Woodsford is a leading ESG, access to justice and litigation finance business.

What happens when catastrophic breakdowns in ESG cause loss to a company’s customers or its shareholders? How are ESG wrongdoers held to account? How do we change the behaviour of big businesses to the benefit of wider society?

ESG is an acronym for the wide range of Environmental, Social, and Governance standards that companies now increasingly say that they comply with, or which they are otherwise legally required to comply with. Companies make ESG promises, and otherwise have ESG obligations to a variety of stakeholders, including their investors, their customers, their regulators and the wider community in which they operate.

Banks promise their regulators (and their investors) that they don’t engage in money laundering or terrorist financing. Fashion brands promise their customers (and, again, their investors) that their supply chains use sustainable materials and a properly paid workforce. Technology brands promise all of us that the prices we pay for their ubiquitous products are fair and competitive and that they respect the intellectual property rights of the (typically smaller) businesses they engage with.

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Delivering compensation and holding wrongdoers to account

When a company fails to comply with its ESG obligations and causes loss or damage to one or more categories of its stakeholders, those wronged stakeholders – the shareholders who invested based on promises that turned out to be untrue – the customers who have been ripped off – the inventor whose intellectual property rights are being infringed – could potentially engage with the company on an escalated and often collective basis, up to and including litigation. They will have a good legal case, and they will almost always have at least two key motivations to litigate. First, to seek compensation. Second, to hold the wrongdoers to account.

But there is often a wide gulf for many stakeholders between having good reasons and motivations to engage (often collectively) on the one hand, and having the practical ability to do so, on the other.

Woodsford’s ESG business is about helping stakeholders bridge that gulf. We do that in two key ways:

First, we inform and organise stakeholders:

ESG claimants will often be in large disparate groups that lack any coordination. Individuals or businesses may not even be aware that they have been wronged, for example they might be customers who don’t know that they have been unfairly overcharged for goods or services. And even if they are aware that they have been wronged, for example investors whose investments have lost value due to ESG breakdowns, they won’t necessarily know how to go about achieving redress as part of a wider group or may not have the resources to do so.

We solve these problems, in liaison with expert law firms and other professionals.

Through the ground-breaking use of law, technology and finance, we are global leaders in bringing together large groups of stakeholders, enabling them to seek accountability and collectively achieve redress in a simple, transparent and risk-free manner.

Second, we take all the financial risk:

Woodsford’s remuneration is entirely contingent upon success. We provide the required funding for the legal and other costs of engagement, up to and including litigation. We also provide claimants with indemnities against adverse costs consequences.

The broad range of ESG claims we support

You can view detailed case studies of a number of our engagements here. Set out below are just some examples of the actions we are involved in around the world.

Bribery and Corruption on a Global Scale. European headquartered Airbus is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of aircraft. In one of the most egregious breakdowns of ESG in recent years, it came to light that Airbus had engaged in bribery and corruption on a global scale. In January 2020, Airbus agreed to pay penalties of approximately US$4 billion plus interest and costs to resolve foreign bribery charges with US, French and UK authorities. While Airbus agreed a multimillion-dollar settlement with investors who trade in their securities within the US, the vast majority of investors hold Airbus shares in Europe. Woodsford is pursuing compensation and accountability in Europe in two separate ways. First, we have organised a group of major international, institutional investors, who are seeking to engage with Airbus on an opt-in basis. Second, Woodsford has supported and funded the constitution of a Dutch foundation (a Stichting) that represents other investors, including retail (mom ‘n’ pop) investors, on an opt-out basis.

Consumer financial mis-selling. Australia’s 2019 Royal Commission into the banking and financial services industry found that many of the country’s leading financial institutions had ripped off customers, broken the rules and lied to regulators. The investigation revealed unscrupulous behaviour and multiple compliance breaches related to, among other things, money laundering. Woodsford is supporting many claims by customers of Australian financial services companies, including claims against Count Financial, a subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA)CommInsure and Colonial First State Investments Limited, also subsidiaries of CBA, and AMP Limited financial advice licensees, including AMP Financial Planning.We are also supporting a claim against Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) where it is alleged that ANZ’s “interest-free” credit card contracts contained unfair terms and that ANZ engaged in unconscionable conduct causing loss and damage to ANZ credit card holders.

