Van Ho Quoted in The Nation on Business and Human Rights Claims against Unilever

Tea planation, Kenya | Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the cover article of The Nation’s 8-15 February issue, Dr. Tara Van Ho, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, asserts that businesses operating in Kenya should have predicted that the 2007 national election would result in violence and taken appropriate measures to protect ethnic minority workers.

In ‘Blood on the Tea Leaves,’ author Maria Hengeveld details the story of ‘Anne,’ a worker at a tea plantation in Kenya. The plantation is owned by a subsidiary of London-based Unilever, a multinational purveyor of household goods. Anne, her husband, and her daughters were raped in their home on the plantation. Her husband was one of 11 plantation residents killed. Those who were tortured and killed were members of minority ethnic groups that were believed to have opposed the politician favoured by the population in the area surrounding the plantation. Anne and her co-complainants have argued that Unilever had a responsibility to ensure their safety in light of the severity of the harm posed to them from election-related violence. Dr. Van Ho concurs.

After a tort case against Unilever was dismissed by the English Court of Appeal, the Kenyan claimants wrote to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The Working Group has a mandate to receive complaints that either a state or business (and sometimes both) has failed to meet the standards set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, currently the most authoritative statement on the responsibilities of businesses and states when the former harms human rights. The Working Group can intervene to encourage businesses to abide by their responsibilities, and to correct misinterpretations or misapplications of the Guiding Principles.

In The Nation article, Dr. Van Ho indicates that Unilever’s efforts to prevent Anne and others from accessing an adequate remedy run afoul of what the Guiding Principles expect of businesses.

Dr. Van Ho, her Essex Business and Human Rights Project (EBHR) co-director Dr. Anil Yilmaz Vastardis and Lisa Kadel (then an Essex LLM student and EBHR frontrunner), have previously criticized the English Court of Appeal decision.

Dr. Van Ho also has an upcoming article in the Human Rights Quarterly that examines when a business incurs a responsibility to provide remedies.

International Law and Regional Norm Smuggling

Photo by Janko Ferlič

Dr. Marija Jovanovic, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, had a new article published in The American Journal of Comparative Law titled ‘International Law and Regional Norm Smuggling: How the EU and ASEAN Redefined the Global Regime on Human Trafficking’.

The article examines how the regional organizations in Europe and Southeast Asia have redesigned the global regime on human trafficking established by the United Nations Palermo Protocol to suit the dominant regional agendas in the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Map indicating locations of European Union and ASEAN | Source: Wikimedia Commons

In seeking to consolidate and coordinate the implementation of the global anti-trafficking action across their respective member states, these regional actors have shaped and promoted fundamentally different understanding of the phenomenon of human trafficking and the actions needed to address it.

These findings challenge general assumptions about the universality and coherence of the growing international legal framework on human trafficking and show the capacity of regional actors to redefine international treaties in line with their specific mandates, pressing concerns and dominant agendas.

Dr. Jovanovic’s article can be accessed through the publisher’s website here.

ICO Targets Companies for Seeking to Illegally Make Profit from the Current Public Health Emergency

Photo by Adomas Aleno

Dr. Alexandros Antoniou, Lecturer in Media Law, University of Essex

On 24 September and 8 October 2020, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the United Kingdom’s independent body established to uphold information rights, imposed fines on two companies for sending thousands of nuisance marketing texts and unlawful marketing emails at the height of the current pandemic.

In September 2020, Digital Growth Experts Limited (DGEL) was issued with a monetary penalty of GBP 60,000 in relation to a serious contravention of Regulations 22 and 23 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR). The PECR provide for specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. They include rules on marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes; cookies (and similar technologies); keeping communications services secure; as well as on customer privacy in relation to traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings. Under the 2003 Regulations, ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty of up to GBP 500,000 on a data controller.

