Hi Reddit,

We had so many amazing folks join us last time around and as promised, we wanted to come back and share some updates with the community!


Throughout my long career, I have been at the forefront of every major effort to hold corporations accountable for failing to comply with international law or their own professed standards in their codes of conduct in their treatment of workers or communities in their far flung supply chains.

Rather than assume multinationals operate in good faith, I shifted my focus entirely, and for the last 25 years, have specialized in international human rights litigation.

The prospect of getting a legal judgement along with the elevated public profile of a major legal case (thank you, Reddit!) gives IRAdvocates a concrete tool to force bad actors in the global economy to improve their practices.

If you’d like to learn more, visit us at: http://www.internationalrightsadvocates.org/

Ask me anything about corporate accountability for human rights violations in the global e conomy.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/FyPbzCg

Proof: Here's my proof!


Comments: 362 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

sunkencorony276 karma

Are you at all worried about receiving a similar treatment to what happened to Steven Donziger? Is there anything you can do to protect against it?

terryatIRAdvocates633 karma

Thanks for remembering Steven u/sunkencorony! He is a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, I too have been sued for defamation and RICO by Drummond Coal, a company I have sued. Increasingly, corporations are going after human rights lawyers to cause them to spend enormous amount of time and resources defending against frivolous cases. In my case, I countersued Drummond and we hope to set an example for others on how to deal with this despicable practice by these companies.

Howiedoin67248 karma

Hi, are there any countries that stand out as leading models with respecting human / labour rights?

Also, are corporations now at a point where they are beholden to no country?

terryatIRAdvocates378 karma

Hi u/Howiedoin67, I think generally, the EU is doing the best job possible in terms of regulating and protecting Human Rights and Labour Right in the EU. The problem is that they move SO slowly. I, and others, have been working with various EU members on due diligence legislation for over 5 years, and they are probably about 5 years away from actually enacting an effective law. The tragedy is that almost no one disagrees with the need for and the substance of the law but the bureaucratic process to pass any law in the EU is just incredible.

Yes, corporations have positioned themselves well in the global economy that they are able to move and cut and run to avoid responsibility at will. Also, the really powerful ones like Apple, Tesla, and Daimler for example have China, U.S. and the EU needing their services and products so they aren't worried much about crackdown regulations.

jrodshibuya171 karma

Do you believe that an international treaty on business & human rights would be helpful?

terryatIRAdvocates241 karma

Yes, if it actually had enforcement mechanisms. There are currently many international instruments that purport to impose human rights standards on companies operating in the global economy, but these are VOLUNTARY and have no enforcement mechanisms. The best example is the UN Global Compact. It has a terrific articulation of standards but there is absolutely NO CONSEQUENCES when a company, which likely cites to the compact to show what a good citizen it is, violates the standard routinely.

methnbeer43 karma

What's even the point then? To make the govts look like they're trying?

terryatIRAdvocates91 karma

I think there is only one benefit from having something like the Global Compact which is an agreed set of standards for what the companies should be doing. But, I'm agreeing wholeheartedly that without an enforcement mechanism such programs are otherwise useless. This is a fairly easy issue to organize advocacy around -- putting enforcement mechanisms in these global agreements.

InsultThrowaway219 karma

The best example is the UN Global Compact. It has a terrific articulation of standards but there is absolutely NO CONSEQUENCES when a company ... violates the standard routinely.

I think you'd have a lot more luck creating a trademarked logo, and granting its use to any company that adheres to the UN Global Compact (and prohibiting its use by any company that doesn't).

I know it'd make things a lot easier for me if I could simply look for products sporting a "UN Global Compliant" logo or whatever.

terryatIRAdvocates8 karma

Great suggestion. Thanks

bearlegion152 karma

Are you a member of r/fucknestle?

