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Africa: Oil trading firms accused of selling "Dirty Diesel", causing illnesses & early deaths

In September 2016, Public Eye (a Swiss NGO formerly known as Berne Declaration) published a major report accusing Switzerland-based oil trading companies of selling in African markets blends of low-grade fuel high in pollutants that could not be sold in Europe, contributing to air pollution, illness, and premature deaths.  The report was "the result of three years of research", according to Public Eye, including sampling of fuel at pumps in eight African countries, "all owned, partly-owned or supplied by Swiss trading companies".  Their principal findings: "In diesel, we found sulphur levels up to 380 times the European legal limit and up to 630 times the average levels of diesel sold in Western Europe. In gasoline, we found sulphur levels up to 70 times the European legal limit and over 100 times the average levels of gasoline sold in Europe. We found other worrying health damaging substances in concentrations never allowed in a European or US fuel, such as polyaromatics (diesel), aromatics and benzene (gasoline)."

The report urges:

  • African governments to set more stringent fuel quality standards
  • Swiss trading companies to "stop abusing Africa’s low fuel quality standards, recognize that if left unchanged their practices will kill more and more people across the continent"
  • the governments of Netherlands, Belgium & USA (export hubs for African fuels) to prohibit the export of health-damaging fuel blends
  • the Swiss government to "implement mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence requirements for Swiss companies, covering the entire supply chain and including potentially toxic products"

Public Eye sought responses from the companies in the report prior to publication and published the companies' responses; however, the report raised further concerns based on those statements.  Trafigura and Puma Energy responded to the report shortly after its publication.  Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the principal other companies named in the report to respond.  Addax & Oryx Group, MercuriaGlencore, Vitol and Vivo responded. Mocoh has indicated that it is preparing a full response, which we will post here when we receive it.  Gunvoh and Lynx Energy have not yet responded; we will indicate here whether they respond.

Public Eye has commented on the responses provided by the companies - the replies by Public Eye to the responses by Vitol, Vivo, Puma and Trafigura are provided below.

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Réponse
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Auteur: Vivo Energy

Support for cleaner fuels: As the African fuel market continues to grow and develop, and as customers demand higher quality products, Vivo Energy fully supports continued improvement in quality of fuels, lubricants and LPG – in line with changing government regulation and consumer demand - and is at the forefront of meeting these needs... 

Improving product specifications: Discussions on product specifications frequently take place at various industry gatherings. For example the African Refiners Association - of whom Vivo Energy is an associate member - has a work group on product specifications. Committees such as these review local specifications and aim to balance additional environmental benefits with economic benefits for customers...

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Article
20 September 2016

Carburants toxiques au Mali : les sociétés Oryx Group et Vivo Energy accusées par deux organisations de la société civile

Auteur: Oumar Diakité, Le Combat (Mali)

L’Association malienne d’éveil pour un développement durable (AMEDD) et l’AMASBIF en partenariat avec Public Eye, une ONG Suisse, alertent l’opinion nationale et internationale que de carburants de haute teneur en soufre sont vendus au Mali et dans d’autres pays africains. Selon ces organisations de la société civile, ces produits contribuent gravement à la pollution de l’air en milieu urbain et nuisent à la santé et à l’environnement des millions de personnes. Les stations Oryx [Oryx Energies, filiale d'Addax & Oryx Group] et Shell sont citées dans un Rapport publié par Public Eye. [fait également référence à Vitol, Trafigura, Glencore, Mercuria, Gunvor, BP]

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Article
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Auteur: Public Eye

...We are well aware of the challenges that the modernization of refineries represent in terms of investments. But we would like to draw your attention to the fact that our report focuses on the African fuel imports. Here improvements can and should happen quickly. Every single cargo of European instead of “African Quality” would contribute to cleaner air and healthier lungs. As dominant players in this import business, the commodity traders have a crucial and complementing role in solving this problem. Your third point suggests that clean fuels only make sense when introduced together with cleaner cars. Low-sulfur fuels are the first step and, in fact, a precondition for allowing advanced vehicle technology to work and it already can reduce PM emissions by 50% when switching from 2000 ppm sulfur fuels to 10 ppm, according to the ICCT and UNEP (see fig. 3.4, p. 24). But yes, the second step, the introduction of cleaner cars has to follow as soon as possible to further reduce emissions. Currently even cars that already are equipped with some emissions control technologies, as also second-hand cars increasingly have them, immediately emit much more pollutants as soon as they are burning high sulfur fuels...

