Africa: Oil trading firms accused of selling "Dirty Diesel", causing illnesses & early deaths

In September 2016, Public Eye (a Swiss NGO formerly known as Berne Declaration) published a major report accusing Switzerland-based oil trading companies of selling in African markets blends of low-grade fuel high in pollutants that could not be sold in Europe, contributing to air pollution, illness, and premature deaths.  The report was "the result of three years of research", according to Public Eye, including sampling of fuel at pumps in eight African countries, "all owned, partly-owned or supplied by Swiss trading companies".  Their principal findings: "In diesel, we found sulphur levels up to 380 times the European legal limit and up to 630 times the average levels of diesel sold in Western Europe. In gasoline, we found sulphur levels up to 70 times the European legal limit and over 100 times the average levels of gasoline sold in Europe. We found other worrying health damaging substances in concentrations never allowed in a European or US fuel, such as polyaromatics (diesel), aromatics and benzene (gasoline)."

The report urges:

  • African governments to set more stringent fuel quality standards
  • Swiss trading companies to "stop abusing Africa’s low fuel quality standards, recognize that if left unchanged their practices will kill more and more people across the continent"
  • the governments of Netherlands, Belgium & USA (export hubs for African fuels) to prohibit the export of health-damaging fuel blends
  • the Swiss government to "implement mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements for Swiss companies, covering the entire supply chain and including potentially toxic products"

Public Eye sought responses from the companies in the report prior to publication and published the companies' responses; however, the report raised further concerns based on those statements.  Trafigura and Puma Energy responded to the report shortly after its publication.  Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the principal other companies named in the report to respond.  Addax & Oryx Group, MercuriaGlencore, Vitol and Vivo responded. Mocoh has indicated that it is preparing a full response, which we will post here when we receive it.  Gunvoh and Lynx Energy have not yet responded; we will indicate here whether they respond.

Public Eye has commented on the responses provided by the companies - the replies by Public Eye to the responses by Vitol, Vivo, Puma and Trafigura are provided below.

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Article
5 July 2017

Ghana and Nigeria: New legislation lowers limit on sulphur content in imported fuels

Author: Public Eye

Ghana and Nigeria have legislated for significantly lower limits on the sulphur content in imported fuels, effective 1st July, just 10 months after the publication of “Dirty Diesel”. The report from Public Eye exposed the illegitimate business model with “African Quality” fuels and the role of the Swiss commodity traders. With the support of a global media echo, Public Eye’s African partners have used the public’s outrage to bring about real political change...

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Article
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Author: Public Eye (Suisse)

Près de dix mois après la publication du rapport « Dirty Diesel », le Nigeria et le Ghana ont divisé par soixante la teneur en soufre autorisée dans l’essence et le diesel importés. Ces nouveaux standards sont entrés en vigueur le 1er juillet. L’enquête de Public Eye a mis en lumière le modèle d’affaires des négociants suisses en pétrole, basé sur la commercialisation de produits hautement toxiques. Soutenus par un écho médiatique mondial, les partenaires africains de l’ONG suisse ont su convaincre leur gouvernement d’interdire les carburants à haute teneur en soufre afin de protéger leur population. Les autorités suisses et les négociants refusent toujours d’assumer leurs responsabilités....Responsable « Qualité de l’air et Mobilité » au sein du Programme des Nations Unies pour l’environnement (PNUE), Rob de Jong fait part de ses préoccupations : « Nous sommes inquiets que des informations erronées sur les coûts associés à l’introduction de carburants à faible teneur en soufre puissent compromettre la mise en œuvre du nouveau standard au Nigeria. Dans tous les pays où de tels carburants ont été introduits, l’impact sur les prix s’est avéré minime. »...

