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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

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Article
18 September 2009

UN releases report on Ivorian toxic waste case

Author: Simon Bradley, Swissinfo

A United Nations expert says he has found strong evidence linking at least 15 deaths and thousands of sick people to waste dumped by a ship in Ivory Coast in 2006. But Trafigura, the international commodities trader that chartered the ship, repeatedly denies any wrongdoing and says the UN report is "deeply flawed"…The report said thousands of local residents visited health centres complaining of nausea, headaches, vomiting, abdominal pains, skin, throat, lung and gastric problems the next day.

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Article
20 September 2009

Greenpeace continues Trafigura pursuit over toxic waste

Author: David Leigh, Guardian [UK]

Greenpeace said today it would continue legal action against Trafigura, the London-based oil traders whose toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast in 2006, injuring thousands of Africans. Trafigura confirmed a last-minute £30m deal to settle compensation claims. That amounts to almost £1,000 for each of the 31,000 people involved…Greenpeace wants Trafigura prosecuted for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, citing documents it says demonstrate the waste's high toxicity. Trafigura also faces a Dutch prosecution for allegedly lying about the true nature of its waste.

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Article
20 September 2009

Trader Trafigura says settles Ivorian waste case

Author: Loucoumane Coulibaly & Reed Stevenson, Reuters

International commodities trader Trafigura said on Sunday it had reached a settlement with thousands of people in Ivory Coast who said they had fallen ill from toxic waste dumped around the economic capital Abidjan. Each of the 31,000 claimants represented by British law firm Leigh Day and Co would be entitled to damages of about 950 pounds ($1,553), Trafigura board director Eric de Turckheim told Reuters. Trafigura said the settlement was in no way an admission of liability. An Ivorian group representing the victims said it rejected the offer, and accused the company of exploiting Africa's poverty to end the row and avoid taking responsibility.

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Article
20 September 2009

[PDF] Agreed Final Joint Statement [by Trafigura and Leigh Day & Co.]

Author: Trafigura & Leigh Day & Co.

[I]ndependent 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…In the light of the expert evidence, Leigh Day & Co withdraws the comments made on its website on 8 November 2006 and subsequently, which alleged, among other things, that the slops had caused a number of deaths and miscarriages. Trafigura and Leigh Day & Co have accordingly resolved the libel proceedings brought by Trafigura. Leigh Day & Co deny that any of their clients have made any deliberately false claims.

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Article
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Author: Jean-Claude Péclet, Le Temps [Suisse]

Trafigura, No 3 mondial du négoce de pétrole, versera 1600 francs d’indemnité à chacun des quelque 30’000 Ivoiriens ayant souffert du déchargement illégal de déchets du Probo Koala en août 2006. Mais la société néerlandaise, basée en Suisse, ressort largement blanchie du rapport d’une vingtaine d’experts indépendants dont les conclusions ont été publiées dimanche. Elles ont été aussi acceptées par le cabinet d’avocats britannique Leigh Day & Co, représentant des plaignants... Le 19 août 2006, le vraquier Probo Koala,...affrété par Trafigura, déchargeait à Abidjan 500 tonnes de résidus...provenant de ses soutes. Les camions d’une société nouvellement créée, Tommy, les vidaient en 18 endroits de la ville, à ciel ouvert. Dès le lendemain, des milliers de personnes se plaignaient de maux de tête, vomissements, saignements, etc. Seize décès furent enregistrés dans les semaines suivantes. Les déchets du Probo Koala en étaient-ils responsables? Tel a été l’enjeu d’une bataille juridique, politique et médiatique de trois ans.

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Author: Sabine Cessou, Libération [France]

Les comptes sont réglés pour Trafigura, la multinationale spécialiste en trading de métaux accusée d’avoir intoxiqué des milliers de personnes à Abidjan en août 2006 avec les déchets toxiques du Probo Koala. Dans un communiqué, cette société...a annoncé hier que le procès intenté contre elle par 31.000 ressortissants ivoiriens pouvait être clos... Dans un accord amiable négocié...à Londres, où se tient le procès, Trafigura a offert 33 millions d’euros de dédommagement aux victimes présumées, au lieu des 198 millions d’euros demandés en justice. Chaque plaignant devrait recevoir 1 150 euros... Il ne faut d’ailleurs pas voir dans ces compensations un quelconque aveu de culpabilité, insiste la société, mais un signe de son «engagement social et économique dans la région»... A Amsterdam, où un second procès est en cours, Greenpeace a vivement réagi hier. «L’argent ne peut pas acheter la justice», selon l’organisation écologique, qui a demandé vendredi au procureur néerlandais de ne pas seulement poursuivre Trafigura en tant que personne morale, mais d’inculper aussi ses dirigeants, parmi lesquels le Français Claude Dauphin.

