21 November 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Trafigura Fine a Set-Back for Africa's Environmental Justice

Greenpeace Africa condemns the weak fine given to Trafigura Beheer BV as part of a plea bargain. This comes after the Dutch company and its chairman Dauphin were charged with illegally exporting waste to the Ivory Coast in 2006.

Rather than risk a trial against it's chairman, Claude Dauphin, the company bargained its way to paying a fine of €67,000 (about R760,000) in exchange for the Dutch authorities stopping further action against Dauphin. This is a very weak slap on the wrist for a large corporation like Trafigura.

In 2006 Trafigura chartered a ship, the Probo Koala, to take hundreds of tons of waste to Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, after learning that it would have to pay clean-up costs if it was disposed of in the Netherlands. After the material was dumped, thousands of residents complained of illnesses, and the government of Ivory Coast said 16 people died.

The settlement is very sad news. Although earlier court verdicts against Trafigura will stand, this does not change the fact that executives responsible for the operations of powerful companies have evaded legal responsibility for committing serious environmental and human right crimes.

Trafigura's chairman will now not be held to account for the lives of those who died in the Ivory Coast, or for the environmental damages his decisions caused.

A pattern emerges: Trafigura has consistently outmoneyed and out lawyered their opponents in all lawsuits coming out of the Probo Koala disaster. All are settled now, but where is the justice in all this?

"Our recent report with Amnesty International, "The Toxic Truth" illustrates how Dauphin was involved in crucial moments in the decision making in the creation and the disposal of the toxic waste. The evidence was overwhelming and it is a shame that the Netherlands, with its proud record of upholding human rights, failed to grasp this opportunity by not putting their best and most diligent prosecutors onto the case," said Greenpeace Africa Executive Director, Michael O'Brien-Onyeka.

All that remains now, continued O'Brien-Onyeka, was for the government of Ivory coast to reassess the legality - and wisdom - of its 2007 settlement that gave Trafigura immunity from prosecution.

"Greenpeace remains concerned about this: if even country as rich as the Netherlands lacks the willingness to follow through, how will other poorer countries ever prosecute serious environmental crimes committed by powerful companies like Trafigura? At the very least, this trader should be banned from ever having anything to do on our continent ever again," concluded O'Brien Onyeka.

Greenpeace Africa Executive Director, Michael O'Brien-Onyeka.

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