Vietnam: Fish deaths blamed on Formosa Plastics put fisherfolk out of work, spark rare protests

In April 2016, large numbers of dead fish were found on the coasts of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien Hue in Vietnam. The massive fish kill was caused by water pollution from toxic industrial waste discharged by a steel plant of Formosa Plastics. The company has admitted responsibility for the environmental disaster.

This section gathers reports and updates on this case.


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14 June 2019

Victims of marine pollution in Vietnam file lawsuit against Formosa Plastics Group in Taiwan

Author: Chinese Lingua team, Global Voice

"Vietnamese victims of 2016 marine disaster have filed a landmark lawsuit against Formosa Plastics Group in Taiwan", 11 Jun 2019

In a landmark move, victims of the 2016 marine disaster that affected the coastal communities in central Vietnam filed a transnational lawsuit against the Taiwanese corporation responsible for the environmental damage, Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), on Jun 11, 2019. If successful, this case could pave the way for new norms related to Taiwanese corporate responsibility for environmental protection in third-party countries.

With the assistance of environmental and human rights organizations in Taiwan, Vietnam, US, France and Canada, the legal representatives of the Vietnamese plaintiffs, a group composed of 7,875 victims of the marine disaster, presented the lawsuit against FPG at the Taipei district court on June 11...

The marine disaster, which took place on 6 April 2016, is seen as the most serious environmental disaster in Vietnamese history. The incident, caused by the discharge of toxic waste into the sea by FPG subsidiary Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, led to the death of massive amounts of fish and marine life in central Vietnam...

FPG accepted responsibility for the disaster on 30 June 2016 and agreed to give 500 million USD in compensation to the Vietnamese government for disaster relief work. However, the Vietnamese authorities have not released any information about the number of victims who have received any compensation. And for those who were compensated, they only received around US$ 2,430 dollars per household — an amount that can only support a person's expenses for one year, based on GDP per capital in Vietnam...


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30 April 2018

Vietnam: Fourteen-year jail term of activist against Formosa Plastics waste spill upheld on appeal

Author: Radio Free Asia

"Vietnamese Environmental Activist's Sentence Upheld on Appeal", 24 April 2018

An appeals court in Vietnam...upheld a 14-year prison environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh, sending him back to prison to serve his sentence....

He was police officers who dragged him from a car more than a year after organizing protests over the government’s response to a waste spill the year before by a Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant.

The spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.

...Binh’s lawyer Ha Huy Son said that prosecutors had failed both in Binh’s initial trial and...appeal hearing to present direct evidence against him.

“He told me that before his appearance in the lower court, he had been kept in a cell with prisoners under sentence of death, who had physically attacked him,” Son said.

...Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said that Binh’s only “crime” has been to demand that Vietnam’s government respect human rights.

“...[I]nternational trade partners and donors should publicly pressure Vietnam to end its intensifying crackdown against activists...” Robertson said.

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12 February 2018

Vietnam: Formosa activist faces 14-year imprisonment for documenting Formosa chemical spill

Author: Mongabay

"Vietnamese activist gets 14-year sentence for documenting chemical spill", 08 February 2018

...[A] Vietnamese court sentenced Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years in prison for activism related to a chemical spill that resulted in a massive fish kill in 2016. The sentence appears to be the harshest so far in a series of punitive measures the Vietnamese government has taken against citizens protesting or blogging about the spill.

“Hoang Duc Binh was convicted of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state, organization and people and opposing officers on duty, lawyer Ha Huy Son said,”...

News reports gave conflicting accounts of the exact activities that landed Binh in trouble with authorities. The Associated Press reported that Bihn had livestreamed video of fishermen marching to file a lawsuit over the spill. “During last February’s livestream on Facebook, Binh commented that the fishermen were stopped and beaten by authorities. Son said Binh told the court that he made the comments, but he denied committing a crime because what he said was true. The court said his comments were untrue and slandered authorities,”...

However, Reuters reported that Binh had led a number of protests against the government over its handling of the spill.

At the same trial another activist, Nguyen Nam Phong, was sentenced to two years in prison for “opposing officers on duty,”...

In April, 2016, a spill at the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company sent toxic chemicals into the ocean, littering 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Vietnam’s north-central coastline with an estimated 70 tons of dead fish...and fishermen in four provinces were left without work.

...The company has since admitted fault and agreed to pay $500 million to clean up the environment and compensate people affected by the spill...

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1 November 2017

Vietnam: Formosa activist faces suit for "abusing democratic freedoms"; penalty ranges from two to seven years in jail

Author: Radio Free Asia

"Vietnam to Try Formosa Activist on 'Abusing Democratic Freedoms' Charge, 02 November 2017

Hoang Duc Binh...more than a year after organizing protests over the government's response to the...waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group's steel plant, which killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.

Binh is to be prosecuted under paragraph 2, Article 258 of the Vietnam Penal Code for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens," and could face between two and seven years in jail, his defense lawyer confirmed.

"I have received the investigation result which was completed on October 30. His family also knows about this but I don't know what they think yet," said Attorney Ha Huy Son.

"Lawyers have not been allowed to meet with him for two weeks..." added Son.

Binh is the vice president of an independent civic organization called "The Labor Movement of Vietnam," which aims to help workers, and a member of the group called "No-U Saigon" a group that protests China's sweeping claims on the South China Sea.

The prosecution of Binh comes amid a major crackdown by Hanoi's ruling Communist Party authorities on rights defenders, bloggers and other dissenters.