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Article
22 September 2009

Senior staff comments on Trafigura Case

Author: letter to editor of Guardian [UK] by Exec. Director John Morrison; blog post by Director of Policy Salil Tripathi, both of Institute for Human Rights & Business

[Tripathi:] As incidents of industrial pollution, human rights abuses, the quest for justice, and ultimate settlement go, the Trafigura case is a milestone. Its remarkable trajectory reinforces the urgent need for greater transparency and accountability in the way companies operate in our increasingly globalised world... three things stand out from this tragic saga. The role of the U.N. human rights mechanisms and the media; the company’s legal challenges against those who questioned its conduct; and the lack of an accountability framework.

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Author: Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme, Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme, Mouvement ivoirien des droits humains

Le 23 septembre 2009, un tribunal anglais a pris acte de l’accord intervenu le 20 septembre 2009 entre la société Trafigura et le cabinet Leigh Day & Co, qui représente près de 31 000 victimes ivoiriennes du déversement de déchets toxiques par le « Probo Koala », à Abidjan en août 2006. La FIDH et ses organisations membres en Côte d’Ivoire, la LIDHO et le MIDH, considèrent que cet accord à l’amiable ne doit pas permettre à la société Trafigura de s’exonérer des responsabilités qui sont les siennes au regard de la genèse et des facteurs qui ont provoqué cette catastrophe humaine, sanitaire et environnementale. La FIDH, la LIDHO et le MIDH, tout en respectant le droit et le désir des victimes d’être indemnisées des préjudices considérables subis, considèrent qu’en présence d’une décision de juridiction civile britannique entérinant simplement un accord entre parties, et en l’absence d’une décision de justice impartiale sur la responsabilité pénale de la société Trafigura, celle-ci ne peut pas se considérer blanchie par le simple fait d’avoir transigé à l’amiable avec les victimes.

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Author: Cheikh Yérim Seck, Jeune Afrique

Le 20 septembre...un « accord à l’amiable » a été conclu entre la société de négociation pétrolière Trafigura, qui a déversé 500 tonnes de déchets toxiques à Abidjan en août 2006, et les victimes de l’intoxication qui a suivi. En échange, les 31 000 victimes se partageront 33 millions d’euros, soit à peine 1 150 euros (750 000 F CFA) par personne... Les victimes, qui ont accepté ce deal, ont par la même occasion reconnu…qu’il n’a pas été établi de lien entre l’exposition aux produits émanant des déversements et « les fausses couches, les naissances d’enfants mort-nés, les malformations, les pertes d’acuité visuelle ou d’autres maladies graves et chroniques »... Si l’on en croit des activistes proches des victimes, l’avocat du cabinet londonien Leigh Day & Co, chargé des négociations, les a poussés à accepter cet accord en insinuant que les récalcitrants pourraient être rayés de la liste des personnes indemnisables.

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Article
28 September 2009

[PDF] Special event: Martyn Day & Paul Hoffman speaking on “Human rights lawsuits against companies – our experiences with victims, their families and businesspeople” (London, 3 Dec 2009)

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is pleased to invite you to an event featuring leading human rights lawyers: Martyn Day (UK) & Paul Hoffman (US). Both have brought landmark lawsuits against companies. They will be speaking on the same stage for the first time, and fielding questions from the audience. Martyn and Paul will share: - highlights of past cases; - inside view of current cases; - comments on what more should be done to hold companies accountable under law; and - what they would say to companies wishing to avoid such lawsuits. [refers to lawsuits against Trafigura, Cape plc, Gencor, BP, Anglo American, Thor Chemicals, Gallaher, Imperial Tobacco, Shell, Unocal, Bridgestone-Firestone, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Talisman, Wal-Mart]

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