Formosa Plastics lawsuit (re marine pollution in Vietnam, filed in Taiwan)
Snapshot: Nearly 8,000 Vietnamese fisherfolk filed a lawsuit in Taiwan against Formosa Plastics Group over a marine disaster caused by toxic industrial waste discharged by a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics, which resulted in massive devastation to the Vietnamese fish population and interfered with the fisherfolk’s livelihoods. Formosa Plastic’s subsidiary has admitted responsibility. After Vietnamese courts dismissed their claims for compensation, the fisherfolk sought relief in Taiwanese courts. The Taiwanese courts rejected the case for lack of jurisdiction. This case profile looks at proceedings in Taiwan.
In April 2016, approximately 70 tones of dead fish washed up on the coasts of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien Hue in Vietnam. The Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp, a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), admitted responsibility for the massive fish kill, attributing it to water pollution from toxic industrial waste discharged by the steel plant.
The waste discharge affected up to 125 miles of Vietnam’s central coastline and damaged the regional economy. Vietnam’s government said the environmental disaster harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fisherfolk. “There are no fish or shrimp for fishermen to catch, seafood farming is impossible and the tourism industry has also been affected,” said Nguyen Tu Cuong of the Vietnam Fishery Association.
“Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the Vietnamese people ... for causing the environmental disaster which seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment,” said the chairman of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, Chen Yuan-Cheng.
Formosa Ha Tinh pledged $500m for a cleanup and compensation, including helping fishermen find new jobs. However, community members have received limited compensation or none at all, leading to protests. Vietnamese authorities have not released details of the compensation paid out.
Community members filed suit against FPG and its partner investors for the harm caused by pollution. They sought NT$140.27 million (US$4.66 million) in damages.
In September 2016, hundreds of fisherfolk submitted claims in local Vietnamese courts seeking compensation from Formosa Ha Tinh. The courts rejected their claims.
On June 11, 2019, 7,875 victims filed suit in the Taipei District Court for the harm that Formosa Ha Tinh caused in the 2016 environmental disaster. The plaintiffs were assisted and represented by environmental and human rights organizations in Taiwan, Vietnam, USA, France and Canada.
In October 2019, Taipei District Court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that, because the case involved Vietnamese nationals and occurred in Vietnam, it lacks jurisdiction under Taiwan’s Code of Civil Procedures.
In March 2020, Taiwan’s High Court rejected an appeal, saying the lower court’s ruling had no errors.
In November 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Taiwan courts had jurisdiction because Formosa was headquartered in Taiwan. The ruling of Taiwan High Court was rescinded and Taiwan High Court shall make a new ruling.
- Group Applauds Taiwan Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Vietnam Victims of Toxic Spill, Radio Free Asia, 3 December 2020
- Groups again appeal for compensation in Vietnam pollution case, Taiwan Wire Service, 17 April 2020
- Catholic activist Nguyễn Văn Hóa subjected to abuses and forced confession, Asia News, 25 October 2018
- Vietnamese Environmental Activist’s Sentence Upheld on Appeal, Radio Free Asia, 24 April 2018
- 'We are jobless because of fish poisoning': Vietnamese fishermen battle for justice, The Guardian, 14 August 2017
- Taiwan investor apologizes for polluting Vietnamese seashores, Focus Taiwan, 30 June 2016
Documents from NGOs
- Urgent resolution on environmental justice in Vietnam, FIDH, 18 November 2019
- Vietnam: Crackdown on Rights Activists, Human Rights Watch, 24 January 2018