NFTC and USA*Engage Urge Court to Reconsider Alien Tort Cases

Wednesday, 30 April 2003

"U.S. companies should not be held legally accountable for the behavior of foreign governments over which they have no control. To do so is clearly an abuse of the American legal system and discourages U.S. foreign direct investment in developing countries," said Bill Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council and Co-Chairman of USA*Engage. "Unfortunately, the Alien Tort Provision is being misused in a growing number of cases against U.S. corporations that do business around the world. This is becoming a major problem not only to U.S. companies, but to the U.S. judicial system itself."

The Amicus Brief was filed collaboratively on behalf of the National Foreign Trade Council, USA*Engage, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Council for International Business, The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the Organization for International Investment in the cases John Doe I v. Unocal Corporation and John Roe III v. Unocal Corporation. In the brief the organizations state:

" "Amici and their members are gravely concerned about the increasing number of massive tort claims under the ATP. As in this case, global companies find themselves entangled in litigation brought by non-U.S. plaintiffs alleging wrongs committed outside the United States, not by the companies, but by sovereigns or quasi-sovereign entities over which the companies have no control. This proliferation of claims results from a fundamental misinterpretation of the ATP itself. The ATP does not provide the legal basis for such suits. It is merely a grant of federal court jurisdiction, but creates no cause of action. Ignoring this critical distinction, courts are erecting ever more elaborate structures of ATP jurisprudence on a non-existent legal foundation."

The brief asks the Court of Appeals to decide that that the law does not create a legal remedy for alleged breaches of international law, but instead only permits such a case to be brought in a U.S. federal court if Congress has otherwise provided a right to sue.

For almost two centuries, this Alien Tort Provision lay relatively dormant. Recently, however, NGO and plaintiff lawyers have begun to use the ATP to seek redress for international human and labor rights issues in U.S. courts. This use of the ATP is harmful to U.S. foreign policy, and to U.S. economic interests. As the groups state in their brief:

" "[T]he private parties and lawyers who champion ATP suits have no obligation or incentive to weigh the costs to U.S. foreign policy resulting from these cases, and they are unaccountable for any foreign policy consequences that may emerge from their litigation."
" "In the end, the ATP has the perverse effect of deterring international investment by the very companies most likely to adhere to high and responsible standards of conduct in their operations."

Access the brief at:

The National Foreign Trade Council is a leading business organization advocating an open, rules-based global trading system. Founded in 1914 by a broad-based group of American companies, the NFTC now serves 350 member companies through its offices in Washington and New York.

USA*ENGAGE is a coalition of over 670 small and large businesses, agriculture groups and trade associations working to seek alternatives to the proliferation of unilateral U.S. foreign policy sanctions and to promote the benefits of U.S. engagement abroad. For more information on USA*ENGAGE and the harmful effects of unilateral trade sanctions, visit the USA*ENGAGE web site at