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Article
6 December 2016

Five west African countries block imports of diesel with sulphur levels highly exceeding European limit

Author: Guardian (UK)

"Five west African countries ban 'dirty diesel' from Europe", 6 December 2016 

Five West African countries have announced measures to end the practice of European oil companies and traders exporting “African quality” diesel -highly polluting fuels that could never be sold in Europe. Swiss commodity traders were accused in a report…by…Public Eye of exporting fuels to West Africa with sulphur levels that are sometimes hundreds of times higher than European levels. The report accused oil companies of…allowing traders and companies to exploit weak standards…in a process that…was maximising profits at the expense of African’s health. High-sulphur fuels are major contributors to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma…Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast agreed to ban imports of high-sulphur diesel fuels as part of an initiative organised by the UN Environment Programme…Companies identified in the report said they comply with the fuel standards imposed by the governments they ship to, and support efforts, including those by the African Refiners Association, to improve fuel standards…

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Article
6 December 2016

West African countries ban Europe's dirty fuel imports

Author: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

"West African countries ban Europe's dirty fuel imports", 5 December 2016

Five West African countries have agreed to ban importing Europe's dirty fuels…Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire agreed…to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulfur diesel fuels and vehicles emissions standards... A report by Public Eye in September this year exposed how European trading companies were exploiting the weak regulatory standards in West African countries, allowing for the export of fuels with sulfur levels up to 300 times higher than is permitted in Europe…Alongside the introduction of the new standards, the West African group has agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries, both public and privately owned, to produce fuels of the same standards by 2020. UN Environment has been supporting countries in West Africa to develop policies and standards to stop the practice of importing fuel with dangerously high sulphur levels and introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles…Today, 23 countries have shifted to low sulfur fuels and another 40 are on their way...

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Author: RFI

Après le Ghana, il y a un mois, quatre pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest promettent à leur tour d'interdire les carburants toxiques sur le sol. Il s'agit du Nigeria, du Bénin, de la Côte d'Ivoire et du Togo. A l'occasion d'une réunion organisée jeudi dernier à Abuja par le Programme des Nations unies pour l'environnement (PNUE), ils se sont engagés à limiter drastiquement la teneur en soufre autorisée pour les carburants importés dès juillet 2017. Cette décision intervient quelques mois après le publication d'un rapport explosif de l'ONG Suisse Public Eye, baptisé «Dirty Diesel». En septembre dernier, l'ONG Public Eye jetait un véritable pavé dans la mare. Dans son rapport « Dirty Diesel », on apprenait que des négociants suisses déversaient sur le marché africain des carburants très nocifs, contenant jusqu'à 400 fois plus de soufre que ce que prévoient les normes européennes. Et ce, paradoxalement, en toute légalité du fait de la faiblesse des législations sur le continent. Pour Gian-Valentino Viredaz, l’un des auteurs de ce rapport, voir quatre pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest promettre ensemble de lutter contre ces pratiques est une très bonne nouvelle. « L’engagement qui a été pris par le Nigeria, le Bénin, la Côte d’Ivoire et le Togo, c’est de réduire de 60 fois la teneur en soufre des carburants importés dans le pays : de passer d’une teneur en soufre autorisée de 3 000 parties par million à plus que 50 parties par million, et ceci dès juillet 2017, explique-t-il. Alors maintenant, nous nous souhaitons véritablement voir ces différents Etats passer de la parole aux actes. » Cela signifie modifier les législations nationales et aussi négocier avec les fournisseurs pour les convaincre d'abaisser leurs marges et de ne pas répercuter ces nouvelles normes sur le prix à la pompe.

 

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Article
2 December 2016

West African countries to reduce sulphur standards by the factor 60 to 200

Author: Public Eye

Yesterday‘s meeting convened by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Abuja, Nigeria, saw major steps towards the improvement of fuel quality in West Africa. Following Ghana’s announcement in November, Nigeria, Benin, Ivory Coast and Togo also announced to lower sulphur limits for imported diesel to 50 ppm (parts per million). The controversy caused by Public Eye‘s «Dirty Diesel» report has led to yet another important step towards cleaner air in African cities. In the Netherlands, the city council of Amsterdam has called for a ban on the production and export of fuels containing harmful substances. Environmental and Energy Ministers from Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo, as well as representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) attended the meeting in Nigeria’s capitol. The public pressure generated by the massive media coverage on «Dirty Diesel» as well as the campaigns by Public Eye’s partner organizations have led  the above mentioned countries to announce the reduction of sulphur levels for imported diesel to 50 ppm. In Nigeria, the current limit is 3,000 ppm, in Togo it is even 10,000ppm. Being Africa’s largest fuel market by far, Nigeria’s move is likely to trigger improvements in other West African countries...

