By Paul Davies, Michael Green, Samuel Pape and Charles Rae

In a recent decision, the High Court has ruled that Unilever plc (Unilever), the ultimate holding company of the Unilever Group, does not owe a duty of care to protect the employees and residents of a tea plantation owned and operated by a Kenyan subsidiary from ethnic violence carried out by armed third party criminals.

This decision is the third time in less than 12 months that an English court has considered a jurisdictional challenge to proceedings brought by foreign claimants seeking to hold a UK domiciled parent company liable for the alleged acts and omissions of an overseas subsidiary. Similar challenges were made in Lungowe & Ors v Vedanta Resources plc & Anor and more recently in Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell plc & Anor with the courts reaching opposite conclusions on their respective facts. Our blog on the decision in Okpabi can be found here.

These cases are significant in the context of multinational corporate groups and the circumstances in which a parent company may be held liable in negligence for the actions and omissions of its subsidiaries.