The history of International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates) dates back to the late 1980’s when the organization operated as the litigation department of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). Terry Collingsworth, the Executive Director of IRAdvocates, was formerly General Counsel and later Executive Director of ILRF. In 2007, Mr. Collingsworth and the ILRF legal team separated from the ILRF to form a separate entity focused on litigation against US corporations for human rights violations committed abroad, principally under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
Before leaving the ILRF, Mr. Collingsworth was part of the team that initiated the first case under the ATS against a corporation, John Roe II et al v. Unocal Corporation et al, seeking to hold Unocal liable for human rights violations committed during the construction of its gas pipeline in Burma. This launched the modern era of using human rights law to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations in the global economy.
The decision to use the ATS against corporations as a tool to fight impunity occurred in a context in which persuasion, voluntary codes of conduct, and public shaming had failed to stop many multinational companies from violating human rights around the world. From the very beginning, the companies that IRAdvocates brought suit against, including Unocal, Coca-Cola, and ExxonMobil, acted in swift concert to shut down the use of the ATS as an instrument of corporate accountability. They hired large law firms to protract these cases, making them difficult and expensive to litigate. Despite these challenges, IRAdvocates continues to fight for the rights of those victimized by multinational corporations, engaging in ground-breaking litigation and political advocacy and legal capacity building.
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