Trafigura lawsuits (re Côte d’Ivoire)

Toxic Waste, By:Fernost, Creative Commons Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

On 19 August 2006 the ship Probo Koala unloaded a waste shipment at Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  This waste was disposed of at open air sites around Abidjan.  The ship was chartered by the London office of Trafigura, a Dutch international petroleum trader.  The Probo Koala had attempted to discharge this waste at the port of Amsterdam, but the port service would not accept the waste without an additional handling charge because of the waste’s alleged toxicity.  The ship left the port of Amsterdam without discharging its waste.  After the waste from the ship was discharged in Abidjan, people living near the discharge sites began to suffer from a range of illnesses (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, breathlessness, headaches, skin damage, and swollen stomachs).  Sixteen people have died, allegedly from exposure to this waste, and more than 100,000 have sought medical attention.

Trafigura sent two of its executives to Abidjan in August 2006 to investigate what happened.  These executives and a representative from a Trafigura subsidiary, Puma Energy, were arrested by Ivorian authorities and imprisoned.  On 12 February 2007 the Government of Côte d’Ivoire signed a settlement agreement with Trafigura in which the company agreed to pay $198 million to the Ivorian government for a compensation fund, the construction of a waste treatment plant and to assist in the recovery operations.  However, the company stressed this payment was not "damages" and that it did not admit liability.  Côte d’Ivoire agreed to drop any prosecutions or claims, now or in the future, against Trafigura.  After this settlement agreement was made, the Trafigura executives and the Puma Energy representative were released from prison.

Claims in the United Kingdom

Probo Koala shipIn November 2006, the High Court of Justice in London agreed to hear a group action by about 30,000 claimants from Côte d’Ivoire against Trafigura over the alleged dumping of toxic waste from the Probo Koala.  Applicants alleged that the waste had high levels of caustic soda, as well as a sulphur compound and hydrogen sulphide making it hazardous waste as defined by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.  

Trafigura denied the waste was toxic and claimed the waste was standard waste from onboard operations of ships (“slops” as defined by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships).  Trafigura was alleged to have shipped the untreated chemical waste to Côte d’Ivoire with knowledge that there were no facilities to treat it.  Trafigura denied responsibility, stating that they had entrusted the waste to an Ivorian disposal company, Tommy, which was established a few weeks before the ship’s arrival.  Trafigura claimed it had no grounds for suspecting that Tommy would improperly dispose of the waste.  Trafigura denied the number of applicants/victims and stated that only 69 people suffered significant injury.  On 23 March 2009, the court granted the plaintiffs a temporary injunction barring Trafigura from contacting any of the claimants in the case.  This injunction came after counsel for the claimants presented evidence that the company had been contacting individual claimants urging them to change their sworn statements.  

In September 2009, the parties to the UK lawsuit reached a settlement agreement in which Trafigura agreed to pay each of the 30,000 claimants a certain amount, approximately $1500.  The parties released a joint statement that said, among other things, "independent experts are unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries. Leigh Day and Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short term low level flu like symptoms and anxiety".

In October 2009 an individual, Claude Gohourou, came forward claiming to represent the victims through his organization - National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire.  Mr Gohourou succeeded in freezing the bank account in which the settlement funds were being held.  The claimants' lawyers dispute the authenticity of this organization and Mr Gohourou's authority to distribute the funds to the claimants.  On 22 January 2010, the Court of Appeals in Abidjan ruled in favour of Mr Gohourou and his organization and ordered the settlement funds be transferred to him.  In mid-February 2010 the parties reached an agreement about the distribution of the settlement funds.  However, 6000 of the victims still have not received the compensation.

In June 2016, the High Court ruled that Leigh Day, the law firm representing the victims, should compensat the victims that had not received compensation due to the breach of its its duty of care.  Leigh day declared: "...were devastated when some of the monies were misappropriated. We did our damnedest to recover the monies resulting in the great majority of our clients having received their compensation."

Claims in the Netherlands

In February 2008, Dutch prosecutors served notice that they intend to file criminal charges against Trafigura, among others, for its alleged part in the disposal of waste in Côte d’Ivoire.  In June 2008 an Amsterdam court began hearing evidence in this case.  The Dutch trial started in June 2010.  

The Dutch prosecutors accused Trafigura of illegally exporting hazardous waste to Côte d’Ivoire.  The allegations against the company are that it breached Dutch export and environmental laws as well as forging official documents.  Trafigura rejected these charges.  In July 2010 the Dutch court ruled that the company had concealed the dangerous nature of the waste aboard the Probo Koala and fined the company €1 million.  The Dutch court also convicted a Trafigura employee and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala for their roles in the matter. 

