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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16 November 2012

Dutch Probo Koala toxic waste cases finally settled out of court


The Dutch public prosecution department and oil trading group Trafigura have finally settled their legal dispute, ending years of proceedings surrounding the dumping of oil waste in Ivory Coast by the Probo Koala ship in 2006. Trafigura was earlier fined €1m for the illegal export of hazardous waste and concealing the nature of the waste. The Probo Koala was docked in Amsterdam before heading to the African country…Trafigura has now agreed to pay a further €300,000 as compensation for its earnings from the illegal export. The public prosecutor has also agreed to drop the case against Trafigura director Claude Dauphin in return for a €67,000 fine.

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Author: Greenpeace

Greenpeace Afrique condamne l'amende dérisoire infligée à la société néerlandaise Trafigura Beheer BV et son président Dauphin qui avaient été accusés d'avoir exporté et déversé illégalement des déchets toxiques en Côte d'Ivoire en 2006...le président de cette entreprise...a négocié une amende dérisoire de 67 000 Euros...«Le règlement qui a été annoncé est une triste nouvelle; bien que les décisions antérieures de justice sur la société Trafigura soient devenues définitives et que la société ait accepté de payer précédemment un million d'Euros et un montant supplémentaire de 300.000 Euros...cela ne change pas le fait que les cadres des entreprises puissantes, responsables des activités néfastes peuvent échapper à la responsabilité juridique pour avoir commis de graves crimes environnementaux et humains. Le Président de Trafigura ne va pas être tenu pour responsable", a déclaré...Greenpeace Afrique..."Le ministère public du Pays-Bas a décidé de régler l’affaire afin d'éviter de longues procédures judiciaires aux coûts élevés...Le règlement, a déclaré Greenpeace Afrique, n'était pas dans l'intérêt général mais a plutôt créé un précédent déplorable que les entreprises puissantes peuvent éviter la nécessité d'obéir aux lois internationales sur l'environnement et de respecter les normes et standards.

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10 December 2012

[PDF] Corporate Liability in a New Setting: Shell & the Changing Legal Landscape for the Multinational Oil Industry in the Niger Delta

Author: Essex Business and Human Rights Project, Univ. of Essex [UK]

The purpose of this report is to analyse the law that is relevant to decisions about the management of the international oil companies that are operating in the Niger Delta. The focus is on the Shell Group, the largest company operating in the area, but the conclusions can have application to other companies in a similar position…This report…considers the possibility of…litigation against Shell in Europe and the United States. Further, it [aims to] enable investors to evaluate the significance of the Nigerian operations impacts on their holdings in the Group as a whole. Finally, apart from impacts on the environment and local communities, the report will consider two additional matters that should concern any oil company operating in the region: the treatment of employees in the Delta, as well as any potential liability for corrupt practices under US and European law. [also refers to Bridgestone-Firestone (part of Bridgestone), Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Nigerian Agip Oil Company (joint venture Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Eni, ConocoPhillips), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Trafigura, Total E&P Nigeria].

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1 January 2013

Alien Tort Backup Plan

Author: Michael Goldhaber, American Lawyer

On the off chance that business interests prevail in the U.S. Supreme Court reargument of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, alien tort plaintiffs may wish to review the record of corporate human rights litigation in English courts. This author's study…suggests that companies might find themselves missing alien tort law. In the mid-1990s, activist lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic sought a way to hold companies liable for human rights and environmental abuse committed in other nations. U.S. lawyers primarily chose the Alien Tort Statute. U.K. lawyers began to file old-fashioned common law tort suits. Notwithstanding the rivers of ink devoted to alien tort, common law theory has been surprisingly effective. [also refers to Unocal, Trafigura, BHP, Cape plc]

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7 February 2013

The end of the Probo Koala [China]

Author: Robin des Bois

The Hua Wen, ex-Probo Koala [ship] is going to be demolished in the coming weeks in China. From August 2006 on, the scattering in Abidjan of desulphurization waste containing mercaptan and hydrogen sulphide [from the ship, when it was chartered by Trafigura]…provoked a panic…[in the] Ivory Coast business capital. 16 fatalities were officially reported; the victims had been exposed to the toxic…waste which had been unloaded from the Probo Koala slop tanks…In May 2011, the ship, renamed Gulf Jash…was sold for demolition…Robin des Bois sent a warning to the Bangladeshi authorities about the sanitary risks for workers during scrapping, taking into account the story of the ship. So…[it] was excluded from the Bangladesh territorial waters…Gulf Jash…[was] sold to the Chinese “Pan Chinese Ocean Corp” and once more renamed…Hua Feng…She just arrived in Taizhou ship-breaking yard….where she met with the ex-Probo Bear now Hua Di. The two ships will be demolished by Taizhou Weiye Scrapping & Rolling Co Ltd, 150 km upstream Shanghai. Considering their pungent past, Robin des Bois wishes sanitary measures be taken to protect the workers…

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7 February 2013

The Shell Nigeria cases - an important precedent for transnational liability claims

