In this episode of a Question of Law, our guest, Richard Meeran, a partner at Leigh Day, will discuss how he has pioneered the development of parent corporate liability and access to judicial remedies in the UK.
Through three examples, Richard will describe the harm that multinational corporations can inflict on developing countries’ local communities. He will explain that Cape PLC’s employees (5:24) suffered and died of asbestos-related diseases, that Thor Chemicals’ workers were poisoned by mercury (7:43), whereas Anglo American South Africa has allegedly poisoned children and local communities with lead.
He will then explain that such human rights abuses are permissible because hosting countries are so dependent on investments and jobs that they willfully allow multinationals to operate with impunity (12:02), at times with state officials’ complicity (13.09). Such an environment greatly hinders victims’ chances of accessing justice and remedies in their local courts (18:20).
Influential International initiatives have been adopted (20:13) to prevent and remedy corporate abuses, but their voluntary nature has limited their impact (24:34).
Richard will then explain that he has developed UK multinational parent company liability using tort law. He convinced British courts that a duty of care could be assigned to parent companies domiciled in the UK for their subsidiaries’ abuses committed abroad (27:29). This novel approach has the advantages of providing jurisdiction to British courts and circumventing the corporate veil issue (28:29). The second significant obstacle was the principle of Forum non-conveniens, which he managed to overcome with two landmark cases (30:42) by demonstrating that substantial justice could not be obtained in local courts. The legal principle of the duty of care owed by the parent company was cemented in case-law in 2012 (34.22) and confirmed in 2019 (35.15). But liability still depends on the nature of the parent company control over its subsidiary, making disclosure of documents a critical element (37.03).
He will then look at the evolution of this area of law in other jurisdictions (38.19) and the lingering hurdles some still face (38.37), to conclude that the inconsistency and incertitude of the process calls for an internationally binding treaty (41:00) which should ascertain the duty of care and facilitate victims access to justice (43.19).
More information about Richard’s work can be found on:
Landmark cases won in court:
Connelly v RTZ Corporation Plc  3 WLR 373
Lubbe & Others v Cape Plc 2000 1 WLR 1545
Tabra & Others v Monterrico Metals Plc  EWHC 2475;  EWHC 3228
Other case settled:
Ngcobo v Thor Chemicals Holdings Ltd & Desmond Cowley
Lead poisoning class action against Anglo American South Africa Limited