In the meantime, Greenpeace filed a complaint with the Court of Appeal in The Hague trying to compel the public prosecutor to prosecute the company for more than just the export of hazardous waste.  In April 2011, the appeal court ruled that the public prosecution department is not required to prosecute Trafigura for the dumping of the waste in Côte d’Ivoire. 

When the regional court in Amsterdam decided in 2008 not to prosecute Trafigura's co-founder and director Claude Dauphin, the prosecutors appealed the court's decision.  They were turned down and later lodged another appeal before the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the appeals court in Amsterdam to review the original decision.  In January 2012, the court decided that Claude Dauphin can be prosecuted for the alleged illegal export of waste by Trafigura.  In November 2012 the Dutch Public Prosecutor's Office and Trafigura reached an out-of-court settlement.  Trafigura agreed to pay €300,000 compensation and paid a €67,000 fine in return for the withdrawal of the case against Claude Dauphin.

In February 2015, lawyers representing 110,937 Ivorians sent a summons to Trafigura in respect of a new lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Trafigura caused " bodily, moral and economic the plaintiffs," and requests that Trafigura pay each claimant 2,500 euros in compensation, as well as cleaning up the waste.  In November 2016, a Dutch court rejected the claim by a foundation representing them, finding that the foundation did not establish that the claim was in the best interests of the affected Ivorians.

Claims in France

In July 2008, three French victims of the Probo Koala incident filed a complaint against Trafigura before an examining magistrate in Paris alleging corruption, involuntary homicide and physical harm leading to death.  

- Court finds Leigh Day breached duty of care to Trafigura claimant, John Hyde, Law Society Gazette (UK)
- "100,000 victims of Ivory Coast toxic spill launch Dutch suit", Yahoo News, 20 Feb 2015
- "Dutch Probo Koala toxic waste cases finally settled out of court",, 16 Nov 2012
- "Trafigura lessons have not been learned, report warns", Fiona Harvey, Guardian [UK], 25 Sep 2012
- "Trafigura director can be prosecuted says Dutch court", Expatica, 30 Jan 2012
- "Trafigura fined €1m for exporting toxic waste to Africa", Rob Evans, Guardian [UK], 23 Jul 2010
- "Fear over Ivory Coast ruling on Trafigura waste pay-out", BBC News, 22 Jan 2010
- "Trader Trafigura settles Ivorian waste case", Loucoumane Coulibaly & Reed Stevenson, Reuters, 20 Sep 2009
- "Oil company accused of 'nobbling' witnesses in African toxic waste case", Frances Gibb, Times [UK], 24 Mar 2009
- "Ivory Coast turns to UK in class action over toxic waste", Times [UK], 4 Jun 2008
- "Update: Trafigura To Pay Ivory Coast EUR7.6M Over Toxic Waste", Lananh Nguyen, Dow Jones Newswires, 17 Apr 2008
- "Dutch plan to charge Trafigura over toxic ship", Reuters, 19 Feb 2008
- "Côte d'Ivoire toxic waste probe goes to France", afrol News [Lesotho], 26 Jul 2007
- "Toxic waste deal won't halt case", BBC News, 15 Feb 2007
- [FR] "Déchets toxiques : Trafigura dédommage la Cote d’Ivoire mais nie toute responsabilité", Véronique Smée, Novethic, 14 Feb 2007
- "UK action over 'toxic waste' case", BBC News, 2 Feb 2007
- "Neglect and Fraud Blamed for Toxic Dumping in Ivory Coast", Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, 24 Nov 2006
- "Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast", Lydia Polgreen & Marlise Simons, New York Times, 2 Oct 2006

- Trafigura : Probo Koala updates
- Trafigura: Amnesty International Report, 27 Sep 2012
- [PDF] Trafigura & Leigh Day: Agreed Final Joint Statement, 19 Sep 2009
- Leigh Day [counsel for plaintiffs]: International Claims - Ivory Coast 
- Leigh Day: Victims of toxic waste in despair at court ruling, 22 Jan 2010
- Amnesty International & Greenpeace: [PDF] The Toxic Truth, 25 Sep 2012
- Sherpa: [PDF] Probo Koala: A catastrophe emblématique, justice exemplaire, 9 Jul 2008
- [FR] Commission internationale d’enquête sur les déchets toxiques dans le District d’Abidjan [établie par le Gouvernement de Côte d’Ivoire] : [DOC] Rapport de la commission internationale d'enquete sur les dechets toxiques deverses dans le district d'Abidjan, 19 Feb 2007

- [FR] Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH): Affaire des déchets toxiques : une transaction au détriment de la justice et de la réparation pour les victimes, 16 Feb 2007
- Greenpeace International: Toxic Waste in Abidjan : Greenpeace Evaluation, 15 Sep 2006

