Both Ford Motor and the IBM Corp were involve din a 12-year-old lawsuit that allegedly implicated the US companies in South Africa’s human rights abuses of the apartheid-era.
Now, a Manhattan federal judge has decided to stop the advancement of the sensitive lawsuit – not because she considered the two companies to be innocent of the human rights abuses encouragements, but because he reluctantly concluded the case has no connection with US courts.
According to US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the South Africans that brought the trial to US courts failed to show the same “relevant conduct” by Ford and IBM in the US to justify a trial there.
“That these plaintiffs are left without relief in an American court is regrettable,” Scheindlin wrote. “But I am bound to follow [legal precedent], no matter what my personal view of the law may be.”
“It has been 12 years. We’re really disappointed, devastated by the decision,” said Diane Sammons, a partner at Nagel Rice in Roseland, New Jersey, who represents some plaintiffs. “The end result of the ruling is that corporations can act abroad with impunity, even if they’re totally controlling the activities of their foreign subsidiaries,” she added. “I don’t think the Supreme Court’s decision was that narrowly defined.”
According to the plaintiffs, Ford, IBM and other foreign companies in the 1970s and early 1990s supported South Africa’s former apartheid government in conducting abusive measures against the black population, including killings and torture.