On a scale of 1-Evil how evil are they?

terryatIRAdvocates362 karma

Thanks for that u/bearlegion - I am now! And, #boycottNestlé is trending on social media. On a scale of 1-Evil, I would say Evil2. It's hard to imagine a company that has for so long hurt so many people. Maybe Chevron, but all oil companies are inherently evil. Nestlé is making "happy" products and really could have done it differently if they wanted to. Check out our case against them here.

MiddleC5142 karma

Is there any way to prevent companies (such as Johnson & Johnson) from discharging lawsuit damages through bankruptcy?

terryatIRAdvocates329 karma

Unfortunately, there is a bankruptcy maneuver called the "Texas Two-step" that allows companies to spin off a division that is laden with liability and debt and declare bankruptcy for just that division. This is the move that J&J just executed. There are proposals in Congress to prevent this abuse but as you probably know much of Congress is devoted to protecting companies and allowing them to abuse consumers and workers.

Desperate_Green143100 karma

First of all thanks for your work to make the world a little better!

How do you involve people from the communities that these human rights abuses affect in the litigation? How often do you hire people from these communities as advisors/consultants/assistants/etc?

terryatIRAdvocates82 karma

Hi u/Desperate_Green143, the most important way we interact with the communities impacted by events that lead to litigation is that the communities themselves almost always reach out to us to see if we can help. Because of this, we begin a case with solid community support and a commitment to work with us to solve the problem. We rely almost entirely on community members for assistance in gathering facts and monitoring the situation. In most cases, these are volunteers who have an interest in our project succeeding. If there is an excessive amount of work to do on the project, then we do identify a person in the community to complete the work as a consultant. You can learn more about our process here: https://www.internationalrightsadvocates.org/about-us

chinchila591 karma

What has the company Mars done that has violated human rights?

terryatIRAdvocates283 karma

Thanks for the question u/chinchila5! Among other things, Mars is one of the major corporations that has been profiting from child slavery in Cocoa harvesting in Côte D'Ivoire for decades. This is why we sued them last year for complicity in a child trafficking and slavery conspiracy. You can read about it: https://www.internationalrightsadvocates.org/cases/cocoa

the_tza83 karma

I’m going to assume your research into Tesla was extensive, so with that in mind- How do you feel about Elon Musk acquiring Twitter?

terryatIRAdvocates324 karma

Elon Musk has demonstrated in the context of our lawsuit against Tesla for using cobalt from the DRC mined by children that he has no concerns whatsoever for the rules, the laws, or the people involved when he does whatever he can get away with to make more money. I think his lawlessness and ethical bankruptcy are dangerous in any business setting.

bkuri80 karma

Hi Terry! Thanks for doing the AMA.

What do you think about organizations such as Avaaz and SumOfUs buying company shares with donations with the goal of becoming board members and holding said companies accountable from the inside?

Do you know if that's actually making a difference in the grand scheme of things?

terryatIRAdvocates94 karma

Of course u/bkuri, glad to be here. I think it's too early to tell but it seems like a great idea. We have been involved in various shareholder resolutions across the years but did not have a significant holding in any company for them to take us seriously. I like to see new, creative approaches tried out and I'm sure rooting for this one.

bbqrulz77 karma

Should we be naming the ceo in public media instead of the company? I’ve read elsewhere ceos don’t like to be personally linked to the corrupt behaviour of the company they run.

terryatIRAdvocates97 karma

Great point u/bbqrulz! Sure, we actually do that on social media as often as we can. In some cases, we have named the CEO's and other executives as defendants. Take a look at a good example of us doing this in the past.

bbqrulz29 karma

What a nightmare. I don’t know how you have the staying power to see that through I feel weary just reading the summary of what you had to do so far and how long it’s taken. How do you keep faith in a system like this?

terryatIRAdvocates54 karma

Well u/bbqrulz, sometimes it is frustrating to be operating within a system that is so heavily stacked against us - the people. But, if you're committed to human rights, you have to try to do something. Our victories are often slow in coming, but I do think that we are also achieving a deterrent effect. Some companies are taking steps to avoid human rights violations to also avoid the possibility of a long, costly, legal battle.

