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
3 August 2011

Shell accepts liability for two oil spills in Nigeria

Author: John Vidal, Guardian [UK]

Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars after accepting full liability for two massive oil spills that have devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 people and may take at least 20 years to clean up...Shell's acceptance of full liability for the spills follows a class action suit bought on behalf of communities by London law firm Leigh Day and Co...Many other impoverished communities in the delta are now expected to seek damages for oil pollution against Shell in the British courts...Last week Shell Nigeria said: "SPDC accepts responsibility under the Oil Pipelines Act for the two oil spills both of which were due to equipment failure. SPDC acknowledges that it is liable to pay compensation -to those who are entitled to receive such compensation." [also refers to Trafigura]

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Author: AbidjanTV.net

Des victimes des déchets toxiques, réunis au sein du Renadvidetci de Koffi Charles, sont actuellement en colère. Leur courroux est lié à la suspension du processus d’indemnisation depuis juillet 2010. Ils entendent faire entendre leur voix aux nouvelles autorités et surtout au ministre de la Justice [et] ce, par un sit-in devant les locaux dudit ministère...L’information a été livrée...par le président du Renadvidetci, M. Koffi Charles, suite à une action en justice contre Gohourou, accusé d’avoir détourné le montant alloué à cet effet...« L’accord secret entre le cabinet Leigh Day and Co [qui avait représenté les victimes contre Trafigura dans le procès à Londres] et Claude Gohourou a livré les victimes en pâture. Plusieurs victimes ne sont pas rentrées en possession de leur dû. Manifestement, il y a eu détournement de la part de Claude Gohourou. C’est pourquoi, outre la reprise du processus d’indemnisation à l’initiative de l’Etat de Côte d’ivoire, nous réclamons la réouverture de la procédure judiciaire pour détournement de fonds alloués à l’indemnisation des sinistrés des déchets toxiques », a-t-il clarifié.

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Article
1 July 2011

[PDF] Corporate Human Rights Violations and Private International Law - The Hinge Function and Conductivity of PIL in Implementing Human Rights in Civil Proceedings in Europe: a Facilitating Role for PIL or PIL as a Complicating Factor?

Author: Veerle Van Den Eeckhout, Leiden University and University of Antwerp

It is conceivable – and this is the central hypothesis of this contribution − that a non- European subsidiary of a European parent company has violated human rights outside Europe...and that the European parent company itself has been involved in that violation, too...Given...the hypothesis that plaintiffs want to bring an action before an EU Member State court – this exploration and analysis will be based on the European PIL [private international law] perspective...PIL can play a key role in the efforts to offer victims of human rights violations a real possibility of recovering damage suffered by them in civil proceedings against those who were actually involved in this violation...Care should be taken to ensure that PIL is not reduced to an instrument of power in the hands of the stronger party, who can use it in order to benefit even more from a situation of ‘competing norms'...

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Article
29 June 2011

Legal Aid, Sentencing And Punishment Of Offenders Bill, House of Commons Debates 29 June 2011 [UK]

Author: Lisa Nandy MP, Hansard (official report of Parliament proceedings) [UK]

[Scroll down to 5.36 pm] Lisa Nandy…: I want to discuss a problem that the Bill creates for the victims of human rights abuses committed by UK-based multinationals operating overseas…the proposals on civil litigation costs…will make it virtually impossible to bring cases against multinationals…Teams of lawyers are required to work overseas…Such cases…are brought under a conditional fee agreement…Given the costs and risk incurred, law firms rely on the success fee to cushion them and to future-fund other cases. As the success fee will no longer be recoverable, the ability to take a case will be severely restricted…Taken with the proposal to prevent claimants from recovering after-the-event insurance, that will be absolutely devastating…I urge…[the Government] to think again about these cases…It is also the view of Professor John Ruggie, the UN special representative on business and human rights…That is why I am asking for exemption in these particular cases. [refers to Trafigura, Cape Plc, Rio Blanco Copper (part of Monterrico Metals)]

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Article
16 June 2011

Legal aid cuts will stop cases like Trafigura, UN official warns [UK]

Author: Owen Bowcott, Guardian [UK]

A senior UN official has warned the government that cuts to legal aid and changes to lawyers' fees will prevent claims, such as those in the Trafigura case, being brought against multinational businesses…John Ruggie…UN…special representative for business and human rights, wrote to the UK justice minister Jonathan Djanogly saying he was concerned about the "disincentives" being introduced...It will be a "real disincentive to what is already a very small pool of lawyers willing to take on human rights-related cases against multinational enterprises"…Martyn Day, a senior partner at the law firm Leigh Day & Co, which brought the [Trafigura] case, welcomed Ruggie's letter. "We acted for 30,000 impoverished Ivorians – the no win, no fee scheme was the only way we could bring the case," he said.

