Supreme Court Closes Path to Redressing Human Rights Violations

(Pittsburgh) – The United Steelworkers (USW) issued the following statement today regarding the application of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) to foreign corporations:

We are gravely disappointed at the Supreme Court’s April 25 decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, in which the Court, taking a huge step backward, held definitively that foreign corporations cannot be sued in U. S. courts for human rights abuses under the ATCA. 

The act, passed by the First Congress in 1789, has been one of the principal tools used by human rights advocates and labor unions, including the USW, to hold multinational companies accountable for their abuses around the world.

When given the opportunity in Jesner to provide a judicial forum for several thousand plaintiffs injured by terrorist acts in the Middle East over a 10 year period, the Court’s majority instead interpreted the ATCA to relieve a Jordanian bank with offices in New York City, which was alleged to have held money for terrorists and their front groups, from scrutiny in U.S. courts.

We agree with Justice Sonia Sotomayor who wrote in her dissent that the Court’s majority “absolves corporations from responsibility under [the ATCA] for conscience shocking behavior.”

We have seen courts time and again in many areas of law elevate the interests of corporations over workers, the poor, consumers, and the environment.  Americans of all walks of life must say that enough is enough and that our courts must protect us all, which includes granting jurisdiction in American courts for victims of abuses by foreign corporations.

The Court did at least keep the door open for Congress to act in making clear that foreign corporations can be held accountable in U.S. courts. Congress should act swiftly to do just that.

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