MiddleC570 karma

How much time do you typically spend doing research on company practices before filing a complaint? Do you ever hire people to work undercover to collect information?

terryatIRAdvocates104 karma

Hi u/middleC5! Sometimes we research a company for years before we file a lawsuit or someone else has done a long term research project on a company or industry. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of information documenting human rights abuses by companies. The issue for us is prioritizing which of these issues can we try to address with litigation or another intervention.

And yes, we often use undercover researchers to get information on the ground where the events are occurring.

methnbeer56 karma

Do you ever wonder/question whether the courts you practice in are as corrupt as all those you bring in front of them?

terryatIRAdvocates114 karma

I do not think the courts in the U.S. are "corrupt" in the traditional sense. Instead, as you probably witnessed in the recent Supreme Court confirmation battles, conservative judges are well-tested to ensure that they will protect the capitalist system and free markets. That is what we're up against -- judges who are extremely sympathetic to multinational companies that are just trying to profit.

gigmortus45 karma

Well I have no questions concerning law…so what did you have for breakfast?

terryatIRAdvocates121 karma

Oatmeal and fruit...because I need to stay healthy to fight multinational marauders well into old age!

claire039 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA and thank for all you do. In the past we relied on our government (the only thing big enough to keep them in check) to protect us from these huge corporations and their profit at any cost sociopathy, but now they ARE our government essentially. What can we even do at this point?

terryatIRAdvocates50 karma

Thanks for the question u/claire0. Well, at the most basic level, as a consumer you can use your voice and the power of your pocketbook to make sure that the companies know you will not buy products implicated in human rights violations. The more people the companies hear from, the more likely it is that their profit motive will motivate them to make changes. Here is a good example of how this has worked in the past: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2012/jul/06/activism-nike

I agree with you that politics has become completely corrupted by corporate money. However, let's not let our members of Congress off the hook. I think it's very important to let them know specific issues you demand they address.

Gunner_McNewb38 karma

Have you ever had situations where your organization has had to deal with attempted infiltration/spying situations from the companies you're going up against?

terryatIRAdvocates67 karma

Yes, all of the time u/Gunner_McNewb! Two examples are...we sued Dyncorp for unlawful fumigations under Plan Colombia that impacted the crops of farmers in Ecuador. People told me to expect trouble because Dyncorp is alleged to be a CIA front. Sure enough, after we sued them, our offices and phones were completely bugged and we had to spend a lot of money to restore security. A second example is that we are frequently tailed in Colombia by private security forces that are working for Drummond Coal, a company we have sued for human rights violations in Colombia (check it out here).

MrMadrona32 karma

Is 'fair trade' just a label a company can slap on a product?

terryatIRAdvocates59 karma

Sure u/MrMadrona. Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance in my experience are complicit in misleading the public about the practices of the companies they are "certifying". They are creating the false impression that their label means the product is child labor free or meets other production criteria. These labels DO NOT certify ANYTHING other than a premium was paid for the product that may or may not reach the producer.

gingerboi900031 karma

Have you ever had to worry about your personal safety when working on cases like the ones you've bravely filed?

Given the standards of a company like Nestle, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they had tried to make you 'disappear'.

terryatIRAdvocates61 karma

Thanks u/gingerboi9000 for the question. I have been very fortunate not to have felt physically threatened but my in-country colleagues in Colombia, DRC, Mali, Indonesia, and Côte D'Ivoire, have faced serious threats and attempts on their lives. Fortunately, we have not lost anyone and take swift action to relocate our colleagues to a safe location when this occurs.

cleverpostsnoupvotes31 karma

Can you shed some light on what Tesla is doing?

terryatIRAdvocates67 karma

Sure u/cleverpostsnoupvotes. Among other things, Tesla is one of the major actors in cobalt mining in the DRC that relies upon child labor. We sued them for this.