The Commissioner found that between 29 February and 30 April 2020, DGEL had transmitted 16,190 direct marketing texts promoting a hand sanitising product, which was claimed to be “effective against coronavirus”. The company came to the attention of the Commissioner after several complaints were received via the GSMA’s spam reporting tool (the GSMA is an organisation that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide).

In the course of the investigation, DGEL was unable to provide sufficient evidence of valid consent (as required by PECR) for any of the messages delivered to subscribers over the relevant period. The company’s explanations for its practices and the means by which it had obtained the data used for its direct marketing were found to be “unclear and inconsistent”.

DGEL had also used data obtained via social media ads which purported to offer free samples of the product to individuals, to automatically opt them into receiving direct marketing without advising them that their data would be used for this purpose, and without giving them (at the point the data was collected) a simple way of refusing the use of their contact details for direct marketing.

In October 2020, ICO again took action against a London-based software design consultancy, Studios MG Limited (SMGL), which had sent spam emails selling face masks during the pandemic. The company was fined GBP 40,000 for having transmitted unsolicited communications by means of electronic mail for the purposes of direct marketing, contrary to Regulation 22 of PECR.

More specifically, on 30 April – in the midst of the pandemic – SMGL sent up to 9 000 unlawful marketing emails to people without their permission. SMGL did not hold any evidence of consent for the individuals it had engaged in its one-day direct marketing campaign. ICO held that SMGL’s campaign had been made possible by using “data which had been scraped from various vaguely defined sources”.

ICO’s examination also found that SMGL’s director had decided to buy face masks to sell on at a profit, despite the fact that the company bore no apparent relation to the supplying of personal protective equipment (PPE). Moreover, it was impossible in SMGL’s case to determine the total number of individuals whose privacy had been affected, as the company had deleted a database with key data evidencing the full extent of the volume of emails delivered.

During the pandemic, ICO has been investigating several companies as part of its efforts to protect people from exploitation by unlawful marketing-related data processing activities. The ICO Head of Investigations said in a statement that DGEL “played upon people’s concerns at a time of great public uncertainty, acting with a blatant disregard for the law, and all in order to feather its own pockets.” A hard line was also taken in relation to SMGL. The Head of Investigations stated that “nuisance emails are never welcome at any time, but especially when people may be feeling vulnerable or worried and their concerns heightened.”

This article first appeared on the IRIS Merlin database of the European Audiovisual Observatory and is reproduced here with permission and thanks. Read the original article here.

When Business Harms Human Rights: Affected Communities that are Dying to be Heard

Photo by Charles Forerunner

Dr. Tara Van Ho (University of Essex, School of Law), Professor Jena Martin (West Virginia University, College of Law) and Professor Karen Bravo (Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law)

When Business Harms Human Rights: Affected Communities that Are Dying to be Heard, edited by Jena Martin (West Virginia U), Karen Bravo (Indiana U) and Essex Law School’s Tara Van Ho uses reported narratives to examine how businesses harm human rights. Each of the ten chapters tell a different story, using first-hand narratives from individuals and communities.

In doing so, the book reveals common experiences despite different legal and cultural systems, with victims identifying how businesses have failed to conduct appropriate due diligence and how existing legal structures are inadequate for ensuring victims can access appropriate remedies when their human rights are harmed.

In her own chapter, Dr. Van Ho examines how a mining company upended the lives and communities surrounding the village of Cajamarca, Colombia, by planning to exploit resources without consultation and in a manner that threatened the water safety and security of an entire region.

While many books briefly feature the experiences of victims, this book is intended to place victims at the centre of their own story. In response to the reported experiences, the editors draw important conclusions and make a series of proposals for international and domestic policymakers. When Business Harms Human Rights: Affected Communities that Are Dying to be Heard is available from Anthem Press (260 pages; £80.00, $125.00).

Van Ho Quoted in Vogue Business on Forced Labour in Xinjiang, China

Photo by Diego PH

Recent reports that the government of China has been forcing members of the Muslim minority Uyghur community to labour in the supply chains of western companies have raised a series of questions for other governments and individual businesses about how to respond to such an egregious violation of international human rights law standards. 

