Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do? – NYTimes.com

26 Feb

In Citizens United the Supreme Court held that corporations had rights heretofor restricted to humans. Now they are being asked to decide whether or not they have resposibilities.

The story behind the Kiobel case is compelling: The plaintiffs are members of the Ogoni people in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where Royal Dutch Shell had extensive oil operations in the 1990s through contracts with the brutal military dictatorship that held power at the time. The region is widely considered a zone of calamity, in terms of both environmental and human rights. In the suit, Royal Dutch Shell was accused of assisting the Nigerian government in torturing and, through sham trials, executing Ogoni activists who had threatened to disrupt Shell’s operations because of the devastating health and environmental effects of unregulated drilling practices. The plaintiffs are either victims of torture themselves or had relatives who were executed. Esther Kiobel, the plaintiff after whom the suit is named, is the widow of a victim.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Royal Dutch Shell and against the plaintiffs, multinational corporations — particularly in mining and other extractive industries — could draw the lesson that it is now safer to forge alliances with autocratic regimes that have poor human rights records because they will not be judged culpable in the way individuals can be. …

A decision affirming that Shell should go unpunished in the Niger Delta case would leave us with a Supreme Court that seems of two minds: in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent from Citizens United, it threatens “to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation” by treating corporations as people to let them make unlimited political contributions, even as it treats corporations as if they are not people to immunize them from prosecution for the most grievous human rights violations.

via Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do? – NYTimes.com.

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