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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26 March 2012

The legal aid bill will enable multinationals to exploit the poor

Author: Lord Daniel Brennan QC in Guardian [UK]

[P]arliament will take a vote on the legal aid bill, which will either secure the reputation of British justice being fair and just or leave victims of human rights abuses and environmental crimes in developing countries with no access to our system of justice...The only beneficiaries will be the multinational companies...If passed, this legislation will prevent such companies from facing any legal challenge in the first place, because the claimants will not be able to find lawyers in this country who can afford to bring such claims...a cross-party group of peers are asking the justice minister, Lord McNally, to make a simple exception for these cases, which are very rare and come at no cost to the British taxpayer. [refers to Trafigura]

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10 April 2012

Would the End of the Alien Tort Statute Mean an End to Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses? [USA]

Author: Xander Meise Bay, Foley Hoag LLP in CSR and the Law

In Kiobel, the Supreme Court could hold that the ATS has no extraterritorial application, it could severely limit its application, or it could maintain the status quo…[T]he emerging consensus is that even without the ATS, potential plaintiffs will have the capacity to submit their claims to other local or international tribunals. The most viable option…would be to pursue tort claims in local courts in the jurisdiction where the alleged torts occurred…Second, these cases could end up in the jurisdiction where the potential defendants reside or conduct their primary business activities, or in locations exercising universal jurisdiction or applying common law principles to bring civil or criminal charges…Cases such as Trafigura demonstrate the willingness of some States to extend their jurisdictional reach in the context of human rights violations or other series crimes. Even if the ATS option is lost, the international community has already been addressing these issues through new legislation and other measures…

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1 May 2012

Government Must Ensure Businesses Respect Human Rights [Ireland]

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway [Ireland]

A new report calls on the Government to ensure that companies respect human rights and to provide guidance to businesses on the requirements of human rights due diligence, including when operating overseas. Such due diligence should be a mandatory requirement underpinned by legislation, according to the report’s authors at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in NUI Galway. ‘Business and Human Rights in Ireland’ aims to contribute to policy, practice and law on business and human rights in Ireland. [refers to Apple, Shell, Statoil, Penneys/Primark (part of Associated British Foods), Gama Construction Ireland Ltd (part of Gama Turkey)] [Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Shell & Integrated Risk Management Services to respond to the report. Shell responded & Integrated Risk Management Services said it had no comment to make]

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Author: Jean Eric Adingra, Le Patriote [Côte d'Ivoire]

Motto Yao Esaïe est désormais le nouveau président de la Coordination nationale des victimes des déchets toxiques de Côte d’Ivoire (Cnvdt-ci). Il remplace Claude Gohourou, en exil. Telle est l’information principale de la conférence de presse tenue récemment, à Cocody, par la Cnvdt-ci. Il ressort de la déclaration, que depuis le 03 avril 2012, suite à une assemblée générale, Motto Yao Esaïe, ancien vice-président, assurera désormais la présidence de cette coordination...Motto Yao Esaïe a révélé qu’il s’agit de soulager le reste des victimes en attente des 750 000 FCFA, réclamer le reliquat s’élevant à 70 milliards de FCFA tenus en ce moment par Trafigura, réclamer l’astreinte s’élevant à ce jour à 1 milliard 700 millions de FCFA au cabinet d’avocat anglais Leigh Day & Co. A cela s’ajoutent l’indemnisation totale de toutes les victimes de Côte d’Ivoire, la dépollution totale de tous les sites pollués, la réconciliation des victimes avec Trafigura.

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Author: Jeune Afrique

Les déchets toxiques n’en finissent plus d’empoisonner la vie des Ivoiriens. Six ans après le déclenchement de l’affaire Trafigura...quelque 6000 victimes réclament toujours leur indemnisation à la suite du déversement de ces déchets dans les différentes décharges de la capitale économique ivoirienne. En juillet 2011, le président du Réseau national pour la défense des victimes de déchets toxiques...a déposé une plainte devant le tribunal de première instance d’Abidjan pour ne pas avoir reçu l’intégralité des dédommagements accordés par Trafigura. Sur un total de 22, 5 milliards de F CFA, environ 4,65 milliards de FCFA ne sont jamais parvenus aux victimes – soit 7 millions d’euros. Cette plainte a donné lieu à une enquête...les officiers de police...recommandent des poursuites pour « faux, usage de faux, détournements de fonds, recel et complicité » à l’encontre de trois personnalités...

