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1 Jul 2004

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Matanza Riachuelo lawsuit (re Argentina)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
1 Jul 2004
Location of Filing: Argentina
Location of Incident: Argentina
Type of Litigation: Domestic


Anheuser-Busch InBev Belgium Food & beverage
Dow Chemical United States of America Chemical: General
Danone France Food & beverage
Daimler AG Germany Automobile & other motor vehicles
Petrobras Brazil Oil, gas & coal
Quilmes (part of Anheuser-Busch InBev) Argentina Food & beverage
Shell plc United Kingdom Oil, gas & coal
Solvay Belgium Chemical: General


In July 2004 a group of residents living in “Villa Inflamble”, one of the worst-polluted shanty towns in the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, filed a lawsuit against the Argentinian Government, Government of the city of Buenos Aires, and 44 businesses for damages to their health suffered as a result of the pollution of Matanza-Riachuelo River. 

In June 2006 the Argentinian Supreme Court agreed to hear the case as a collective action and ordered the defendants to submit an integrated plan for cleaning the river basin.  Subsequently the court admitted the National Ombudsman’s Office, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), the Neighbourhood Association of La Boca and Greenpeace Argentina as interested parties in the case.  The court also established an authority to carry out the improvements and works planned for the river basin.  This authority is the Autoridad de Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo (ACUMAR).  Its establishment harmonised the different bureaucratic agencies previously tasked with protecting the river basin.   

In July 2008 the Argentinian Supreme Court made a determination of the federal government’s responsibility as well as that of the city and province of Buenos Aires for the prevention and reparation of environmental damages in this watershed.  The ruling charged the governments with three duties: (a) improve the quality of life for the inhabitants within the basin, (b) remediate the basin’s ecological damage and (c) prevent further contamination.  The court did not issue a decision with regard to the responsibility of the 44 defendant businesses.  The Supreme Court also decided to involve the NGOs who had been active in the case – Greenpeace Argentina, FARN, CELS, the Neighbourhood Association of La Boca and the National Ombudsman.  These groups were given the allied role of patrolling the river and surrounding areas for pollution and advising ACUMAR of breaches. 

- [PDF] “Can litigation clean rivers? Assessing the policy impact of “the Mendoza case” in Argentina”, Kristi Staveland-Sæter, CMI Brief, May 2012
- “Progress in River Clean-Up Praised – With Reservations”, Marcela Valente, IPS, 8 Feb 2012
- “Troubled Waters: the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin”, Lindsey Hoshaw, Argentina Independent, 23 May 2008
- “Riachuelo Factories Must Clean Up or Close Down”, Marcela Valente, IPS, 6 Sep 2006
- “A roadmap against pollution”, Marcela Valente, IPS, 8 Jul 2006

- [español] Autoridad de Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo (ACUMAR): El Caso Cuenca Matanza-Riachuelo [includes links to court documents, available in Spanish only]
- Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN): The Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Case Summary
- [español] FARN: [PDF] El Riachuelo en su hora más crítica, Andrés Nápoli, marzo 2013

- Supreme Court of Argentina: [PDF] Mendoza, Beatriz Silvia and others v/ the National State and others regarding damages suffered (injuries resulting from the environmental contamination of the Matanza-Riachuelo River), 8 Jul 2008 [English translation of decision]