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Suez sent formal request to comply with its duty of vigilance under French law or face potential litigation, following sanitary crisis in Chile

On 9 July 2020, four NGOs sent a formal request to Suez under the French Duty of Vigilance law. In their request, the NGOs ask Suez to modify its vigilance plan to include detailed and adequate measures to mitigate and prevent the risk of human rights abuses linked to its subsidiary ESSAL in Chile.

In July 2019, 2,000 litres of oil were released in a drinking-water treatment plant operated by the company in Osorno, Chile. The spill led to a 10-day city-wide water cut, affecting 49,000 households and essential services, including hospitals, health centres and retirement homes. The spill also reached two local rivers, the Rahue and Damas.

This is the sixth time a company was formally notified to comply with its duty of vigilance since the French law came into force.

In this story, learn more about the circumstances of the case and the NGO request, and dowload Suez' latest vigilance plan.

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Article
9 July 2020

In the wake of the Osorno health emergency in Chile, SUEZ is served notice to amend its vigilance plan

Author: International Federation for Human Rights

Four organizations have today written to Bertrand Camus, SUEZ CEO, to ask him to provide details of the company’s planregarding its activities in Chile, where the multinational has a water-supply market share greater than 43%. Any failure to respond to this formal notice and to introduce appropriate measures will potentially be followed up with legal action before French courts. In July 2019, the inhabitants of Osorno were deprived of water for ten days and a health warning issued due to contamination of the drinking-water supply 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.

Four NGOs have now served formal notice on Suez that it must comply with the French Law on Corporate Duty of Vigilance of 27 March 2017. They call on the company to take the necessary measures to respond to repeated failures and illegal actions in its provision of a drinking-water supply to Osorno, and to prevent another health emergency arising in the city or any other settlement in Chile, where ESSAL and other companies controlled by the French group operate...

On 10 July 2019, 2000 liters of oil were released at the Caipulli drinking-water treatment plant operated by the Suez subsidiary in the city of Osorno. The plant’s water source was contaminated with hydrocarbons, thereby affecting the entire water supply for 49,000 households, equivalent to 140,500 inhabitants (97.9% of the city’s population). The contamination also reached two water courses – the Rahue and Damas rivers...

During this crisis period, the health emergency grew worse because of the delayed and incomplete installation of alternative water-supply points that should have been immediately put in place by ESSAL. ..

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Article
9 July 2020

Questions & Answers: SUEZ is served notice to amend its vigilance plan.

Author: International Federation for Human Rights

During the evening of 10 July 2019, some 2000 liters of oil were released at the Caipulli drinking-water treatment plant managed by ESSAL, a controlled entity of the French multinational SUEZ, which is responsible for the sanitation network in the Chilean city of Osorno. The leak was due to negligence in the plant’s maintenance and management. The plant’s water source was contaminated with hydrocarbons, thereby affecting the entire water supply for 49,000 households, equivalent to 140,500 inhabitants (97.9% of the population). The contamination also reached two water courses – the Rahue and Damas rivers. The health crisis could have been avoided if the problems of poor lighting, faulty infrastructure and staff shortage had been properly handled. 

At first, ESSAL informed the Los Lagos regional ministerial health secretariat that the situation was under control and that the service would be restored within 24 hours. But the situation turned out to be more complicated and the water supply was cut off for more than ten days, during which time the inhabitants of Osorno as well as establishments providing essential services to the city, such as hospitals, health centers, dialysis centers and residential care homes for the elderly, were deprived of their drinking-water supply, prompting a major health crisis...

Because of the imminent health risk involved, a health emergency was officially declared on 12 July 2019. During this period the health crisis grew worse because of the delayed and incomplete installation of alternative water-supply points that should have been immediately put in place by ESSAL...

 These human rights abuses are all the more serious partly because ESSAL failed to introduce preventive and remedial measures, even after the Superintendencia de Servicios Sanitarios, the public entity in charge of inspecting this type of service in Chile, had warned about the many irregularities in the infrastructure and the related “high risk” back in 2018...

If SUEZ fails to put forward adequate measures for mitigating and preventing the risks of human rights violations as denounced by our organizations within the next three months (i.e. by 9 October 2020), our organizations will sue the French multinational, so that it will be instructed – under threat of sanctions if necessary – to put measures in place to avoid any new health emergency arising from its subsidiaries’ negligent

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Disclosure
9 April 2020

Suez vigilance plan

Author: Suez

[Begins p.81 of universal registration document 2019]

SUEZ is convinced that the businesses can count themselves as real contributors to the development and transformation of our societies, and has always conducted its business activities with a view to increasing its contribution to the common good, thereby seeking to maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits generated by its presence in different regions...The goals of this plan are twofold: to provide a broader understanding of the impacts generated by the Group's activities, and to implement the most appropriate means to allow it to maximize its positive impacts, while also preventing and mitigating its negative impacts...

Download the full document here