Author: Allen & Overy

Royal Dutch Shell…was found not liable [by the District Court of The Hague] for the damage suffered by several claimants caused by four oil spills in Nigeria in the years 2004-2007...[It] appear[s] to be…an international trend for multinationals to be held accountable in their home jurisdiction for damage that has been caused by, or is related to the operations of one of their foreign (indirect) subsidiaries abroad…Multinationals that have a parent company with its headquarters or corporate seat in the Netherlands should be aware of the possibilities of injured parties…to establish the jurisdiction of the Dutch courts by simultaneously bringing a claim against the parent company based on group liability and against the foreign subsidiary based on tort…The approach across EU states may vary depending on national rules on jurisdiction…In the US...[j]urisdiction over foreign subsidiaries of US corporations is precluded unless the subsidiary acts as the alter ego of the parent under its direct control, or independently maintains sufficient jurisdictional contacts with the forum...[Refers to Trafigura]

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Author: Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot (Universidad de Castellón), para proyecto Consolider-Ingenio (HURI-AGE)

[M]e referiré...a los Estados Unidos...que, si han sido durante...años un marco de referencia...en cuanto a los...litigios civiles transnacionales sobre Derechos Humanos...a travé la práctica sobre el Alien Tort Claims encuentran actualmente en una nueva situación...a causa de la reciente decisión...en el...caso Kiobel...[E]studiaré la cuestión en el ámbito extraterritorialidad...[M]e referiré en especial al sector extractivo...y al llamado Plan Nacional de Empresas y Derechos Humanos donde...nuestro País va a fijar la manera de poner en práctica los Principios Rectores...[se refiere a Shell, Trafigura, Cape PLC, Vedanta]

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28 February 2014

[PDF] Injustice Incorporated: Corporate Abuses and the Human Right to Remedy

Author: Amnesty International

This book seeks to ground the debate on the human right to remedy in cases of corporate-related abuse in the lived experiences of victims…[It]… focuses on four emblematic cases and exposes how corporate political and financial power intertwined with specific legal obstacles to allow companies to evade accountability and deny, or severely curtail, remedy…The cases are…[the] 1984 Bhopal gas leak in India…[the] case of Omai gold in Guyana...[the] Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea…[and the] dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire…[Trafigura responded that] it is simply wrong to suggest that the issues have not had the right judicial scrutiny...[Union Carbide responded that] [a]ll of the victims’ claims…were resolved a quarter-century ago by a comprehensive settlement…[Includes full responses from Arcelor Mittal, Dow Chemical, Tata Group, Trafigura Beheer, Union Carbide (part of Dow)] [Also refers to BHP Billiton, BP, Shell, Vedanta Resources]

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9 April 2014

Financial power: Behind the lack of remedy for corporations’ human rights abuses

Author: Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International in Righting Finance

…Amnesty International has been working on…the right to effective remedy in cases of corporate-related human rights abuses...[We]…repeatedly found ourselves confronting the way companies exercised political power to the detriment of the right to remedy…[Corporate] influence on the right to remedy often began at a very early stage in the investment process – when companies influenced, behind the scenes, the laws and regulations that would govern their investments in developing economies…The need for foreign direct investment (FDI) can leave developing countries relatively powerless in their dealings with corporate interests...International financial institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have played a key role in promoting investor-friendly regulatory environments in…particularly developing countries…IFIs prescriptions… have included reducing or removing regulations that protect the environment and human rights…

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Author: Aboubakar Sangaré, (Côte d'Ivoire)

"Déchets toxiques/ 19 août 2006-19 août 2014 : Il y a 7 ans, le Probo Koala endeuillait la Côte d’Ivoire", 19 août 2014

Dans la nuit du 19 au 20 août 2006...le Probo Koala, affrété par la société Trafigura déversait des déchets hautement toxiques de 528 m3 dans la décharge publique d’Akouédo et dans près d’une dizaine d’autres sites à forte densité de population. Ces déchets toxiques ont provoqué officiellement la mort d’au moins 17 personnes et intoxiqué  plus de 100.000 personnes. La société Trafigura et l’Etat ivoirien ont conclu, le 13 février 2007, un accord à l’amiable dans lequel cette société s’engageait à verser 100 milliards FCFA à l’Etat en échange de l’abandon des poursuites judiciaires. Outre cette démarche, des actions judiciaires privées ont été engagées par des victimes des déchets toxiques. Les poursuites judicaires des 29.624 victimes regroupées au sein de la Coordination des victimes des déchets toxiques de Côte d’Ivoire (Cnvdt-Ci) et le cabinet d’Avocats anglais Leigh Day and Co ont abouti également à un règlement à l’amiable. Chaque victime appartenant à cette Coordination devrait être indemnisée à hauteur de 750.000 FCFA. Si certains ont pu toucher leur indemnité, d’autres attendent encore. Faute d’une mauvaise gestion du dossier par le président de la Coordination, Claude Gohourou. Ce qui fait d’ailleurs l’objet d’un procès juridique enclenché par le Réseau pour la défense des droits des victimes des déchets toxiques (Renadvidet-Ci) de Charles Koffi. Le délibéré de ce procès est prévu pour novembre 2014. Ce réseau multiplie des actions afin qu’il y ait une session extraordinaire afin de vider ce dossier. Parallèlement à cette affaire, d’autres actions judiciaires privées sont en cours.

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