Formosa Plastics lawsuit (re marine pollution in Vietnam, filed in Vietnam)
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. This case profile looks at proceedings in Vietnam.
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.
In September 2016, hundreds of fisherfolk submitted claims in local Vietnamese courts seeking compensation from Formosa Ha Tinh. The courts rejected their claims.
Lawsuits against Protesters by Government Authorities
Police arrested many of those seeking to file an appeal, along with other protestors led by Catholic priests. Reports indicate that police arrested and beat demonstrators.
Authorities pursued claims against three activists:
- Hoang Duc Binh, an environmental activist, was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “obstructing officials in the performance of their duties” under Articles 257 and 258 of Vietnam’s penal code after organizing protests regarding the government’s handling of the case.
- Nguyen Nam Phong was sentenced to two years in prison for “resisting persons on public duty” under article 257 of Vietnam’s penal code after driving a car of activists to protest the handling of the case. He was released from prison on July 28, 2019.
- Nguyễn Văn Hóa, a Catholic activist and blogger, was sentenced to seven years in prison “propaganda against the state.” He has reported abuse from prison guards and pressure to testify against other unrelated dissidents.
- 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
- Vietnam court swamped by fishermen seeking to sue Taiwan firm's steel unit, Reuters, 26 September 2016
- Taiwan investor apologizes for polluting Vietnamese seashores, Focus Taiwan, 30 June 2016
Documents from NGOs
- Vietnam: Crackdown on Rights Activists, Human Rights Watch, 24 January 2018