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foreign liability to be investigated

February 2000

A new research project is to look at the growing number of legal cases taken against multinationals for harm they have allegedly caused to communities outside their home base.

The study, to be run by the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), will examine how companies can reduce the risk of involvement in ‘foreign direct liability’ cases where they face legal challenges for causing harm to the environment or to the health and safety of workers in other countries. Concern about such cases in the UK has grown since 1998, when the House of Lords ruled that Edward Connelly, a former worker at the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia, could bring an action in England against Rio Tinto for injuries allegedly sustained by him in the course of his work.

The case was later dismissed on technical grounds.

Halina Ward, senior research fellow at the RIIA and leader of the project, said the study would look at how such cases throw up ‘lessons for the future of international initiatives on corporate governance, investment and sustainable development’. She added: ‘The potential for successful transnational claims of this sort has implications for the possibility of how multinationals manage their businesses and their reputations.’

Ward said the project was likely to take between 12 and 18 months, with publication of a final report around mid-2001, ‘but there will be other outputs expected before that’.

The RIIA is looking for additional financial support from corporations for the study.




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