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29 June 2011

Legal Aid, Sentencing And Punishment Of Offenders Bill, House of Commons Debates 29 June 2011 [UK]

Author: Lisa Nandy MP, Hansard (official report of Parliament proceedings) [UK]

[Scroll down to 5.36 pm] Lisa Nandy…: I want to discuss a problem that the Bill creates for the victims of human rights abuses committed by UK-based multinationals operating overseas…the proposals on civil litigation costs…will make it virtually impossible to bring cases against multinationals…Teams of lawyers are required to work overseas…Such cases…are brought under a conditional fee agreement…Given the costs and risk incurred, law firms rely on the success fee to cushion them and to future-fund other cases. As the success fee will no longer be recoverable, the ability to take a case will be severely restricted…Taken with the proposal to prevent claimants from recovering after-the-event insurance, that will be absolutely devastating…I urge…[the Government] to think again about these cases…It is also the view of Professor John Ruggie, the UN special representative on business and human rights…That is why I am asking for exemption in these particular cases. [refers to Trafigura, Cape Plc, Rio Blanco Copper (part of Monterrico Metals)]

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1 July 2011

[PDF] Corporate Human Rights Violations and Private International Law - The Hinge Function and Conductivity of PIL in Implementing Human Rights in Civil Proceedings in Europe: a Facilitating Role for PIL or PIL as a Complicating Factor?

Author: Veerle Van Den Eeckhout, Leiden University and University of Antwerp

It is conceivable – and this is the central hypothesis of this contribution − that a non- European subsidiary of a European parent company has violated human rights outside Europe...and that the European parent company itself has been involved in that violation, too...Given...the hypothesis that plaintiffs want to bring an action before an EU Member State court – this exploration and analysis will be based on the European PIL [private international law] perspective...PIL can play a key role in the efforts to offer victims of human rights violations a real possibility of recovering damage suffered by them in civil proceedings against those who were actually involved in this violation...Care should be taken to ensure that PIL is not reduced to an instrument of power in the hands of the stronger party, who can use it in order to benefit even more from a situation of ‘competing norms'...

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Des victimes des déchets toxiques, réunis au sein du Renadvidetci de Koffi Charles, sont actuellement en colère. Leur courroux est lié à la suspension du processus d’indemnisation depuis juillet 2010. Ils entendent faire entendre leur voix aux nouvelles autorités et surtout au ministre de la Justice [et] ce, par un sit-in devant les locaux dudit ministère...L’information a été livrée...par le président du Renadvidetci, M. Koffi Charles, suite à une action en justice contre Gohourou, accusé d’avoir détourné le montant alloué à cet effet...« L’accord secret entre le cabinet Leigh Day and Co [qui avait représenté les victimes contre Trafigura dans le procès à Londres] et Claude Gohourou a livré les victimes en pâture. Plusieurs victimes ne sont pas rentrées en possession de leur dû. Manifestement, il y a eu détournement de la part de Claude Gohourou. C’est pourquoi, outre la reprise du processus d’indemnisation à l’initiative de l’Etat de Côte d’ivoire, nous réclamons la réouverture de la procédure judiciaire pour détournement de fonds alloués à l’indemnisation des sinistrés des déchets toxiques », a-t-il clarifié.

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3 August 2011

Shell accepts liability for two oil spills in Nigeria

Author: John Vidal, Guardian [UK]

Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars after accepting full liability for two massive oil spills that have devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 people and may take at least 20 years to clean up...Shell's acceptance of full liability for the spills follows a class action suit bought on behalf of communities by London law firm Leigh Day and Co...Many other impoverished communities in the delta are now expected to seek damages for oil pollution against Shell in the British courts...Last week Shell Nigeria said: "SPDC accepts responsibility under the Oil Pipelines Act for the two oil spills both of which were due to equipment failure. SPDC acknowledges that it is liable to pay compensation -to those who are entitled to receive such compensation." [also refers to Trafigura]

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Author: West Africa Democracy Radio

Amnesty International appelle le nouveau gouvernement de Côte d’Ivoire à s’assurer que toutes les victimes du déversement de déchets toxiques de Trafigura obtiennent la compensation qui leur est due. Cinq ans jour pour jour après ce désastre écologique qui avait fait plus de 100 000 victimes à Abidjan, des milliers d’entre eux n’ont toujours rien reçu. Trafigura avait déboursé plus de 260 000 millions de dollars pour indemniser les sinistrés, mais la majorité de cet argent demeure introuvable...« Ces déboursements ont été entravés par des délais répétés et un manque de transparence. Le gouvernement du Président Ouattara doit agir avec fermeté pour montrer que la corruption et la dilapidation de fonds ne seront pas tolérés », a affirmé Benedetta Lacey, la conseillère spéciale d’Amnesty International pour la responsabilité corporative.

