Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Katherine Redford was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Katie introduced a simple and powerful idea into the human rights movement: that corporations can be brought to court for their role in overseas abuse. While American and European courts have customarily declined to hear cases where abuses have occurred outside their jurisdiction, Katie and her team at Earthrights International (ERI) are breaking their reluctance by uncovering legal tools and strategies that overcome the barrier of jurisdiction. With a realistic chance of legal recourse, victims and local human rights organizations can become more equal partners to their international counterparts. Katie’s work links concrete action in western courts to programs that develop human rights and environment groups in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.Earthrights’ work is having a transformative effect on the way citizens hold companies accountable. While successful civil cases bring damages payable to victims, they also fuel shareholder pressure, bringing the reality of the courtroom to bear on the boardroom. Progress in the courts then forces other business partners to steer clear of irresponsible projects. When Earthrights successfully won compensation for victims of abuse related to a Unocal project in Burma, the corporation attempted to recover the damages from its insurer. The insurer did not pay, but instead reviewed its policies to ensure that it would not be liable to cover damages for murder, rape, and torture. Then banks began reviewing their liability for funding the projects. Thus, liability for abuse becomes an important business issue, not merely the preoccupation of a few activists.