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The Collective
Saturday, July 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: U.S. coal company not liable for union deaths in Colombia

A jury on Thursday rejected claims that Alabama-based Drummond coal was to blame for the killing of three union leaders in Colombia, a defeat for labor in a test of whether companies can be held responsible in U.S. courtrooms for their conduct overseas.

Jurors sided with Drummond and the head of its Colombian operations, Augusto Jimenez, in ruling against a lawsuit filed by relatives and the union of the dead men, killed by paramilitary gunmen six years ago.

The main issue, as I understand it, is that Drummond officials were accused of hiring paramilitary hitmen to take out union leaders. Sadly, the basic accusation is one that is quite possible in the Colombian context.

The Birmingham News has more on the allegations (Company not liable in slayings):

The verdict in the civil trial means the union and families of three slain Colombian labor leaders failed to convince the jury that Birmingham-based coal mine operator Drummond substantially helped right-wing death squads kill the men who worked at its South American mine.

The families and union claimed Drummond supplied the gangs with fuel, vehicles and a safe haven inside its 23,000-acre mine in the remote grasslands of northern Colombia.

Drummond argued the deaths were just an unfortunate three among thousands of others in a country with warring factions, lawless drug traffickers, roaring poverty and not enough police and soldiers to patrol vast stretches of isolated mountains, savanna and wilderness

The trial itself was a big deal in the sense that its outcome could have had consequences well outside the case itself:

The trial, which resurrected an obscure 218-year-old law that holds Americans liable for their overseas conduct, was a centerpiece for an international human rights community that increasingly is using the statute to attack the behavior of big global corporations. The United Steelworkers and the International Labor Rights Fund each supplied lawyers and thousands of hours of work to the five-year-old suit.

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Filed under: Alabama Politics, Colombia | |

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