French Court of Appeal remands case against Total over alleged failure to respect Duty of Vigilance law in Uganda to commercial court
"Total Uganda case in France: the Court of Appeal of Versailles remands the case to the commercial court", 10 Dec 2020
The judges ruled in favour of Total, confirming the judgment of the first instance court which considered that this dispute fell within the jurisdiction of the commercial court. Civil society organizations (CSOs) believe that this decision is contrary to the spirit of this law and harmful to its implementation.
On January 30th, 2020, the Nanterre Civil Court of Justice denied its jurisdiction, ruling that the case should be judged by the commercial court. The six organisations considered that this decision was based on a misinterpretation of the law, and so appealed the ruling last March... The Versailles Court of Appeal has unfortunately just confirmed this decision, also considering that this case falls within the jurisdiction of the commercial court.
According to our organisations, this decision is not only contrary to the jurisprudence of the Court of Cassation (French Supreme court), but also to the spirit of the duty of vigilance law and to the will of the legislators. The purpose of this law is to make companies liable for the impacts of their activities on third parties, such as employees of subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors, local communities and the environment. These are therefore external issues, of protection of human rights and the planet, which cannot be reduced to a purely commercial dispute relating to the company’s internal management.
Commercial courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, composed of judges elected by their peers, who are elected upon to handle commercial disputes because of their technical knowledge of the business world. According to civil society, this decision implies a major extension of the jurisdiction of these courts, potentially to any dispute involving a commercial company.
Being the first case using this law, the stakes of this decision go beyond this single case...
Friends of the Earth France, Survie and their Ugandan partners are considering filing an appeal before the Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Court).