hide message

Welcome to the Resource Centre

We make it our mission to work with advocates in civil society, business and government to address inequalities of power, seek remedy for abuse, and ensure protection of people and planet.

Both companies and impacted communities thank us for the resources and support we provide.

This is only possible because of your support. Please make a donation today.

Thank you,
Phil Bloomer, Executive Director

Donate now hide message

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 injury...to 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", DutchNews.nl, 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

Get RSS feed of these results

All components of this story

Article
13 May 2009

Dirty tricks and toxic waste in Ivory Coast [includes video]

Author: Meirion Jones & Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight

It is the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century, the type of environmental vandalism that international treaties are supposed to prevent. Now Newsnight can reveal the truth about the waste that was illegally tipped on Ivory Coast's biggest city, Abidjan. A giant multinational is being sued in London's High Court by thousands of Africans who claim they were injured as a result…Trafigura has always denied that the chemical waste was dangerous, but we have seen an analysis by the Dutch authorities which reveal it to be lethal…When Newsnight first investigated the toxic dumping scandal in 2007 one of Trafigura's founders Eric de Turckheim told Jeremy Paxman "these materials were not dangerous for human beings. It was smelly, but not dangerous." Newsnight's new investigation shows this was far from the case. Trafigura continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Read the full post here

Article
13 May 2009

Trafigura Statement [responding to BBC Newsnight program]

Author: Trafigura

Trafigura was not responsible for dumping the Probo Koala's slops in Abidjan. This has always been made perfectly clear. The slops were dumped by an independent contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which was appointed lawfully and in good faith on the basis that it would dispose of the slops in a safe and legal manner. Trafigura cannot have foreseen the reprehensible and illegal way in which Compagnie Tommy then proceeded to dump the slops…Trafigura has always said that the appropriate place for this case to be heard is in court and we are not prepared to engage in a trial by media. Whilst we refute your allegations, in the light of the impending court hearing, Trafigura does not feel it is appropriate to deal with these matters via the media.

Read the full post here

Article
14 May 2009

Papers prove Trafigura ship dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast [UK]

Author: David Leigh & Afua Hirsch, Guardian [UK]

Documents have emerged which detail…the potentially lethal nature of toxic waste dumped by British-based oil traders…Trafigura…originally issued statements in 2006 denying the tanker was carrying toxic waste…It was put by the Guardian to Trafigura's lawyers…that the company had been making wrong statements about the toxic waste…They issued a statement…saying: "We have no intention of descending into a detailed debate as to the chemical composition of the 'slops'."…Trafigura has currently offered to pay anyone from Ivory Coast who can prove the toxic waste actually caused them to fall ill. The claimants' lawyer, Martyn Day…says this concession will prevent the evidence detailing the true history…from coming out in court.

Read the full post here

Article
16 May 2009

Newsnight sued over toxic waste claims

Author: David Leigh, Guardian [UK]

Lawyers acting for Trafigura, the offshore company at the centre of one of the world's most notorious toxic waste dumping scandals, said yesterday that the company was suing the BBC's Newsnight programme for libel. More than 30,000 people in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where the waste was dumped, are bringing Britain's biggest-ever group action against the London-based oil traders, saying poisons in the waste were dumped all over the city and made them ill. The company's libel lawyers, Carter-Ruck, did not respond last night to requests to specify what statements in the programme were alleged to be libellous.

Read the full post here

Article
20 May 2009

Corporations on Trial

Author: Al Jazeera

International channel Al Jazeera English launches today, 20 May 2009, its five part “Corporations on Trial” series in its flagship People & Power slot. First in the series is “Dumping Ground” (Ivory Coast)...Transmission dates & times...Please note that you can also watch the film online...[refers to Chiquita, ExxonMobil, Trafigura]

