Kiobel and the E-word: Reflections on Transnational Environmental Responsibility in an Interconnected World


Sara SeckFollow

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Transnational environmental responsibility, environmental harm, transnational resource extraction


This comment will offer reflections on Kiobel [1] as a case about transnational environmental responsibility. At heart, Kiobel is grounded in local concerns over environmental harm associated with transnational resource extraction, which, following local community resistance, led to egregious human rights violations – including death – of local environmental activists. As such, it is no different from numerous such conflicts all over the world, where host states, eager for the returns of foreign direct investment and following the mantra of sustainable development, seek to develop their own resources in accordance with host state environmental and developmental policies.[2] In so doing, governments and corporations sometimes find themselves confronted by communities who, while engaging in local resistance, share the common language of the global environmental justice movement through “manifestations of popular and indigenous environmentalism.”[3] However, the environmental concerns of local communities remain beyond the reach of international law, absent an element of global common concern, for intra-territorial environmental harms fall squarely within the sovereign jurisdiction of host states.[4] Should host states choose to listen to local community concerns and shut down corporate operations, they find themselves subject to investor-state arbitration clauses that privilege the rights of investors over the responsibilities of host states to govern in the public interest.


Blog Post, Law at the End of the Day.