The Window Closes: Nestle, Inc. v. Doe and the Lost Promise of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute as a Means of Enforcing International Labor Law

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Charles Szymanski

Summaary: 1. Introduction. 2. The use of the ATS as a means to combat violations of international labor law. The scope and context of the ATS. 2.1. Enforcing international labor law through the ATS. 2.2. The Window begins to close: the U.S. Supreme Court restricts most ATS litigation. 3. The window closes: Nestle USA, Inc. v. Doe and the de facto end of the promise of using the ATS to redress violations of international labor law. 4. Giving life to the idea of the ATS: using federal law against torture and human trafficking to the same effect and the development of state law ATS equivalents. 4.1. The Torture Victims Protection Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. 4.2. The adoption of state law equivalents to the ATS. 5. Conclusions.


Globalization has had an extraordinary impact on both businesses and workers. While various international treaties and contracts have in large part evolved in response to globalization, and offer a high degree of protection to corporations doing business internationally, workers still lack commensurate protections. A key problem is that in many parts of the world, there is no way for ordinary employees to enforce any international labor rights that may exist. The federal Alien Tort Statute (ATS) in the United States offered a straightforward way around this enforcement problem. It gave jurisdiction to U.S. federal courts over claims by foreigners suing in tort for a violation of recognized international law. Consequently, the ATS could be utilized by workers around the world who have been denied the basic protections of international labor law, for example, victims of forced labor. Since plaintiffs may receive punitive and compensatory damages for tort claims in the U.S., large damage awards could serve to both deter multinationals from violating international labor law and make the claims economically feasible for workers to bring them. While there were some effective efforts to use the ATS in this fashion, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially closed the door to the vast majority of such claims in its recent decision in Nestle, Inc. v. Doe. This article examines the scope and implications of the Nestle decision and the prospect of using similar laws to continue the unfulfilled promise of the ATS.


International labor law, forced labor, trafficking, Alien Tort Claims, extraterritoriality. 

Charles Szymanski, Professor of Law at the Vytautas Magnus University,