• Punishing Corporations and Governments – 6706

    Spring 2014




A government carries out a massacre against its own people. An oil company hires government troops to shoot at activists protesting the construction of the pipeline. A Walmart consumer rejoices at the low prices of clothes made by garment workers slaving in sweatshops in Bangladesh. All these situations implicate the notion of group accountability and punishment. The collective nature of this responsibility and the potential sanction run contrary to the central assumptions of the modern law of tort and crime: the individual is the paradigm unit of action. We are only responsible, as individuals, for our own actions, and to the extent of our participation. In this course, we will consider to what extent we can be punished or be made to pay compensation, for actions other than our own, but in which we are deemed complicit. These questions will be addressed at the individual and at the group level. Should all Muslims have to answer for the actions of fundamentalists carried out in the name of their religion? Is every citizen of the United States complicit in the killing of civilians in Afghanistan? Does a student who gets financial aid from the law school have a duty to decline it if the money accrues from the school’s investments in conflict diamonds in Africa? Should Shell be made to compensate the relatives of environmental activists executed in Nigeria? How can an abstract entity like a nation such as Germany be held collectively accountable for the crimes committed during World War II?These, and more questions will be analyzed through literature on the nature of collective action; comparative and international criminal law; and the Alien Torts Statute in the United States.

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