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Thinking strategically

When developing a PIL strategy, it can be good to look below the surface of the immediate issue involved in your case and consider if there are alternative routes to achieving your desired goal.

For example, if you are trying to stop something from happening, you are not limited to stopping the event itself. You can also work on stopping some of the various causes which gave rise to that event and which might continue to generate further problems in the future.


Identify partners of your principal target

If you are trying to force a company or public body to act, you could possibly do so more effectively by exerting pressure through its partners, rather than focusing exclusively on the principal target. These partners could be connected to the company or public body through any type of agreement or relationship.

This means that you could look into whether the company or public body whose actions you are trying to influence relies on:

a) Funding from:

  • government subsidies
  • donor agencies
  • private investors and shareholders
  • private banks
  • international financial institutions like the World Bank or regional development banks
  • export credit agencies
  • insurance
  • customers
  • traders
  • end consumers of the product or service

b) Physical and non-physical infrastructure, such as:

  • land
  • power lines
  • roads
  • water supply and ability to dispose of wastewater
  • patents, trademarks and copyrights
  • permits, concession rights and quotas

c) Business partners and contractors


Exerting indirect pressure on your principal target

Imagine that you are trying to stop a company from going ahead with its plans to build a mine in a wetland area where people have traditionally lived and where there is unique wildlife.

You could decide to take legal action directly against the company concerned, but you could also look at each of the points listed above and see whether there is an indirect route to achieving your objective.

Perhaps the mine is being built with money from governments or investors, and perhaps the laws of the countries where they are based prohibit them from funding projects that destroy important environmental values or violate the rights of indigenous people.

The company may also have voluntarily signed up to agreements or standards in this regard, or their funding contract may include a requirement to respect the environment and human rights. To check this out, you might be able to obtain the necessary documents through a request for access to information.

In each case, you will need to make sure that you have the right to bring the legal challenge you have in mind, that you are on time with bringing it, and that you have identified the right person or entity to bring the case against.

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