Edser11 karma

Any suits about the segregation claims at their plants your team is working on against Tesla, or just currently focusing on the cobalt mines?

terryatIRAdvocates20 karma

Azsunyx28 karma

Is there anything ongoing with the Amazon allegations of poor working conditions?

terryatIRAdvocates49 karma

Great question u/Azsunyx . There are several lawsuits pending around the country, and as you probably know a successful union organizing drive in Staten Island, NY. I feel pretty sure that the party is over for Amazon. They have gotten so big and so visible, and people are disgusted with how rich Bezos is at the expense of his workers that they are demanding accountability now.

shutchomouf27 karma

What sorts of experiences helpful/hurtful did you have with main stream media in these cases? Along the same lines, social media?

terryatIRAdvocates65 karma

Thanks u/shutchomouf for the question. The main problem with the mainstream media is that, with some notable exceptions, they are aligned with big business. This is sometimes due to the fact that major consumer brands like Mars, Hershey, or Nestlé, are major advertisers. The major media companies are also struggling financially and for the most part do not perform major investigations. They want the stories tied up with a bow and presented to them. Individual reporters though have done great work on some of the issues we are involved in (like this one).

Shambling26 karma

London UK resident: aside boycotting and training to also to be a HR lawyer - what's the most impactful thing a hand to mouth consumer can do?

terryatIRAdvocates20 karma

Those are great examples! There are a few other things you can do u/Shambling. Take a look at the comment here.

abhishyam200718 karma

Do you have any professional presence or ties in India? Or any history of work in India or regarding India in any way?

terryatIRAdvocates41 karma

Yes, in India I began my work on preventing child slavery. I had the honor of working with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi in setting up a program called Rugmark that is now GoodWeave. This program successfully created a monitoring and certification system for the hand-knotted carpet industry. The program has made major progress in preventing forced child labor in this industry.

Pryne17 karma

What kind of cell phone do you use?

terryatIRAdvocates51 karma

Hi u/Pryne, I confess I have an Apple iPhone that I purchased before I got involved in the Cobalt litigation in the DRC. Today, I don't know what I would buy because virtually all of the cell phones have the same problems as Apple, they are using Cobalt from the DRC that could have been mined by children working in hazardous conditions.

My advice if you must buy a cell phone is to contact the company first and ask them to convince you that their products do not involve child labor or other human rights violations. They will no doubt mislead you and refer you to written policies that are meaningless. But, I think it's important for these companies to hear from lots of people expressing concern for these issues.

It is unfortunate that we as consumers are put in this position that to function in the modern world we must use products that violate human rights in their production. This is because the legal system allows it, and the companies take full advantage and do only the bare minimum of what they can get away with in the global economy leaving us with no ethical choices.

No-Athlete211316 karma

In a comment you mentioned that cell phone companies tend to be using Lithium from child work. What other industries tend to violate human rights as a whole and not just some companies in them? Are there any exceptions where companies act under the human rights when most of the industry violates them?

Edit: I wanted to ask this question: How much worse is Tesla compared to other automakers in regards to human rights?

terryatIRAdvocates38 karma

I am afraid that virtually every industry in the global economy is engaged in massive human rights violations. Once companies were free to search the world for hospitable locations, meaning places that would ignore human rights and environmental violations, this created a race to the bottom. The reason is, they fine a government that will allow them to do whatever they want often in exchange for corrupt payments. Sometimes there is the guise of job creation, but it is usually jobs that are harmful to people and do not allow a living wage. I think the worst industries are the extractive sectors like petroleum and mining, and traditional low-wage jobs like garment manufacturing.

kur_aso9 karma

Is there any large data to sift through or Machine learning that can support cases you are pursuing or planning to pursue?

terryatIRAdvocates14 karma

Great question u/kur_aso. We hope to soon obtain discovery from both the chocolate industry and the tech sector in the cases we have filed. We expect to receive hundreds of thousands of pages of document relating to supply chain data and such technology would be very useful at that point.

21pilotsAttheDisco9 karma

Wow. I'm a nurse but a hold you to such a high regard. Thank you.

