"Aller Simple" - Corporate Accountability for Mass Atrocity: The Case of the French National Railways (SNCF)


Chancellor Day Hall NCDH 202, 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

The Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy welcomes Professor Sarah Federman, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Baltimore, for a talk about her work-in-progress on the SNCF and developments in corporate responsibility for the Holocaust.


Transitional justice employs a variety of mechanisms, including compensation, apologies, trials, commemoration, and truth seeking to guide societies in the aftermath of massive human rights violations. The perpetrators are most often individuals, rebel groups, and government institutions.

More infrequently, however, do we consider how to address market actors. A study of the decades-long conflict over the French National Railways' (SNCF- Société nationale des chemins de fer français) role in the Holocaust provides an opportunity to consider what happens when businesses are involved. The SNCF had a role in transporting over 75,000 Jewish deportees and others towards death camps during World War II. After fifty-years of the SNCF storying itself as a hero in the resistance, survivors began to challenge, sue, and boycott the company - saying it needed to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust as well. While debates began in France, they spilled over into the United States and worked to roadblock the company's efforts to do business there up through 2017. The company responded by engaging in many transitional justice practices with mixed results. The company's overlapping identities of victim, perpetrator, and hero raise complicated issues at the intersection of corporate social responsibility and mass atrocity. 

This research is based on over 120 interviews (over eighty with survivors) and pro bono work with the U.S. State Department and other groups. 

About the speaker

Sarah Federman is Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. She specializes in the role of language in conflict, post-conflict contexts and the role of market actors in mass atrocity. She took up her position at University of Baltimore in 2017 after completing her doctorate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Federman has also taught courses at SciencesPo Lille, Grinnell College, and the University of Malta.

Considering the intersection of corporate behavior and conflict draws on Federman’s decade-long career as a senior advertising executive. Federman negotiated with companies throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Some of the companies with whom she met include; Google, NFL, Viacom, Expedia, Discovery and most of the world’s largest advertising agencies.