The past two decades have witnessed unprecedented attention to corporate legal liability for human rights abuses. Yet the supporting jurisprudence is relatively thin. Scholars generally agree that corporations can incur legal liability for serious violations of international human rights law. But courts find any number of ways to avoid such a result. This Article finds qualified support for an emergent norm of corporate civil liability from recent litigation in Japan. Specifically, the transnational war reparations litigation of the past three decades has yielded a consistent jurisprudence of qualified liability. Courts detail the abuses committed by Japan's largest multinational corporations, and find them illegal under applicable law. But they ultimately avoid liability by accepting one or more affirmative defenses. These cases provide legal theories that other jurisdictions may wish to consider in reviewing corporate legal liability. It also informs debate about the ongoing project of World War I reparations, and the relationship between states and corporations in remediating human rights violations.
Timothy Webster, Disaggregating Corporate Liability: Japanese Multinationals and World War II, 56 STAN. J. INT'L L. 175 (2020).