Annachiara Biondi from Vogue Business has covered the story with a focus on the cotton supply and fashion retailers, and they have turned to Essex Law School’s Dr. Tara Van Ho for guidance on the appropriate standards to be employed.

In a September 2020 article, Dr. Van Ho helped explain the differences between the EU and US approaches to the revelations. In a January 2021 article, she considered the legitimacy and adequacy of the UK’s new controls.

As Dr. Van Ho explains in the January article, the severity of the alleged violations in Xinjiang call for a strong response to ensure that UK companies are not contributing to the violations by using forced labour in their supply chains. Measures announced by the UK government last month, Dr. Van Ho concludes, are not yet strong enough.

Climate Litigation in the United Kingdom

photo: N Chadwick

Dr Birsha Ohdedar, Lecturer in Law, University of Essex, has published a new chapter, co-written with Steven McNab (Partner, Cleantech Cadre) on Climate Litigation in the United Kingdom. The chapter is published in M. Weller & W. Kahl (eds.) Climate Change Litigation: A Handbook (CH Beck 2021).

Ohdedar and McNab examine both the history of climate litigation and emerging trends in the United Kingdom. As they point out, the Courts in the United Kingdom have kept away from the global spotlight in many ways, not producing high profile cases that have grabbed headlines like those in the Netherlands or Pakistan. However, there has been a growing suite of climate-related jurisprudence in the United Kingdom covering a breadth of different areas of law. In fact, by some measures, the United Kingdom has the third most recorded climate litigation cases in the world.

Analysing the emerging trends of climate litigation in the United Kingdom, Ohdedar and McNab identify and discuss three types of litigation:

  • public/administrative law litigation against the government’s climate targets and standards;
  • litigation stemming from a transition to a low-carbon society (that is, litigation against fossil fuel intensive projects, such as fracking and airport runways, and for low carbon projects, such as renewable energy development); and
  • criminal litigation that targets climate activists and climate protests.

The chapter provides a bird’s eye view of many cases in these three categories linking back to broader themes of climate litigation globally.

The chapter is a valuable resource for practitioners, researchers and students and complement the comparative approach of the Handbook.

A copy of the chapter is available on and

The Law of War and Peace: A Gender Analysis

Dr Emily Jones, Lectuer in Law, University of Essex recently published The Law of War and Peace: A Gender Analysis (Volume One) – out now with Zed books. The book was co-authored by Emily and her colleagues; Dr Sheri Labenski (LSE), Professor Gina Heathcote and Sara Bertotti (both SOAS). 

The book offers a cutting-edge analysis of the relationship between law, armed conflict, gender and peace. This book, which is the first of two volumes, focuses on the interplay between international law and gendered experiences of armed conflict. It provides an in-depth analysis of the key debates on collective security, unilateral force, the laws governing conflict, terrorism and international criminal law

While much of the current scholarship has centered on the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, this two-volume work seeks to move understandings beyond the framework established by WPS. It does this through providing a critical and intersectional approach to gender and conflict which is mindful of transnational feminist and queer perspectives. 

Watch out for Volume two due out later this year! 

Front-of-pack nutrition labelling in the EU: proposals for a mandatory EU-wide label

Dr Nikhil Gokani, Lecturer in Law, University of Essex.

The European Commission published its Farm-to-Fork Strategy on 20 May 2020. In this, the Commission declared that to ‘empower consumers to make informed, healthy and sustainable food choices’, the Commission will propose harmonised mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling (FoPNL) by the fourth quarter of 2022.

As part of these plans, the Commission published an inception impact assessment and published two initiative Roadmaps: “Food labelling – revision of rules on information provided to consumers” and “Facilitating healthier food choices – establishing nutrient profiles”. Feedback on these opened on 23rd December 2020 and will close on 3rd February 2021.