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General questions sent to companies whose fuels Public Eye sampled and their answers: Addax and Oryx Group/Oryx Energies; Vitol/Vivo Energy; Trafigura/Puma Energy; Lynx Energy/X-Oil Congo

Specific questions and answers: Addax and Oryx Group/Oryx Energies; Vitol/Vivo Energy; Trafigura/Puma Energy; Lynx Energy/X-Oil Congo; Mocoh; Mercuria; Glencore

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Rapport
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Auteur: Public Eye (Switzerland)

Swiss commodity trading companies take advantage of weak fuel standards in Africa to produce, deliver and sell diesel and gasoline, which is damaging to people’s health. Their business model relies on an illegitimate strategy of deliberately lowering the quality of fuels in order to increase their profits. Using a common industry practice called blending, trading companies mix cheap but toxic intermediate petroleum products to make what the industry calls “African Quality” fuels. These intermediate products contain high levels of sulphur as well as other toxic substances such as benzene and aromatics. By selling such fuels at the pump in Africa, the traders increase outdoor air pollution, causing respiratory disease and premature death. This affects West Africa, in particular, because this is the region where the authorised levels of sulphur in fuels remain very high.

[refers to Trafigura, Vitol, Puma Energy, Addax & Oryx Group, Lynx Energy, Glencore, Gunvor, Mocoh, Mercuria, Vivo (joint venture Vitol, Helios Investment Partners, Shell), Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo, BP, Total, Litasco (part of Lukoil)]

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Article
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Auteur: Public Eye (Switzerland)

"Dirty Diesel", a report published by Public Eye today, reveals how Swiss commodity trading firms exploit lax regulatory standards to sell African customers fuel with high sulfur content. Produced by the trading firms themselves, these types of fuel have long been banned in Europe. They contribute significantly to the rapidly rising air pollution in African cities and jeopardize the health of millions of people. In a petition addressed to Trafigura, Public Eye and its West African partners call on the Geneva-based commodities giant only to sell fuel that meets European standards in all of its operations around the world... In West Africa especially, Vitol, Trafigura and Addax & Oryx ruthlessly exploit weak regulatory standards and make the local urban populations pay with their health.

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Auteur: Alice Ross, Guardian (UK)

Major European oil companies and commodity traders are exploiting weak fuel standards in African countries to export highly polluting fuels that they could never sell at the pumps in Europe, according to a new report.  The Swiss commodity traders Trafigura and Vitol are among a number of companies accused of exporting what campaigners call “African quality” diesel, blending products in European facilities to create fuels with sulphur levels that are sometimes hundreds of times over European limits... 

...[According] to data shared with the Guardian by Public Eye, the British oil company BP also shipped high-sulphur diesel to Ghana.  There is nothing illegal about the practice exposed by the report, and the blending of fuels to achieve particular specifications before export is standard industry practice. The companies involved all deny any wrongdoing and say they comply with the law in the countries in which they operate...

When contacted by the Guardian, Trafigura, Vitol and BP all pointed out that they comply with the fuel standards imposed by the governments they ship to, and that they support efforts, including those by the African Refiners Association, to improve fuel standards.  A BP spokeswoman said: “BP supplies a wide variety of oil products to markets all over the world based on the demands of our customers, and we ensure that we meet or exceed all legal obligations. BP does not set the requirements for the markets in which we operate, it is up to each country to determine the specification, including levels of sulphur and other parameters that are suitable in their local market.”

