About Simon Billenness

Simon Billenness is a member of Amnesty USA's Business & Human Rights Group, an expert group of volunteers who support the organization's work on corporate accountability for human rights abuses.
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When Chevron Subpoenas an Amnesty International Activist

 

The lawyer of Ecuadorean people affected by Texaco-Chevron --who have long sought compensation for pollution between the 1970s and early 1990s-- Steven Donziger, gestures during a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito. (Photo credit: RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

The lawyer of Ecuadorean people affected by Texaco-Chevron –who have long sought compensation for pollution between the 1970s and early 1990s– Steven Donziger, gestures during a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito. (Photo credit: RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

In an unprecedented legal move, 17 U.S.-based civil society organizations – among them Amnesty International, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth – have just filed an amicus brief in federal appeals court defending their First Amendment rights from attack by Chevron.

Let me back this story up by about 18 months.

In November 2012, Chevron subpoenaed me.

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One Year After Factory Disaster, What Have We Learned?

The Rana Plaza catastrophe on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on April 24, 2013, that left 1,138 dead and more than 2,000 injured (Photo Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images).

The Rana Plaza catastrophe on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on April 24, 2013, that left 1,138 dead and more than 2,000 injured (Photo Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images).

Today is the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Bangladesh, which left more than 1,100 workers dead and many more injured.  The disaster has become the most shocking recent example of business-related human rights abuse, and the images of dead workers in the debris of the collapsed factory have become powerful symbols of the pursuit of profit at the expense of people.

The Rana Plaza building housed numerous garment factories supplying international clothing companies. Over the past year, there have been various initiatives to provide compensation to the victims, involving government, global brands, and the International Labor Organization (ILO). However, these efforts have so far proved insufficient, and survivors continue to suffer and struggle to support themselves and their families.

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Hudbay Minerals Loses Ruling Over Subsidiary’s Human Rights Violations

Angelica Choc during a press conference announcing a legal suit against Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals for the murder of her husband Adolfo Ich (pictured) in Guatemala City (Photo Credit: James Rodriguez, mimundo.org).

Angelica Choc during a press conference announcing a legal suit against Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals for the murder of her husband Adolfo Ich (pictured) in Guatemala City (Photo Credit: James Rodriguez, mimundo.org).

A legal ruling in Canada this week that featured Amnesty International Canada as an official intervenor offered a new path for victims of human rights abuses to seek redress against corporations where they are headquartered, even if the acts in question were both committed by a subsidiary of a corporation and took place in another country.

The Globe and Mail article, “After HudBay ruling, Canadian firms on notice over human rights,” points to the potential impact the ruling could have on corporate earnings and responsibilities of directors and investors.

Despite the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals claiming no responsibility for their subsidiary, Ontario Superior Court ruled on July 22nd that claims against the company’s security personnel for gang rapes and murder of an indigenous leader critical of mining practices in Guatemala can proceed to trial.

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Demanding Justice: How An Indian Court Took on a U.S. Chemical Giant – And Won

Two young girls stand outside the remains of the infamous Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Half a million people were exposed during the plant’s 1984 gas leak and 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments ranging from blindness to gynaecological disorders caused by the accident and subsequent pollution (Photo Credit: Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

Two young girls stand outside the remains of the infamous Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Half a million people were exposed during the plant’s 1984 gas leak and 25,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments ranging from blindness to gynaecological disorders caused by the accident and subsequent pollution (Photo Credit: Giles Clarke/Getty Images).

The survivors of 1984′s Bhopal gas disaster have won a significant step toward justice.

An Indian court ruled this week that Dow Chemical must explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the Bhopal disaster. Union Carbide is accused of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” for over 20,000 deaths.

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London Olympics Faces Public Meltdown For Dow Chemical Sponsorship

india bhopal

Indians protest the Bhopal disaster

A commissioner for a body monitoring the sustainability and ethics of the London 2012 Olympics has resigned over its links with Dow Chemical, the company mixed up in one of the worst corporate related human rights disasters of the 20th century.

Meredith Alexander is quitting the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. It describes itself as an independent body which “monitors and assures the sustainability of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Ms. Alexander, who is Head of Policy for the charity ActionAid, told BBC’s Newsnight why she was resigning:

“I feel I was part of a lobby which legitimized Dow’s claims that it had no responsibility for Bhopal…This is an iconic case. It’s one of the worst abuses of human rights in my generation and I just could not stand idly by.”

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Shell: Own Up and Pay Up to Clean Up the Niger Delta

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Two major oil spills at Bodo, Ogoniland, have never been cleaned up © Amnesty International

In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spotlighted the big banks for their role spreading toxic investments and contributing to economic deprivation.  Meanwhile in Nigeria, Amnesty’s new report, The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta reveals how spills of toxic crude oil from the operations of big oil companies, like Shell, have harmed people’s health and devastated their livelihoods.

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Big Oil, Poisoned Water, And Nigeria

The Niger Delta is one of the most important ecosystems in the world and is home to some 31 million people. Yet it is being poisoned.

Oil is killing the fish, polluting the water, and endangering the people who make the Niger Delta their home.

Oil companies spill more oil into the Niger Delta each year than was spilled as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

A major source of oil pollution is the practice of gas flaring, or the burning off excess gas as waste. The government of Nigeria and multinational oil companies active in the Niger Delta, including Shell, ENI, Total and Chevron, are jointly responsible for gas flaring in the region. But for half a century, the Nigerian government has demonstrated that it can’t or won’t hold oil companies accountable.

As of today, critical questions that residents have raised about the associated health and environmental risks of gas flaring have not been answered. With our new Eyes on Nigeria project’s satellite imaging and mapping technology, we aim to not only validate residents’ concerns, but to expose serious human rights abuses.

Amnesty teams and partners have collected more than 10 years worth of evidence that shows gas flaring is happening dangerously close to the waters where people drink, bathe, fish and wash their clothes.

When Amnesty representatives meet with the Nigerian government and oil executives this summer, we’ll share these facts and push for the answers that have been delayed for so long. Above all, we’ll call on officials to set a solid deadline for ending gas flaring once and for all.

Cleaning up the Niger Delta and stopping gas flaring is a small, but necessary step toward ensuring that basic human rights to health, food, clean water and livelihood in the Niger Delta are protected.

Make sure companies won’t be able to  dodge accountability anymore.Sign our petition calling on oil companies to end gas flaring.