In this post, Dr Nikhil Gokani, whose research explores the regulation of FoPNL, which was also the topic of his PhD, briefly sets out his views on how the EU should proceed with the regulation of FoPNL. To further develop the understanding of the regulatory issues involved, and bearing in mind the Commission’s target for legislative proposals, Dr Gokani and Prof Amandine Garde (Law & Non-Communicable Diseases Unit, University of Liverpool) are organising a conference on FoPNL – to explore the national, EU and international regulatory issues – which is provisionally scheduled for September 2021.

Back-of-pack nutrition labelling (BoPNL) does not sufficiently contribute to informing consumers, promoting healthier diets or tackling the rise in overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.

Evidence is clear that consumers find BoPNL confusing. They do not perceive nor understand BoPNL well, and they are unable to use this type of labelling effectively to help them make healthier food purchasing and consumption decisions. This is particularly so for consumers of lower socioeconomic groups.

Interpretive front-of-pack nutrition labelling (FoPNL) is an evidence-based intervention to inform consumers, help them make healthier food purchasing and consumption decisions, whilst encouraging manufacturers to reformulate products to make them healthier.

Effectively presented FoPNL is better perceived relative to BoPNL. Surveys have shown high levels of use, and research on various FoPNL schemes has shown improved trolley outcomes. FoPNL has a statistically significant effect in steering consumers’ choices towards healthier products, whilst encouraging product reformulation.

Interpretive FoPNL has consistently been shown to be most effective in improving health-related understanding, reducing processing time and improving purchasing intentions, with simpler schemes generally being better understood.

The EU should introduce a mandatory, interpretive EU-wide FoPNL scheme.

EU law, as it stands, precludes Member States from adopting mandatory FoPNL at national level (Regulation No 1169/2011 on food information to consumers and Regulation No 1924/2006 on health and nutrition claims) and does not effectively promote the voluntary adoption of evidence-based FoPNL schemes.

To be most effective, FoPNL should be mandatory for all food products. Any exceptions should be limited and only permitted where there are clear evidence-based justifications. The introduction of a mandatory pan-EU FoPNL scheme in the EU would help ensure a high level of consumer protection and public health while improving the functioning of the internal market. Moreover, this would be consistent with the EU’s obligations to protect consumers and their health, and to comply with fundamental rights as mandated by the EU Treaties and the EU Charter.

FoPNL should be: developed in a transparent manner; based on effective stakeholder engagement with conflicts of interest managed; effective in improving outcomes for all population sub-groups; supported by well-resourced education campaigns; encourage product reformulation; permit the comparison of products within and between food categories; monitored and evaluated for effectiveness; and reviewed periodically.

The presentation of EU-wide FoPNL

The evidence base supports the introduction of a mandatory, interpretive pan-EU FoPNL scheme. Hence, the EU should not move forward with FoPNL option 0 (“Baseline” ie business as usual) nor FoPNL option 1 (“Nutrient-specific labels – numerical” eg NutrInform). With FoPNL option 3 (“endorsement logos” eg Keyhole), consumers tend to over-estimate the healthiness of products, and there is insufficient research on the effectiveness of this type of FoPNL. By contrast, research has shown that option 2 (colour coded eg Traffic Light Labelling) and option 4 (graded indicators eg Nutri-Score) are effective in meeting public health objectives of increasing salience, improving understanding and improving purchasing intention as well as actual purchasing decisions.

Relative to other schemes in use in the EU, Nutri-Score presents a number of advantages which favour its adoption across the EU. Firstly, Nutri-Score is widely supported by a broad range of stakeholders, including many public health organisations and consumers themselves. Secondly, Nutri-Score has been evaluated in several large-scale studies evaluating perception and comprehension in French populations. It has been shown to improve understanding and lead to better basket outcomes, particularly with consumers from more vulnerable populations. Thirdly, the scheme has been adopted by several Member States, which would facilitate its extension to other EU Member States.

