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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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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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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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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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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Author: Sabine Cessou, RFI

Plus de cinq ans après le déversement de déchets toxiques à Abidjan, Claude Dauphin, le PDG de Trafigura, la société de négoce qui avait affrété le cargo Probo Koala, va faire l’objet d’un procès au Pays-Bas...Ainsi en a décidé le 30 janvier la cour d’appel d’Amsterdam, après de longs atermoiements. Claude Dauphin, 60 ans, ne devra répondre que des faits concernant l’escale du Probo Koala aux Pays-Bas, en juillet 2006. Le navire grec battant pavillon panaméen avait déchargé une partie de ses eaux usées de fond de cale, des slops provenant du nettoyage des cuves du tanker, pour les faire traiter à Amsterdam. Ces déchets sont si nauséabonds qu’ils ne peuvent être traités qu’au prix fort. Ils seront repompés à bord et transportés vers l’Afrique, en toute illégalité, dans la mesure où ils étaient déjà suspects d’être toxiques...Claude Dauphin a déjà fait de la prison en Côte d’Ivoire, où il avait été arrêté le 16 septembre 2006, moins d’un mois après le déversement des déchets toxiques...Aux Pays-Bas, aucun compromis financier n’est possible, l’affaire étant traitée au pénal.

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30 January 2012

Legal aid bill: why the media's silence?

Author: John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister in Guardian [UK]

New legislation [in the Legal aid bill] would stop people taking on big corporations...the second part of the bill, which is nothing less than a cack-handed attempt to change the legal system to benefit large corporations when they are being sued...[It] is going to affect a lot of people...[including:] victims of human rights abuses like those in the Trafigura case, and victims of media corporations' desire to print half-truths and invade privacy. Yet the same part of the bill has been sold to a willing media as an attempt to reduce motor insurance premiums. [also refers to BBC, British Sky Broadcasting, Guardian, Daily Mail (owned by Daily Mail and General Trust), Daily Express (owned by Express Newspapers)]

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30 January 2012

Trafigura director can be prosecuted says Dutch court

Author: Expatica

A Dutch court ruled…Trafigura’s French co-founder could be prosecuted for illegal export of toxic waste, later dumped in Ivory Coast after a stopover in the Netherlands…"The Amsterdam Appeals Court decided…Trafigura director Claude Dauphin…is alleged to have led the…illegal export of waste by Trafigura.”…[The court] upheld a million-euro fine against Trafigura for violating EU laws on the import and export of toxic waste…Trafigura…denies any link between the waste and subsequent deaths…But a United Nations report published in September 2009 found “strong” evidence blaming the waste for at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations…The dumping caused 17 deaths and thousands of cases of poisoning, Ivorian judges said.

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Author: Alexandre Lebel Ilboudon,

Les accusations viennent des victimes et des présidents d’associations des victimes des déchets toxiques. Les cent milliards FCFA que l’Etat de Côte d’Ivoire a reçus de la société Trafigura en 2007 pour l’indemnisation des victimes auraient été détournés de leur objectif initial... beaucoup [de] victimes se plaignent de ce que l’indemnisation des victimes était entourée de corruption et de tracasserie [administrative]...Des agents du Trésor ont donc été ouvertement accusés de corruption et de falsification de documents...pour Mavin Ouattara, [le président de l’Union des victimes des déchets toxiques d’Abidjan et banlieues (Uvdtab)], les cent milliards de Trafigura ont servi à autre chose que l’indemnisation. « Nous avons assisté à une arnaque à grande échelle. L’argent des victimes a tout simplement servi d’appui budgétaire à l’Etat de 2008 à 2010 », accuse t-il. Marvin Ouattara en veut pour preuve la construction du pont « Vagabond » de Yopougon qui a couté la bagatelle de 1,2 milliard et...l’aménagement du carrefour de l’Indenié pour près de 300 millions FCFA.

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31 December 2011

[PDF] Corporate Liability of Energy/Natural Resources Companies at National Law for Breach of International Human Rights Norms

Author: Oliver Salas

While there are established rules to invoke the liability of States for their breach of international law obligations, there is no equivalent to hold corporations liable for violating human rights norms...[T]he lack of obvious international remedies for human rights abuse committed by corporations, means that corporate activities remain largely governed by national law...The lack of specific fora to bring human rights claims against corporations also means that liability for breach of international human rights norms is essentially a matter for national courts to deal with...This paper evaluates the challenges posed to domestic judicial mechanisms to address corporate liability of NRCs for their alleged violation of international human rights norms. [refers to BP, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Occidental Petroleum, Rio Tinto, Talisman, Trafigura Beheer, Union Carbide, Unocal]

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23 December 2011

Dutch appeals court upholds $1.3 million Trafigura fine in Amsterdam leg of dumping scandal

Author: Associated Press

A Dutch court Friday upheld a $1.3 million criminal fine for oil trading company Trafigura in the Amsterdam part of a hazardous waste drama that allegedly left 15 people dead and sickened thousands more in Ivory Coast in 2006. The Amsterdam Appeals Court judgment reinforces a 2010 lower court ruling that found the company illegally instructed the ship Probo Koala to leave the Netherlands with toxic waste in July 2006 after deciding it would be cheaper to dispose of it elsewhere. The company denies any wrongdoing in the actual dumping, saying it paid a local contractor in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to dispose of the waste and wasn't responsible for it being dumped at sites around the city. It also claims the waste wasn't highly toxic anyway.

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