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19 August 2011

Côte d’Ivoire: Missing millions must reach Trafigura toxic waste victims

Author: Amnesty International

Côte d’Ivoire’s new government must ensure that the compensation paid out by...Trafigura reaches the thousands of victims affected by a toxic waste dumping in 2006, Amnesty International said...on the fifth anniversary of the disaster. Trafigura has paid US$260 million in a number of payouts but much of the money remains unaccounted for and thousands of victims have not received anything...The dumping of toxic waste...affected more than 100,000 people...In February 2007 Trafigura entered into a settlement agreement with the government of Côte d’Ivoire under which Trafigura paid US$195 million for compensation and clean-up costs. The government subsequently drew up a list of over 95,000 victims to compensate; however, the government compensation process was never completed and questions remain over how much of the US$195 million the victims actually received...In September 2009 Trafigura made a separate payment of US$45 million in an out-of-court settlement reached in the UK with nearly 30,000 Ivorians...

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31 August 2011

U.K. Shell Deal Spotlights Value of Common Law Model for Human Rights Litigation

Author: Michael Goldhaber, American Lawyer

Royal Dutch Shell has been sued so many times over its conduct in Nigeria that its cases offer a laboratory experiment for human rights litigation…[T]he "Bodo" case…emerged from obscurity three weeks ago. On Aug. 3, four months after farmers and fishermen from the village of Bodo filed a common law complaint in London high court, Shell's Nigerian subsidiary admitted liability for a pair of oil spills in return for the parent company's dismissal from the suit…[P]arental liability for the conduct of foreign subsidiaries has been called the leading legal question in European business human rights… [T]he common law model of corporate human rights accountability is starting to make the Alien Tort Statute look pretty weak by comparison. Bodo confirms that plaintiffs may have other options if the corporate alien tort hits a dead end. [also refers to Chevron, Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin), Trafigura, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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12 September 2011

Ken Clarke criticised over restricting 'no win, no fee' agreements

Author: Owen Bowcott, Guardian [UK]

In a letter to the Guardian, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and others warn that if the justice secretary...succeeds in restricting "no win, no fee" agreements then Trafigura-style cases could never be brought again...The Labour MP Kate Green has tabled an amendment to the bill seeking to exempt human rights cases from the government's proposed reforms...Under the Ministry of Justice's proposals, claimants would have to pay their lawyers' success costs out of any compensation awarded. Critics say such fees could easily exceed the awards; the change will deter many lawyers from taking up such cases...Martin Day, of the solicitors Leigh Day and Co, which brought the Trafigura action, said: "'If our work assisting people in the developing world to bring human rights claims against British multinationals is to continue then we desperately need the current bill to be changed."

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22 September 2011

Justice Secretary Clarke Denies Access to Justice for Victims of Corporate Abuse [UK]

Author: Lisa Nandy MP, Huffington Post [UK]

Ken Clarke accused the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of being 'disingenuous' for claiming that his proposals would make it more difficult for victims of human rights abuse by British-based multi-nationals to gain access to justice. These proposals, contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill…will abolish the recoverability of the success fee from losing defendants, meaning that if lawyers are to profit from a case, they must take it out of the victims' damages…Clarke maintains that the system…has attracted litigation from other countries to the UK. This is a strange argument when you consider that the firms against which litigation has been pursued are British firms…[a]nd since the no win/no fee system was introduced; only nine such cases have been brought in the UK…It cannot be right to rebalance the system so far in favour of powerful, multinational companies…[refers to Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin), Trafigura]

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Author: AFP sur

Près de 7 millions d'euros destinés à l'indemnisation des 6.000 victimes restantes des déchets toxiques déversés en 2006 à Abidjan ont été détournés par l'association en charge de sa distribution, ont accusé jeudi à Abidjan les avocats des victimes. Claude Gohourou, responsable de la Coordination nationale des victimes des déchets toxiques (CNVDT-CI), "a volé l'argent des 6.000 victimes", a affirmé l'avocat anglais Martyn Day lors d'une conférence de presse à Abidjan. "M. Gohourou a promis depuis avril 2010 de dédommager les victimes, dont la plupart sont d'origine modeste et pauvre, mais jusqu'ici il ne l'a pas fait", a déploré ce responsable du cabinet d'avocats Leigh Day & Co, annonçant qu'une plainte a été déposée contre lui devant la justice ivoirienne. Après indemnisation de plus de 23.000 victimes, "4,5 milliards de FCFA (6,8 M EUR)" étaient "censés être disponibles sur le compte de la Coordination", mais "il ne reste plus que moins de 400.000 FCFA (610 euros)", a-t-il déclaré.

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