CEOs Can Now Be Prosecuted Like War Criminals at the Hague
September 18, 2016 teleSURtv & Lorraine Chow / EcoWatch
The International Criminal Court has announced it will now hold corporate executives and governments legally responsible for environmental crimes. Meanwhile, four of the largest US chemical companies have been accused of selling billions of dollars worth of harmful isocyanate chemicals but intentionally concealing their dangers to consumers over the past several decades.
CEOs Can Now Be Prosecuted Like War Criminals at the Hague teleSURtv
(September 16, 2016) -- The Hague court made explicit references to widening its approach to include land grabbing, which has allowed private corporations, with the help of governments, to take over large areas of foreign land to exploit natural resources. It will also prosecute for environmental destruction.
"Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become an accepted way of doing business in many resource-rich yet cash-poor countries," said Gillian Caldwell, executive director at Global Witness.
"Company bosses and politicians complicit in violently seizing land, razing tropical forests or poisoning water sources could soon find themselves standing trial in the Hague alongside war criminals and dictators. The ICC's interest could help improve the lives of millions of people and protect critical ecosystems."
The violence surrounding environmental conflicts also often leaves corpses in its wake. In 2015, more than three people were murdered each week attempting to defend their lands from land grabbing, according to Global Witness. The group estimated that an area the size of Germany has been leased to international investors in developing countries since 2000.
The court's decision was sparked by a case filed by a group of Cambodians who alleged that authorities, including the government, military, police and the courts, have been complicit in land grabbing since 2002, which has led to the forced eviction of more than 300,000 people. International legal experts say the court's widened focus could potentially open up criminal prosecutions for climate change.
The ICC was set up in 2002 by governments with the intention of prosecuting individuals for serious crimes where many developing and unstable countries lack the mechanisms to carry out their own trials. Critics however have said that the ICC lacks teeth because it is pinned on the cooperation of states to bring suspects to trial.
Importantly, a number of powerful states -- many the home of powerful international corporations -- are not under the jurisdiction of the ICC. China, India, Russia, Cuba and Indonesia, have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. The US, Israel and Sudan stated that they do not intend to become of the court in the future.
(September 16, 2016) -- Four of the country's largest chemical companies have been accused of selling billions of dollars worth of harmful isocyanate chemicals but intentionally concealing their dangers to consumers and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the past several decades.
BASF Corporation, Bayer Material Science LLC, Dow Chemical Company and Huntsman International LLC have been named in a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit brought by New York law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP on behalf of the US government.
EcoWatch learned that the recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit was served on the chemical companies on Wednesday. The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in federal court in Northern California.
Kasowitz brought this action on behalf of itself and the federal government to recover more than $90 billion in damages and penalties under the FCA, which imposes penalties for concealing obligations to the government.
According to a copy of the lawsuit seen by EcoWatch, "Each of these companies is separately liable to the United States Government for billions of dollars in civil reporting penalties, which continue to accumulate by tens of thousands of dollars daily, and for billions of dollars in similarly increasing breach of contract damages."
In the suit, the law firm said that the defendants manufacture and sell isocyanate chemicals such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), polymeric MDI (PMDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI). These raw materials make up polyurethane products such as liquid coatings, paints and adhesives; flexible foam used in mattresses and cushions; rigid foam used as insulation; and elastomers used to make automotive interiors.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that exposure to isocyanate can irritate the skin and mucous membranes, cause chest tightness and difficult breathing. Isocyanates also include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and is known to cause cancer in animals.
As alleged in the complaint, the defendants, the isocyanate industry and the EPA have long known that inhalation of isocyanates, including MDI, PMDI and TDI, can cause harm to human health.
Kasowitz believes that the chemical giants obtained scientific evidence that their widely used isocyanate chemicals can cause serious health injuries in ways not known to the EPA or the public, but failed to disclose this information to the EPA, thereby breaching their obligations under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
"Between at least 1979 and 2003, each defendant obtained and developed discrete and separate items of scientific and medical information that TDI, MDI and PMDI can cause and had caused permanent respiratory injury in humans when inhaled at levels below applicable inhalation exposure limits (low-level inhalation)," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit further states that "Each defendant also knew during this time period that a very small quantity of TDI, MDI or PMDI on the skin -- as little as one drop or 50 microliters -- could cause respiratory injury in humans.
"Defendants knew that this information reasonably supported the conclusion that TDI, MDI and PMDI presented a substantial risk of injury to health, that the EPA was not adequately informed of that information, and that TSCA therefore required that they (each defendant) immediately report the substantial risk information to the EPA."
According to Andy Davenport of Kasowitz, "The defendants' cover-up implicates major human health concerns. Thankfully, the whistleblower law allows us to assist the federal government in holding these companies responsible for their actions while we alert regulators and the public to the serious undisclosed hazards of these chemicals."
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