Do these corporations lawsuits get directed into some sort of funding to be able to rebuild the communities and economies it has directly impacted? Things that come to my mind are boosting local businesses, Healthcare, housing, education... my hope is that is. After all the damages and changes in laws that they also get sued out the butts so that the communities impacted and civilians subjected to abuse are being provided culturally informed structure and support to build into a strong knit community. I can't imagine how much trauma these people have endure.

Also, what is the worst loophole/law/practice the a corperation has abused in your opinion?


terryatIRAdvocates23 karma

Thanks for the great question u/21pilotsAttheDisco. In all of our cases we start out with the goal of seeking community restoration following the devastation caused by a multinational corporation. I have to add as a prerequisite that I don't think I've ever seen a community in the developing world that was helped by the presence of multinational activity. Whether it is cocoa harvesting in Côte D'Ivoire or cobalt mining in the DRC, the communities remain poor while this major local resource is extracted by wealthy multinational companies which are modern colonial exploiters that take the money and run. This says a lot about the local governments that allow this to happen to their people. These politicians are well paid by the companies to look the other way. We hope that with our legal efforts we can negotiate for solutions that repair the damage done and make the communities better and stronger with a fair share of the resources that should have been theirs in the first place.

It's hard to say what is the worst corporate crime I have witnessed. I'm going to go with the major chocolate companies promising in 2001 to avoid regulation that they were going to voluntarily end their reliance on enslaved children to harvest their cocoa and 21 years later failing to do so. This is particularly egregious because the companies admitted in 2001 that there were child slaves and then using tactics of delay have continued the practice. So, corporate decison-making has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to be enslaved in the name of corporate profits. Take a look here for more info.

coarkie6 karma

Are there any concerns within the world of advocacy about the role of foreign governments or even global development agencies (like the world bank) that are complicit in promoting corporate malfeasance? It seems like there is plenty of blame to go around beyond the private sphere. Also, do you think there is valid concern about the political self-determination side of human rights? or is this often a thing governments say to neglect their responsibilities?


terryatIRAdvocates15 karma

Great question u/coarkie. In my experience global development agencies waste billions of dollars by funding corrupt governments that fail to protect their citizens from corporate marauders. And yes, this notion of political self determination is a joke when most victims of the global economy's worst excesses are living in poverty, illiterate, can't vote, and have no or little rights.

Centralredditfan3 karma

When are you going after GM and other automakers?

terryatIRAdvocates8 karma

We are researching GM and the other big automakers for their role, like Tesla's, in supporting Cobalt mining in the DRC that kills and maims children.

corran1322 karma

Hello, thank you so much for doing this AMA!

Reading some of your other responses, one thing you keep mentioning is enforcement mechanisms on international laws and for human rights, and I would agree this is a rather important element.

My concern is for the practicality of actually creating one, largely because international law exists largely by the consent of all involved states, and those states seem to be able to withdraw support if it no longer suits their interests. Combine this with corporations that have the economic power dwarfing some nations, and you seem to have a system where any reasonable enforcement is either possible to circumvent, or requires some sort of extranational authority.

I guess my question is, in an ideal world, what sort of enforcement mechanisms would you like to see in place?

(sorry, long, weird question)

terryatIRAdvocates7 karma

Yes u/corran132 you are absolutely right, that the challenge is actually getting an enforcement mechanism that is legally binding. Each time this is considered internationally, the major corporate powers combine with the governments in their pockets and prevent meaningful enforcement provisions. There is no question that if we have the political power, we could design a very workable enforcement system. There are good models for this, that benefit corporations so they agree to them. For example, the WTO has great enforcement mechanisms that allow corporations or countries to protect their economic interests. In addition, the International Criminal Court, has a very fair and effective mechanism for enforcing international norms against individuals. We could design similar systems that would allow those harmed by human rights violations committed by private actors to seek justice in an international tribunal. For now, I think we are left with trying to encourage individual countries or blocks of countries like the EU to enact enforcement mechanisms within their own jurisdictions.