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3 July 2017

Vietnam: Catholic villages protest against slow and unequal compensation for Formosa Plastics toxic waste spill

Author: Roseanne Gerin, Radio Free Asia

"Catholic Villages in Vietnam Protest Lack of Compensation For Formosa Disaster," 03 July 2017

About 1,000 Roman Catholics from a village in... Quang Binh province marched to the local People’s Committee demand compensation for lost livelihoods caused by a toxic waste spill that occurred along the country’s central coast more than a year ago...

The...environmental disaster killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless.

...Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged it was responsible for the release of the chemicals from its massive steel plan...

The company voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate those affected by the spill, but the slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests which continue to be held more than a year after the disaster.

Parishioners of Con Nam church are upset because those affected by the disaster in Ha Tinh province have been eligible to receive 17.4 million-35.5 million dong (U.S. $755-$1,541) in compensation, while only four families who live in the five hamlets comprising Quang Minh village have received only 8 million dong (U.S. $347) each.

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, who is overseeing the government’s compensation process... told the media in June that all payments would be issued by the end of that month.

Thugs hired by local police have beaten Catholics in other parishes... and vandals believed to be paid by local authorities have damaged church property in retaliation for their protests over the handling of the payouts.

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16 May 2017

Vietnam: Govt. claims that arrested anti-Formosa activist opposed officers and abused democratic freedoms

Author: Joshua Lipes, Radio Free Asia

"Vietnam Defends Arrest of Anti-Formosa Activist", 16 May 2017

Authorities...defended the arrest of an activist who had campaigned against Hanoi’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill, saying he was responsible for a demonstration that took over a government office and created social disorder.

Nghe An provincial police...detained Hoang Duc Binh..., “opposing officers on duty” and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” under Articles 257 and 258 of Vietnam’s penal code. The activist will be held for 90 days, police said.

...Binh had been active in organizing protests over the government’s response to the April 2016 waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant, which killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.

Formosa has voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate coastal residents affected by the spill, but slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests that continue to be held more than a year later.

Phil Roberston, New York-based Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, told RFA that the government should be investigating Formosa instead of investigating the people who are demanding it take action against the company.

...The environment ministry announced that Formosa had met conditions to start testing the steel mill after conducting a three-day inspection of the U.S. $11 billion-dollar plant and concluding that Formosa had addressed 52 out of 53 operating violations that had led to the spill.

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7 March 2017

Vietnam to punish officials over mass fish deaths

Author: Channel News Asia

23 Feb 2017

Vietnam said…it will punish 11 senior officials for misconduct over a toxic waste dump last year that killed tonnes of fish in one of the country's worst environmental disasters.

Taiwanese steel firm Formosa was blamed for the crisis that decimated livelihoods in coastal fishing communities in central Vietnam and was forced to pay $500 million in fines…

The 11 officials, which include a former environment minister and an ex-mayor, violated the law and mismanaged the crisis, according to a statement on the communist party's website.

"The violations ... are serious and need to be considered and punished," the statement said, without clarifying what penalties would be handed down…

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14 February 2017

Vietnam police stop fishermen marching to make claims at steel firm

Author: Reuters

Police in Vietnam stopped hundreds of protesters…from marching to present compensation claims against a steel plant over a toxic spill last year, activists said…

The protesters, many of them fishermen, had planned to travel from central Nghe An province to submit their claims in Ha Tinh, where the company is based…

But activists said police stopped the protesters' vehicles, and later stopped them, after they had walked 20 km (12 miles) towards their destination…

Witnesses said police had beaten and arrested some of the protesters…

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27 December 2016

Vietnam: Over 1,000 villagers file complaints with local authorities over alleged slow and unfair compensation for harms caused by Formosa Plastics’ toxic chemical spill

Author: Roseanne Gerin, Radio Free Asia

"Vietnamese Villagers Petition Local Government About Formosa Payouts", 12 Dec 2016

About 1,000 villagers from Thach Ha district in Vietnam’s north central coastal province of Ha Tinh…submitted a complaint to the local People’s Committee office about what they consider to be unfair compensation for those affected by a Taiwanese steel plant’s toxic chemical spill.

The group of petitioners, which included a priest and Catholics from Lang Khe church in Vinh diocese’s Thu Chi parish, argued that the amount of compensation offered to them is not enough to cover the losses they have suffered in the country’s worst environmental disaster…

The petitioners also demanded that local authorities pay compensation to each family that signed the complaint they submitted.

Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan acknowledged in June that its steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen, in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces.

Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the spill and compensate people affected by it, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of the payouts…

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30 October 2016

Vietnam: Govt. allegedly tried to prevent mass filing of lawsuits against Formosa Plastics for toxic spill; abduction of drivers & other forms of harassment reported

Author: Brooks Boliek, Radio Free Asia

"Hanoi Moves to Derail Drive to File Lawsuits Against Formosa in Vietnam" 18 Oct 2016

The Vietnamese government is attempting to prevent Catholic parishioners from filing more lawsuits against the Taiwan-owned steel company responsible for a chemical spill that devastated the country’s central coast…

Thousands of parishioners in the central province of Nghe An who were attempting to file new lawsuits…found their way blocked by police, nails strewn across the road and some drivers who were scheduled to take them to the courthouse abducted, witnesses told RFA…

“The situation is very tense because policemen visited all the houses that have cars,” said Catholic Priest Danh Huu Nam, who aids people with the lawsuits. “The police told them that they will crack down on them if they drive the parishioners to the court, and some drivers were kidnapped and harassed.”

While the People’s Court in Ky Anh on Oct. 5 dismissed more than 500 lawsuits filed against the Formosa Plastics Group, that didn’t stop many Vietnamese from trying to gain more compensation from the company.

In June, the Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged that it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from a steel plant it owns in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces…

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