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Article
1 June 2011

[DOC] Meeting to discuss impact of "Justice Bill" on Trafigura-type cases [London, 4 Jul]

Author: Andy Slaughter MP

[Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter MP] invite[s] you to an urgent meeting in the House of Commons on Monday 4th July at 10am in Committee Room 6 with…[with him,] Martyn Day, Partner at Leigh Day & Co and human rights advocates. The Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill contains provisions that will fundamentally remodel how civil litigation is funded in the UK. The changes purport to address a “compensation culture”. However, as collateral damage, the Bill will stop overseas citizens taking action against multinationals that may have caused them great harm…The aim of the meeting is to hear more about the impact of the legislation and discuss responses…Please RSVP to confirm to…Imran Ahmed, at [email protected] as spaces are limited.

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Article
24 May 2011

Multinationals will profit from the government's civil litigation shakeup [UK]

Author: Richard Meeran, Leigh Day, in The Guardian [UK]

The government's proposed changes to the civil litigation costs regime, which will severely restrict access to justice for many vulnerable individuals, have so far passed relatively unnoticed. However, those adversely affected will include victims of UK multinational human rights violations in developing countries…Two aspects of the government's proposals…will dramatically impact on claimant lawyers' ability and enthusiasm to litigate in future: First, that defendants should only pay claimants' legal costs if "proportionate" to the compensation…these cases…are intrinsically complex. Moreover as so much is at stake, the multinationals instruct top City law firms to defend them to the hilt. Consequently, legal costs invariably substantially exceed compensation…Secondly, claimant lawyers' success fees will not be recoverable from defendants and would instead need to be deducted from claimants' compensation…The result – that claimants' lawyers can recover legal costs only up to the level of damages without success fees – will make these multinational cases financially unviable. [refers to Cape, Thor Chemicals, Trafigura, BP, Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin)]

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Article
9 May 2011

[PDF] Implications of the Jackson Civil Costs Reforms for Human Rights Cases against Multinational Corporations [UK]

Author: Corporate Responsibility Coalition

The UK government has recently proposed wide-ranging reforms to the costs regime for civil litigation following a review by Lord Jackson. The…reforms will significantly restrict the ability of claimants and their lawyers to recover legal costs from defendants. They will have particularly devastating consequences for human rights claims against multinational corporations (MNCs)... [in particular:] MNCs will no longer have to pay a success fee in the event that a case against them is successful…MNCs will only have to pay claimants’ basic legal costs insofar as they are ‘proportionate’ to the compensation received…in reality…[this] will mean that wherever the costs of a claim exceed the compensation awarded (which, as explained, is almost inevitable in cases against MNCs), MNCs will have strong grounds for resisting payment of the additional costs, even where they were essential to the success of the case…[and] [i]nstead of MNCs paying the full costs, the reforms propose that a proportion of the costs are instead taken out of claimants’ compensation.

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Author: Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH)

La FIDH et ses ligues membres en Côte d'Ivoire, la Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l'Homme (LIDHO) et le Mouvement ivoirien des droits humains (MIDH), regrettent la récente décision de la Cour d'appel de La Haye de ne pas étendre la procédure initiée aux Pays Bas aux faits qui se sont produits en Côte d'Ivoire. Aucune des juridictions saisies, en Côte d'Ivoire, en France, en Angleterre, aux Pays-Bas, n'a pris de décision satisfaisante sanctionnant les plus hauts responsables et répondant au besoin de justice des victimes de ce drame. La FIDH, la LIDHO et le MIDH publient un rapport faisant le point sur les tentatives d'obtenir justice pour les victimes...« Cette décision intervenue aux Pays-Bas vient conforter le constat d'échec des justices nationales à enquêter et poursuivre effectivement les entreprises transnationales impliquées dans ce genre de drames environnementaux et humains, qui se déroulent souvent dans des pays en voie de développement à des milliers de kilomètres du siège de ces multinationales », a déclaré Me Patrick Baudouin, Président d'honneur de la FIDH et coordinateur du Groupe d'action judiciaire (GAJ) de la FIDH. [Fait référence à Trafigura].

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Author: Ouestaf News [Sénégal]

La Cour d’appel de La Haye, dans une décision en date 13 avril 2011, a rejeté une plainte déposée depuis septembre 2009 par l’organisation écologique Greenpeace qui avait intenté un procès contre « Trafigura », la multinationale qui avait affrété le bateau à l’origine des faits. Dans un communiqué motivant sa décision...la Cour a indiqué que « la possibilité de mener des poursuites est incertaine » car « aucun des suspects n'a la nationalité néerlandaise ou ne vit aux Pays-Bas ». Par ailleurs poursuit le texte, « les activités des sociétés mises en cause sont pour l'essentiel localisées hors des Pays-Bas »...la décision de la justice néerlandaise constitue « une énorme erreur et une journée noire pour les victimes et l’environnement en Côte d’Ivoire...Trafigura ne sera pas obligé de justifier du fait d’avoir mis en danger des vies humaines et d’avoir pris le risque de polluer l’environnement en Afrique », [a déclaré] Marietta Harjono, responsable de la section « déchets toxiques » au sein de Greenpeace.

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