SW Legal studies in Business

American Company Could Be Liable Under Alien Tort Claims Act for Forced Labor
Description A U.S. oil company participated in the construction of a project in Burma. The project was done in partnership with the military government. Villagers claim to have been subjected to forced labor, rape and murder. Appeals court held that sufficient evidence had been presented that would allow a suit to proceed.
Topic International Law
Key Words Human Rights Violations; Alien Tort Claims Act; RICO
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Unocal, a California-based oil company, bought a 28 percent stake in an oil project in Burma (Myanmar) from Total, a French oil company. Burma is ruled by a repressive military government. When Unocal was building a gas pipeline, the military agreed to protect the pipeline and, according to the complaint, was paid by Unocal. Villagers in Burma allege that the military forced them to work on the project in menial tasks. The complaint also alleges that the military subjected villagers to murder, rape, and torture, events of which Unocal was aware. Various villagers and rights groups sued Unocal under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The district court dismissed the suit. Plaintiffs appealed.

Reversed. To bring an action under the ATCA, an alien plaintiff must allege a tort committed in violation of the law of nations. A genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether forced labor was used by the Myanmar government in connection with the project, a violation of international legal norms, "forced labor is a modern variant of slavery." Similarly, "Unocal may be liable under the ATCA for aiding and abetting the Myanmar Military in subjecting plaintiffs to murder and rape, but Unocal is not similarly liable for torture." RICO does not apply in this case because there is a lack of extraterritorial subject matter jurisdiction.

Citation John Doe I v. Unocal Corp., --- F.3d --- (2002 WL 31063976, 9th Cir., 2002)

Back to International Law Listings

©1997-2002  SW Legal Studies in Business. All Rights Reserved.