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Article
7 November 2016

„Dirty Diesel“ – Trafigura Ignores 20‘000 Voices of Protest, but Ghana Toughens Sulfur Standards

Author: Public Eye

Flanked by a container full of dirty air from Ghana's capital Accra, Public Eye in Geneva today handed Trafigura a petition signed by almost 20'000 people asking the commodities giant to stop selling „Dirty Diesel“ to Africa. While Trafigura continues to deny all responsibility for its health damaging business, public pressure moved the government of Ghana to toughen its national sulfur standard by a factor of 60. This campaign success of Public Eye and its African counterparts is an important step on the way to reducing air pollution and protecting people's health...

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NGO rejoinder
11 October 2016

Public Eye reply to Vitol’s response to the Dirty Diesel report

Author: Public Eye (Switzerland)

...Strangely, Vitol states that “in Africa, governments control and manage the import of fuels”, which implies that all African countries proceed that way. Vitol’s downstream company, Vivo Energy, on the other hand, relativizes that statement by saying “in most African countries”. The latter means that retailers such as Vivo Energy do have control over their supply chain in some countries, contrary to what Vitol claims above. Moreover, Vivo Energy, which is only active in Africa, stated in a corporate brochure: “We are fortunate that, through Vitol and the fast-growing storage and terminals business, VTTI, we benefit from unique access to a truly global integrated supply chain with the world’s largest physical energy trader.” What would be the point of such synergies if Vivo Energy had no control over their supply chain? And how can Vivo Energy advertise the quality of their fuels if they haves no control over their supply chain? We regret that both Vitol and Vivo Energy fail to answer these questions...

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NGO rejoinder
11 October 2016

Public Eye reply to Vivo Energy’s response to the Dirty Diesel report

Author: Public Eye (Switzerland)

...Here, Vivo Energy implies that they do not control their supply chain in many countries. We find this hard to believe, also because Vivo Energy explicitly claims to be the best when it comes to the quality of fuels. According to their commercial communications, they aim to create “a new benchmark for quality, excellence, safety and responsibility in Africa’s downstream energy marketplace”. The company is proud to make “truly world-class products available to all our African customers”. In Cote D’Ivoire, Vivo declares that it ”uses all the means and tools necessary to ensure the latest international standards of quality […] so that Ivorian consumers benefit from what is best in terms of fuels when going to a Shell petrol station.” How can Vivo Energy promote the quality of its fuels when they have no control over their supply chain? We regret that both Vitol and Vivo Energy fail to answer these questions...

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NGO rejoinder
6 October 2016

Public Eye reply to Trafigura response to the Dirty Diesel report

Author: Public Eye (Switzerland)

...It would be interesting to know specifically how Trafigura “supports” the work of ARA while being a “Silver Sponsor” of that very association whose activities are not limited to fuel standards. We are not aware of any contribution by Trafigura to the issue of fuel quality in Africa. Through our research, we are very well aware of Trafigura’s contribution to air pollution across the continent. Regarding the elimination of lead, Trafigura, sadly, fails to mention that they are currently using a lead replacement for their African fuels which is based on the heavy metal manganese, a neurotoxin. The use of this additive is highly controversial and therefore banned in several regions of the world, however, not in Africa. This example underlines that there are serious topics that Trafigura needs to address urgently. While we are asking Trafigura to move immediately by only delivering and selling European quality fuels to Africa, we are hopeful that the public attention on the issue of health effects of bad quality fuels will contribute to achieving a more ambitious roadmap. The UNEP Ministerial meeting to be held in Nigeria in November 2016 is an important opportunity for West African countries to require imports in their countries to be of European quality...

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