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Corporations and Human Rights

An Analysis of ATCA Litigation against Corporations


Niels Beisinghoff

Can human rights be enforced against corporations? This work analyses different enforcement mechanisms. It examines one of the most powerful instruments: the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) litigation in the United States. The ATCA has been used as one of the chief weapons in a 21 st -century battle over corporate responsibility in the age of globalization. For instance, the ATCA has been invoked to seek compensation from German companies in respect of forced labor during the Holocaust. Further examples include claims relating to genocide against a Canadian company, forced labor claims against a US company and numerous others. The ATCA litigation often refers to the «law of nations», but do the US courts interpret this term consistently with other accepted interpretations of international law? The short answer to that question is ‘no’. However, in the absence of enforceable international law mechanisms, this lacuna needs to be filled. Domestic litigation of matters that are inherently transnational in character, as occurs in ATCA human rights litigation, represents a viable mechanism to enforce human rights.
Contents: Effect of transnational corporations (TNCs) – Examples of human rights violations by TNCs – Avenues to enforce human rights law against TNCs – History of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) – Key judicial cases in ATCA litigation against TNCs – Human rights responsibilities of TNCs in ATCA litigation – Status of international law in the US – Role of international law in ATCA litigation.