Thailand: ICJ works with judges and prosecutors to consider means to improve access to justice for extraterritorial corporate human rights harms

“Laws, policies and practices in Thailand must be reviewed and amended in order to remove obstacles to holding Thai companies accountable for wrongdoing outside the country’s borders and ensure their alignment with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law”, justice sector officials concluded at a workshop hosted by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Thailand’s Ministry of Justice on 10 and 11 September 2022.

More than 20 participants also called for the establishment of a monitoring agency and effective laws regulating human rights impacts of businesses involved in transnational development and investment.

It was the first time that justice sector officials have addressed this issue in a formal setting, although ‘cross border investment and multi-national enterprises’ was already embedded as part of Thailand’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights since 2019.

The participants included 23 public prosecutors, judges, justice officers of the Ministry of Justice, and members of the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).

The Workshop recalled the obligations of Thailand to protect the human rights of persons not only within its territory, but also extraterritorially, and how such an obligation extends to activities of Thai business entities. This includes Thailand’s duty to take necessary steps to address challenges and barriers in accessing justice and to remove substantive, procedural and practical barriers to remedies.

Issues of priority concern that identified by the participants included limitations on liability owing to the status of companies as legal persons that impede access to justice; the legal nature of corporations as distinct juridical entities; the evidentiary challenge of access to corporate documentation; and jurisdictional challenges in the home State.

Additionally, participants pointed out that limitations of justice sector actors and other officials may prevent affected individuals from accessing justice, including due to their lack of understanding, training, and willingness to litigate cross-border litigation, or their limited power and expertise to handle the case.

Speakers in the workshop discussed cases where national courts – in both common law and civil law jurisdictions – identify the appropriate circumstances in which they may set aside parent companies’ limited liability and hold them accountable for damage caused by their subsidiaries abroad. These cases include Lungowe v Vedanta and Okpabi v Shell in the UK; Araya v Nevsun in Canada; and Friends of the Earth v Shell in the Netherlands.

Participants considered challenges and obstacles to the adjudication of cases involving allegations of human rights abuses committed by Thai transnational enterprises submitted to the NHRCT and/or Thai courts. For example, a class action lawsuit was brought by Cambodian villagers who were allegedly forcibly evicted from their homes, against a Thai sugarcane company. The suit alleges rights abuses based on Thai tort laws committed by its alleged subsidiary in Cambodia to make way for plantations. An administrative lawsuit was also brought by a group of Thai villagers residing in the Mekong basin against several Thai agencies regarding the construction of the Xayaburi Dam in Lao PDR that would allegedly have negative impacts on the ecological system of the Mekong River and transboundary environmental destruction to communities in Thailand.


Thai companies are major investors in neighbouring countries – particularly in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Human rights abuses involving Thai companies in these countries have been documented by human rights organizations. Misconduct by such companies includes forced displacement from concession areas, unfair compensation to locals for their loss of land and inappropriate resettlement packages, lack of effective remedy for adverse environmental impacts, lack of meaningful participation in decision making processes, lack of access to information and ineffective environmental impact assessment processes.

When victims are denied access to justice and remedy in a host country where a subsidiary company is based, courts in the home country of the parent company, including Thailand, may be an alternative forum where claims for remedy or reparation may be brought. However, Thailand still has no specific law to regulate the liabilities of Thai corporations operating abroad.

The Thai Cabinet adopted the First National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (2019-2022), which sets out plans to be followed by public and private stakeholders  to ensure that businesses respect human rights. ‘Cross border investment and multi-national enterprises’ was identified as one of four key priority issues in Thailand’s NAP.

The NAP states that “concrete laws or policies should be enacted as well as mechanisms to detect human rights abuses outside the territory should be established in order to provide protection, remedy and cross-border responsibility.” It also requires “clear guidelines to control businesses and corporations in foreign countries.”

Subject to the draft second NAP (2023-2027), relevant justice sector agencies must “study and propose amendments to the laws or other measures to ensure access to justice and effective civil, criminal and administrative remedies for the local and overseas communities who are affected by the operations of the companies or Thai state-owned enterprises.”

Speakers at the Workshop included:

  • Carlos Lopez, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ
  • Pichamon Yeophantong, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
  • Seree Nonthasoot, member, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Elles ten Vergert, Lawyers, Prakken d’Oliveira
  • Ian Seiderman, Legal and Policy Director, ICJ
  • James Yap, President of Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights
  • Mikiko Otani, ICJ’s Commissioner/ member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, Director of International Human Rights Division, Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice
  • Richard Meeran, Partner, Head of International Department, Leigh Day
  • Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand
  • Rattanamanee Polkla, ETO Watch Coalition

Further reading

Thailand: Barriers persist in access to justice for victims of human rights abuses involving Thai transnational corporations abroad – ICJ report


Sanhawan Srisod, Associate International Legal Adviser, ICJ Asia Pacific Programme; e: Sanhawan.srisod(a)

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