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Court Denies Unocal’s Efforts to Shift Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses to its Insurers

In a victory for corporate accountability, a Los Angeles judge has denied an effort by Unocal to shift the responsibility for paying for human rights abuses to its insurance companies, finding evidence that Unocal knew that the Burmese military was likely to commit human rights abuses on its behalf and concealed this from the insurers. 

Unocal is a partner in the Yadana pipeline project in Burma, which has caused numerous human rights abuses, including widespread forced labor, due to the use of the Burmese Military for security and other services.  EarthRights International represented victims of the pipeline in the landmark lawsuit Doe v. Unocal , brought in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act .  After it agreed to compensate victims of the pipeline in a historic settlement in 2005, Unocal turned around and sued its own insurance companies for refusing to cover the settlement.

Now, the court has denied Unocal’s first effort to win part of the case, fining “evidence showing that Unocal utilized the [Burmese] military to provide securtiy for the Yadana project and that Unocal was aware that the military had committed human rights abuses,” and that Unocal failed to disclose “its security relationship” with the military.

EarthRights International believes that corporations should not be able to insure against human rights abuses.  The burdens of abuses of human rights and the environment should be borne by the parties responsible for causing and benefiting from the abuses, including multinational corporations.