oil companies in light of climate change agreements

Investors around the world are increasing their scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry, reports the Guardian. Shareholders are pressing the companies they own to address escalating financial risks. Resolutions have already been filed with seven companies as part of the 2015 proxy season in the US including ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon Oil, as well as filings this month with BP and Shell backed by 100 European investors. Despite this pressure, many of the industry’s biggest players are forging ahead as if little has changed. ExxonMobil issued its annual energy outlook projecting 35% growth in global energy demand, with oil being the dominant fuel. Exxon’s chief strategist suggested that renewables “are just not ready for primetime”; despite the fact that wind, solar and other green power sources are growing at a record clip and already produce 22% of the world’s electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. (Guardian)


Natura becomes largest company to attain B Corp certification

Natura, Brazil’s top cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries maker, has become the largest and first publicly traded company to attain B Corp sustainability certification. Natura has 7,000 employees and extensive operations across Latin America, and also owns 65% of Australian cosmetics maker Aesop, which has operations that extend across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Earlier this month, crowd-funding platform Kickstarter and energy company Green Mountain Power both announced that they have attained B Corp certification. “In the past two years we’ve seen an increasing number of large and well-known companies join the movement,” says Katie Kerr, communications director at B Lab. With its expansion into high-profit, international businesses, B Corps seem to be demonstrating that sustainability isn’t merely a consideration for small companies. “Any business can be committed to measuring their impact and start using business as a force for good,” Kerr says. (Guardian)

Industry Collaboration

Technology giants collaborate to demand healthier building materials

Google, Facebook, Genentech and several other companies and organisations comprising a working group of The Building Health Initiative are using their collective market influence to create demand for new and innovative products that improve the health of the built environment. The working group are requesting greater transparency from architects and building product manufacturers about the chemicals used in their products; recruiting and retaining the best workforce by providing healthy and productive workplaces; and increasing awareness of healthy environments in buildings. “We have focused on collaboration and open source to drive progress in developing better infrastructure, hardware and buildings—not just for our employees but for all communities. This new initiative will help us continue our efforts toward building healthy environments at scale,” said Bill Weihl, Infrastructure, Sustainability and Efficiency Director at Facebook. (Sustainable Brands)

Corporate Reputation

Rio Tinto accused of collusion on Australian coalmine

The government of New South Wales, Australia, has been accused of working in “partnership” with mining corporation Rio Tinto to circumvent court rejections of a coalmining expansion project in the Hunter Valley. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws reveal how the miner pressed the government to change legislation to overturn court decisions that blocked the expansion of its Mount Thorley Warkworth Mine near Singleton. In a letter to the then Premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell, Rio’s chief executive for energy said the company had held “several discussions” with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure since meeting O’Farrell 11 days earlier. Sue Higginson, principal solicitor with the NGO Environmental Defenders Office NSW, said the letter demonstrates that Rio’s mining chief had a “direct entrance … and tells the premier how to do business”. A spokesman for Rio rejected claims the company and the government had colluded, saying it had followed due process “at all times”. (The Sydney Morning Herald)


Image source: OceanaGold mining truck Macraes, NZ by Benchill / CC BY-SA 3.0