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Article
15 September 2016

Public Eye: le retour de Swiss Trading SA

Auteur: AGEFI, Nicolette De Joncaire

Le rapport de l'ONG Public Eye...est la conclusion de trois ans d'un travail fouillé. Il inclut l'analyse, entre novembre 2012 et février 2016, de 47 échantillons de carburant (25 de diesel et 22 d'essence) prélevés dans huit pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest et d'Afrique centrale, nommément l'Angola, le Bénin, la Côte d'Ivoire, le Ghana, le Mali, la République du Congo, le Sénégal et la Zambie, dans des stations-service appartenant à des filiales de négociants suisses. Car la thèse défendue par l'ONG est que ces négociants suisses "empoisonnent" l'Afrique...Les résultats des analyses présentés par l'ONG parlent d'eux-mêmes. Si, sans l'ombre d'un doute, la teneur en soufre des échantillons prélevés est plus qu'alarmante, elle reste dans tous les cas en deçà des normes imposées dans le pays de référence...Il est par ailleurs regrettable que l'ONG avoue ne s'être intéressée qu'à la distribution contrôlée par des sociétés suisses. En effet, il eut été intéressant de pouvoir effectuer des comparaisons avec des échantillons recueillis auprès d'autres distributeurs...Quand l'ONG pointe du doigt les négociants, elle ne fait que "tirer sur le messager" car ce ne sont jamais eux qui définissent les spécifications des carburants mais les Etats, en concertation avec les producteurs, les consommateurs et les constructeurs automobiles. Le vrai problème – et pour lui faire justice, il est aussi abordé par le rapport – est le niveau insuffisant des normes des pays africains. Vouloir le résoudre en blâmant les négociants n'a ni rime ni raison. Si lors d’un appel d’offre public, un trader se présentait avec une qualité supérieure à celle en vigueur dans le pays…il n'y vendrait rien...

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Article
14 September 2016

Des sociétés suisses exportent des carburants toxiques en Afrique

Auteur: Olivier Liffran, National Geographic (Etats-Unis)

Une enquête révèle que des sociétés suisses exportent des carburants toxiques en Afrique de l'Ouest. Avec des conséquences désastreuses pour la santé publique et l'environnement...

Une enquête de l’ONG Public Eye (anciennement « La Déclaration de Berne ») révèle que ces carburants [destinés à l’Afrique de l’Ouest] sont produits en mélangeant le pétrole avec diverses substances pétrochimiques bon marché. Une pratique interdite en Europe et aux États-Unis, mais légale en Afrique malgré sa toxicité. Après analyse dans un laboratoire indépendant, les carburants révèlent des teneurs en soufre jusqu’à 378 fois supérieures à celle autorisée en Europe. D’autres substances dangereuses, comme le benzène et des aromatiques polycliniques, ont également été détectées.

Pour Public Eye, cela ne fait aucun doute : ces carburants...constituent « une bombe à retardement » sanitaire...[Fait référence à Addax & Oryx Group, Lynx Energy, Trafigura, Vitol]

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Article
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Auteur: African Refiners Association

....On page 132, your report suggests that many countries without refineries could tighten their specifications without delay. This ignores the reality of how products are distributed. For example, the Abidjan refinery serves as a hub for the movement of products throughout the region. Mali and Burkina take products from Abidjan by rail and road, and small cargoes are delivered from Abidjan by sea to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. If these countries tighten their import specifications independently from the Abidjan refinery they eliminate this source of supply and will incur significant additional logistics costs...It may not change the emissions much: The age of the African vehicle fleet is much older than Europe. This means the majority of engine and exhaust management technologies used in the African vehicle fleet are designed for fuels of a quality supplied in Europe 10 years ago. In addition, only a handful of African countries have any vehicle exhaust emission controls, and none are properly enforced. Therefore the benefits of any clean fuels supplied, in practice, does not improve air quality as much as expected. Fuels and vehicles must be considered as one “integrated system” and not in isolation. In addition, the lack of strict controls on second-hand vehicle imports does not assist in achieving the desired air quality improvements...

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