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31 May 2012

[PDF] Legal avenues for EJOs to claim environmental liability - EJOLT Report No. 4

Author: Antoni Pigrau, Susana Borràs, Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann, Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT)

Questions of global justice raise within transnational relations in the light of an ever increasing number of instances of massive environmental damage and human rights violations, resulting from the operation of multinational corporations (MNCs). This paper appraises the different national and international (judicial and non-judicial) fora that are available to hold MNCs accountable. On the basis of recent judicial developments concerning civil liability claims by victims of the operations of MNCs in various countries, it explores the circumstances under which national, transnational and international litigation, either by itself or in interaction with each other, have proven most effective in providing redress. It concludes that transnational cluster-litigation is the most efficient strategy to tighten the meshes of judicial action upon MNCs, hence promoting the international rule of law and contributing, albeit modestly, to foster (corrective) global justice. [refers to AES, Chevron, DynCorp, Minera Yanacocha, PetroEcuador, Rio Tinto, Shell, Sterlite Industries (part of Vedanta), Texaco (part of Chevron), Trafigura, Vedanta]

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25 September 2012

Trafigura lessons have not been learned, report warns

Author: Fiona Harvey, Guardian [UK]

More than six years after the dumping of large quantities of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, there is still nothing to stop a similar disaster in developing countries because politicians and courts have failed to learn from the lessons, a new report [by Amnesty Intl. & Greenpeace] has found…Their report…concluded that too little has been done to strengthen national and international regulations…The NGOs…called for Trafigura to face a criminal trial in the UK. Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said: "It's time that Trafigura was made to face full legal accountability for what happened. People in Abidjan were failed not just by their own government but by governments in Europe who did not enforce their own laws. Victims are still waiting for justice and there are no guarantees that this kind of corporate crime will not happen again."…Greenpeace and Amnesty are calling for freedom from toxic waste dumping to be a human right…

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1 October 2012

[PDF] Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities for Europe and Japan

Author: Jörg Polakiewicz, Nagoya University

The paper provides an analysis and overview over the existing human rights standards relating to business...It also analyses existing law and practice regarding civil and criminal liability of Europe and [USA]...[as well as] Japan’s law and business practices in this field...It also examines what options exist to complement the existing frameworks with initiatives at regional and national level...The rather restrictive scope of existing human rights treaties contrasts with developments in domestic law, where jurisdictions increasingly apply international human rights law...with the result that human rights norms have become relevant for corporations as well...[refers to Daily Mail, McDonald’s, Markt Intern, Axel Springer, Unocal (part of Chevron), Total, Barclays, Shell, Trafigura Beheer, Brother, Hitachi, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toshiba]

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Author: F. J. Zamora Cabot, Universitat Jaume I de Castellón

[Los] Derechos Humanos...afrontan en el ámbito europeo...un doble reto de gran envergadura...[Por] una parte, ciertas cuestiones vinculadas con la compleja gestación de una sociedad multicultural en tal ámbito y, por otra, la necesidad de salir al paso de las violaciones de Derechos Humanos perpetradas en terceros Países por empresas...radicadas en Europa..[E]xisten ciertamente ya muchos datos que implican un cambio de decorado en el panorama de la práctica europea sobre la responsabilidad de las multinacionales...[El derecho] internacional privado puede ya afrontar sin mayores dificultades en el ámbito europeo, a través de sus propias vías, el problema aquí tratado. Tiene recursos técnicos para ello, que aún han de mejorarse. [Se refiere a Shell, Trafigura Beheer].

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8 November 2012

[PDF] Enhancing Corporate Accountability for Human Rights Violations: Is Extraterritoriality the Magic Potion?

Author: Nadia Bernaz, Journal of Business Ethics

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights…largely depend on state action and corporate good will for their implementation. One…way for states to prevent and redress violations of human rights committed by companies outside their country of registration is to adopt measures with extraterritorial implications…or to assert direct extraterritorial jurisdiction in specific instances. Some United Nations human rights bodies and non-governmental organisations are clearly supporting the use of extraterritoriality and have argued that international human rights law places an obligation on states to embrace extraterritoriality so as to better control the activities of companies registered on their territories…[This] article aims to determine whether extraterritoriality is the magic potion that will help enhance corporate accountability for human rights violations committed overseas. The article explores whether such obligation exists and, beyond this, whether extraterritoriality should be further encouraged.

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