Read the full post here

Article
20 May 2009

Putting corporations on trial

Author: Al Jazeera

Corporations on Trial is a five-part series charting the rapidly growing number of lawsuits brought against multi-national corporations...People & Power presenter and reporter, Juliana Ruhfus, explains the reasons behind the series and the importance of exposing the use and abuse of coporate power...One of the key changes is the coming of age of environmental and human rights activism...[refers to Lapindo Brantas (joint venture Energi Mega Persada, MedcoEnergi, Santos), Chiquita, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Texaco, Dole]

Read the full post here

Article
25 May 2009

Old law exhumed by fighters for human rights [USA]

Author: Michael Peel, Financial Times

...On Tuesday, a court in New York will start hearing a lawsuit alleging Shell was complicit in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death and a campaign of terror by Nigerian security forces. The claim – which the company says is false and is defending – is one of a series of similar cases launched against big businesses from round the world...The potential of these lawsuits to generate huge damages and disastrous publicity now hovers, according to one lawyer whose firm defends big companies, “very close to the consciousness of corporate America acting overseas”…These US actions are part of a wider international move to hold companies to account in rich countries over allegedly harmful activities in the poor world. In the absence of a bespoke world civil court to deal with such claims, lawyers are coming up with innovative ways of using existing national laws and procedures…The steadily widening stream of international litigation has opened up largely because of the US Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789…While some corporate lawyers argue the act is being used in cases for which it was never originally intended, the statute’s supporters say it is probably being applied in the same spirit now as it was when it was created. [also refers to Chevron, Trafigura, Unocal, Yahoo!]

Read the full post here

Article
10 July 2009

Ivory Coast poison claimants win first skirmish in Trafigura lawsuit

Author: David Leigh, Guardian [UK]

An unprecedented battle began in a British court today seeking damages for 30,000 French-speaking Africans, in one of the world's biggest cases of alleged mass-poisoning through environmental pollution. Lawyers for…Trafigura failed in its initial attempts to exclude many witnesses from the trial over alleged toxic-waste dumping by the company…Mr Justice Macduff ruled that witnesses could testify from Amsterdam, where Trafigura faces prosecution over earlier attempts to dump the same waste, and from Tunisia and Norway, where efforts to treat Trafigura's foul-smelling waste led to other accidents and protests. Trafigura's counsel, Edwin Glasgow QC, used today's public hearing in Manchester to attack some of the 30,000 claimants' motives.

Read the full post here

Article
15 September 2009

Trafigura faces UN toxic waste challenge

Author: Christopher Thompson, Financial Times

A United Nations investigation into toxic waste dumping in the Ivory Coast has challenged a key defence plank of the commodities trader Trafigura, which is facing the UK’s biggest class-action suit next month in London. More than 20,000 Ivoriens are suing Trafigura in the High Court for damages after one of its ships, the Probo Koala, allegedly offloaded toxic “slops” in the west African port of Abidjan in August 2006 to a local company which dumped it in open-air sites. A health crisis ensued in which, according to official estimates, 15 people died and more than 100,000 sought medical attention... The unedited report seen by the Financial Times – written by Okechukwu Ibeanu, the UN special rapporteur for toxic waste –...concludes that there is ”strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala”. Trafigura said that in spite of offers of information to the rapporteur, the “flawed” report contains “premature, inaccurate and potentially damaging conclusions that are unsupported by verifiable evidence”. [also refers to Tommy Ltd]

Read the full post here

Article
16 September 2009

How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster

Author: David Leigh, Guardian [UK]

The British oil trader Trafigura has offered to pay out in a historic damages claim from 31,000 Africans injured by the dumping of toxic waste in one of the worst pollution disasters in recent history, the Guardian can reveal. The compensation deal for the victims of toxic oil waste dumping in west Africa – likely to be confirmed imminently – means the full extent of attempts to cover up what really happened can be detailed for the first time. The truth is laid bare in Trafigura's hitherto secret documents, published by the Guardian today... Martyn Day...a senior partner at the British law firm Leigh Day...said today in Abidjan, where he has been negotiating the settlement: "The claimants are very pleased."... Trafigura said it "utterly rejected" claims of a cover-up. "Every statement that has been made…has been made in good faith."

Read the full post here