The nutrient profiling model underlying EU-wide FoPNL

It is a prerequisite that the development of interpretive FoPNL is based on an evidence-based nutrient profiling model. This model should encourage consumption of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains and other health-promoting food categories and ingredients; and discourage the consumption of fat (especially trans and saturated fatty acids), sugar (especially free sugar) and salt. Smaller portion sizes, energy density, level of processing and artificiality of ingredients may also be reflected in the model. The model, and the way FoPNL displays the classification derived from the model, should permit meaningful comparisons in order to encourage healthier substitutions both within and between categories.  The model should classify food based on a scoring system which provides continuous gradations of healthiness of the food in order to encourage continuing reformulation. It should be based on uniform reference values (100g/ml)

Nutri-Score is based on a nutrient profiling model which was originally developed in the UK and was found to be largely consistent with French nutrition recommendations. A diet, which is consistent with recommendations derived from the model, was found to result in improved health markers amongst the population. There is evidence that the Nutri-Score nutrient profiling model would also be effective for diverse European populations.

However, the model would need to be altered to address certain criticisms. To this end, EFSA should be tasked with developing an objective, evidence-based model free from undue industry interference. Alternatively, noting the Commission’s failure to adopt nutrient profiling for the purposes of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1924/2006, the development of this nutrient profiling should be tasked to a scientific committee of independent experts from across the EU.

In the absence of a mandatory pan-EU FoPNL scheme, the EU should not prohibit mandatory national schemes.

The controversies surrounding the adoption of Regulation 1169/2011 and Regulation 1924/2006 have shown that reaching consensus across Member States is likely to be extremely difficult. There is a real risk that, in the absence of sufficient political will, the EU may fail to adopt a single pan-EU mandatory FoPNL scheme. It is therefore important that the Impact Assessment anticipates these difficulties and contains an additional FoPNL option exploring the implications of a partial harmonisation scheme whereby EU law would permit Member States to introduce effective mandatory national schemes, as noted in the Presidency Conclusions on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, nutrient profiles and origin labelling of 15 December 2020.

The nutrient profiling model should also be used to regulate the use of health and nutrition claims more effectively, as mandated by Regulation No 1924/2006.

The controversies surrounding the adoption of Regulation 1169/2011 and Regulation 1924/2006 have shown that reaching consensus across Member States is likely to be extremely difficult. There is a real risk that, in the absence of sufficient political will, the EU may fail to adopt a single pan-EU mandatory FoPNL scheme. It is therefore important that the Impact Assessment anticipates these difficulties and contains an additional FoPNL option exploring the implications of a partial harmonisation scheme whereby EU law would permit Member States to introduce effective mandatory national schemes, as noted in the Presidency Conclusions on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, nutrient profiles and origin labelling of 15 December 2020.

The use of health and nutrition claims is a marketing tool intended to encourage consumers to purchase certain products. As claims lead to an increase in consumption and overall energy intake, it is important that they do not mislead consumers and, in particular, that they do not mask the overall nutrition profile of food products. Under Article 4 of Regulation No 1924/2006, the Commission should have adopted an EU-wide nutrient profiling model to restrict the use of food claims on unhealthy products by 19 January 2009. The Commission should finally fulfil this obligation as a priority to ensure that businesses operate within a level playing field and consumers are finally protected from the most misleading forms of commercial food information. It would be logical for FoPNL and food claims to be based on the same underlying nutrient profiling model.

The EU should extend mandatory back-of-pack and mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling to alcohol.

It is extremely concerning that alcoholic beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol are exempt from the requirement of displaying a nutrition declaration. Even when such a declaration is provided on a voluntary basis, it can be limited to an energy-only declaration in a non-tabular format.

There is increasing evidence that there is a deficit in consumer knowledge and understanding of the nutritional content of alcoholic beverages and the consequences of their consumption. Moreover, consumers are interested in alcohol nutrition labelling across Member States. In any event, the exemption is illogical bearing in mind that EU consumer law, and the EU Alcohol Strategy of 2006 more specifically, aims to ‘provide information to consumers to make informed choices’.