Doe v. Unocal: An Ambiguous Standard for Multinational Corporate Liability


The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) was an integral part of the Judiciary Act of 1789. In creating the judiciary, the Founding Fathers did not want to make the United States safe haven for enemies of nations. The ATCA provides a federal forum for suits involving foreign plaintiffs injured abroad by a person under U.S. jurisdiction in violation of the law of nations. Up until approximately twenty-five years ago, the ATCA remained predominantly unused in U.S. jurisprudence. In 1997, a suit was filed on behalf of Burmese villagers alleging human rights abuses. Doe v. Unocal involves claims that Unocal Corporation, a California corporation, enlisted the ruling military junta of Myanmar to provide security for a pipeline project. Egregious human rights abuses including murder, rape, torture, slavery, summary and arbitrary execution, forced relocation, and forced labor were committed upon the plaintiffs in furtherance of the joint venture. Drawing upon international law, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the validity of plaintiffs' ATCA claims against Unocal for knowledge of the human rights abuses. This study intends to clarify issues relevant to parties in future ATCA cases. By distinguishing the need for a liability standard in cases filed under the ATCA and identifying the legal entities that can contribute to that effect, U.S. federal courts can develop sensible precedent in ATCA cases.


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Thesis Completion





Bast, Carol M.


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Legal Studies


Dissertations, Academic -- Health and Public Affairs; Health and Public Affairs -- Dissertations, Academic; Human rights; International business enterprises; United States -- Alien Tort Claims Act







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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