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7 Jun 2021

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

In wake of health crisis in Chile, water giant SUEZ is summoned on the basis of French duty of vigilance law

Four organisations summoned today, before the Court of Nanterre (France), the world’s largest private water provider, SUEZ, in application of France’s law on the duty of vigilance. In July 2019, the inhabitants of Osorno, Chile, where the multinational has a water supply market share greater than 43%, were deprived of water for 10 days and a health warning was issued due to contamination of the drinking water sup-ply following a further operational incident at ESSAL, controlled by SUEZ. This followed ongoing malfunctions, instances of negligence, and failures, which had been repeatedly signaled by the Chilean inspection bodies, who had previously referred to an “increased risk” arising from these operational irregularities.

Our four organisations had served formal notice to SUEZ in July 2020, demanding that it comply with France’s Law on Corporate Duty of Vigilance of 27 March 2017 by amending its vigilance plan in order to take the necessary measures to prevent another health emergency arising in Osorno or any other municipality in Chile. Faced with the company’s inaction, our organisations decided to bring our demands before the courts, which could order the company to put in place corrective and preventive measures...

On 10 July 2019, 2,000 liters of oil were leaked at the Caipulli drinking water treatment plant operated by the SUEZ subsidiary in Osorno...

The health crisis was exacerbated by ESSAL’s delayed and incomplete installation of alternative water supply points that provided water of insufficient quantity and poor quality. Water supply services were not fully restored until 21 July 2019, and the health emergency lasted for over six weeks, until 31 August...

These grave human rights abuses are due fundamentally to ESSAL’s lack of preventive and remedial measures, even though, since 2018, the Superintendencia de Servicios Sanitarios (SISS), the public body responsible for inspecting this type of service in Chile, has raised the alarm over the many infrastructure irregularities, deeming them to be a “high risk.” It has also imposed 360 fines on the company over the past five years.