"Win or lose in court, we wanted to make sure that we won the campaign and the movement—that the communities had more power, more agency, more networks and confidence to engineer their own solutions, after our case than they did before."
Katie Redford is a lawyer with expertise in human rights, climate justice and corporate accountability, credited with spearheading legal strategies to hold corporations—particularly extractive industries—accountable for human rights and environmental buses around the world. She was a founding director of EarthRights International, where she spent 25 years building the NGO that trains and litigates on behalf of communities around the world harmed by corporate human rights and environmental abuses. She is currently the Executive Director of the Equation Campaign, a new organization that addresses the injustice of the climate crisis by supporting movements on the ground to keep fossil fuels in the ground. She is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Massachusetts State Bar. Katie received an Echoing Green Fellowship in 1995 to establish EarthRights, and has been recognized as an Ashoka Global Fellow, a Rockwood Leadership Fellow and a Bellagio Resident Fellow. She has received numerous awards and has been profiled in a variety of media including the books Be Bold and Your America: Democracy’s Local Heroes.
After graduating from law school, Katie Redford set up Earth Rights International with the revolutionary from Burma, Ka Hsaw Wa. Through intense community mobilization they established a case against Unocal, the US oil giant, for the human rights abuses committed on its behalf by the Burmese military. Vividly bringing alive key moments in the lawsuit, Katie tells the story of the case and introduces us to its most memorable plaintiff, a villager who had been forced to watch her baby burnt alive by military officers. A Supreme Court victory in 1997 established a stunning precedent: US corporations could be held accountable for human rights abuse abroad. But, Katie writes, “we knew we were challenging one of the most powerful extractive industries in the world and we couldn’t be one ourselves” – extracting the stories and experiences of already-marginalized people just to win a point, invaluable though it might be, in American jurisprudence. This brought her to a lesson she has tried to apply ever since, in her work as a movement lawyer: “It’s all about power. We want our clients and their communities to feel more powerful, to be more powerful, because of our legal work and the process we help them access. And we want those who abuse power, because they have too much of it, to understand that they have less power than before they were hauled into court.”