Anticompetitive conduct and ESG. Woodsford is a pioneer of the relatively new opt-out regime for collective actions and consumer redress in the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), which is the only opt-out litigation regime in the UK. We are proud of our significant support for class actions against train operating companies who it is alleged to have been overcharging customers, and against several shipping companies engaged in unlawful cartel behaviour likely to have inflated the cost of shipping new cars and vans into the UK and Europe.

Money laundering and terrorist financing. Compliance with international sanctions and with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing rules are big issues for banks. A number of major international banks have, over the past 10 years, failed to live up to their ESG promises in these areas. Woodsford has identified several such breakdowns in ESG at major banks, including UK-listed Standard Chartered and Australian-listed Westpac that have led to significant loss in shareholder value, and we have helped investors to organise and to seek compensation and accountability. The claim against Westpac is possibly the largest ever Australian class action, and one of the highest value litigations globally.

Fatal health and safety breaches. A tragic, and potentially avoidable, accident claimed four lives at the Dreamworld Theme Park on 25 October 2016. Dreamworld, owned by Ardent Leisure Group, on the Gold Coast in Australia. There is damning evidence that Ardent misled its investors and others about safety measures and corporate governance standards. Woodsford is supporting claims that ESG breakdowns at Ardent gave rise to significant shareholder losses.

Claims related to the climate emergency. Consumers are increasingly focused on vehicle emissions; it is therefore vital that we can trust statements made about fuel efficiency by manufacturers and distributors of cars and other vehicles. In 2019, an Australian court found that Mitsubishi Australia had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the sale of the Mitsubishi Triton vehicle, in particular making misleading statements about the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Woodsford is supporting litigation brought on behalf of Mitsubishi Triton GLS owners who acquired those vehicles between 2015 and 2021.

Large scale fraud against government agenciesG4S and Serco are two separate companies that do significant business with the UK government, in particular in the privatised element of the UK criminal justice and prison sectors. Strikingly similar financial irregularities and overcharging came to light at both companies. The ESG team at Woodsford identified these problems and brought to the attention of institutional investors of each company that they had a right to commence proceedings pursuant to the UK Financial Services and Markets Act, with a view to seeking compensation for the loss in shareholder value and holding the wrongdoers to account for their ESG failings.

ESG failings in the nuclear power industry. Good governance is vital in the nuclear power industry. Problems at nuclear power facilities have potentially catastrophic global consequences. In September 2019, Kansai Electric Power Company (Kepco) in Japan admitted that executives of the company, including several senior executives, had received significant payments and gifts from, the former Deputy Mayor of the town of Takahama, where KEPCO maintains a nuclear power plant. An external investigation released by the company in 2020 noted that following receipt of those payments several contracts had been awarded to companies with which the former Deputy Mayor was connected. Kepco did not disclose anything to the market until 27 September 2019. When the gifts and payments were publicly revealed it had a significant impact on shareholder value, wiping approximately US$1.35 billion off the market capitalisation of Kepco over two days. In 2021 the Asian Corporate Governance Association expressed concern that there had been insufficient accountability for these serious breakdowns in ESG. Woodsford has taken steps to help investors address these issues. We have brought the ESG failings at Kepco to the attention of institutional investors, and we have organised many these international shareholders into a group, who are pursuing legal action in Japan, seeking compensation and accountability.

The lawyers and other professionals at Woodsford are in the vanguard of ESG accountability. The examples above illustrate the breadth and variety of ESG engagements we support and the efforts we will go to in holding big business to account; helping deliver recompense to those directly impacted and changing behaviours to the benefit of wider society.

For more information or to discuss joining one of our ESGs claims, please contact Mitesh Modha.

Our Case Studies