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UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND: UK giving green light for corporate crime

31 Jul 2015
[International Secretariat]
Region: UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
Topic: Business and Human Rights

In a startling admission UK authorities have informed Amnesty International that they do not have the tools, resources or expertise to investigate whether the multinational commodities giant Trafigura conspired to dump toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire.

The statement came after Amnesty International presented a legal brief and 5,000 page dossier to UK authorities containing a raft of evidence that Trafigura’s London-based staff may have intentionally orchestrated the dumping of the waste in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan in August 2006.

After the dumping more than 100,000 people sought medical attention. Côte d’Ivoire authorities reported at least 15 deaths.

“The fact that the UK authorities do not have the tools, expertise or resources to investigate the case is truly shocking. This is tantamount to giving multinational companies carte blanche to commit corporate crimes abroad,” said Lucy Graham, Legal Adviser in Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Team.

“The toxic waste dumping was a catastrophe for the citizens of Abidjan. The UK’s failure to act is a further disaster for justice and accountability. The government has to prove that it is not running scared of corporate giants.”

Dossier reveals UK authorities shocking inability to act

Correspondence made public by Amnesty International today reveals how three of the UK’s law enforcement bodies treated its request for an investigation like a game of toxic pass the parcel for more than a year.

Put together by Amnesty International’s legal team with the advice of external counsel, the case was presented to the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Environment Agency in March 2014.

While the Metropolitan Police did not respond, the Crown Prosecution Service passed the legal brief on to the Environment Agency, the body charged with investigating environmental crime.

After months of deliberation and prevarication, it took the threat of judicial review proceedings before the Environment Agency finally agreed to look into the case.

However, on 17 March 2015 it decided not to investigate despite acknowledging that if Amnesty International’s allegations were true “a serious offence was committed”. In its decision the Environment Agency admitted that it lacked the resources and expertise to investigate and took into account Trafigura’s ability to block that investigation:

Corporate impunity is a disturbing trend

A briefing published by Amnesty International today reveals significant gaps in the UK’s system for tackling corporate crime. It warns that the Trafigura case is not a one-off, highlighting a series of cases in which powerful UK multinationals have been implicated in serious human rights-related abuses abroad that may violate UK criminal law.

“As multinationals become more powerful, it becomes ever more important that governments hold them to account when they are implicated in serious crime abroad, whether human rights-related or otherwise,” said Lucy Graham. “The UK justice system is instead woefully under-equipped to tackle this type of crime.”

Amnesty International is calling for:

  • Stronger legislation to hold UK companies directly accountable for serious crimes committed in the context of their global operations unless they can prove efforts to prevent them, akin to foreign bribery rules under the 2010 UK Bribery Act.
  • More resources, training and specialised support for investigators dealing with corporate crime.

Background

On 25 September 2012, Amnesty International and Greenpeace published The Toxic Truth, a report which evidenced how various directors and employees of Trafigura in the UK were responsible for the operations that led to hazardous waste being dumped at some 18 locations around Abidjan, including at a city dump near a poor residential neighbourhood.

The report called on the UK to begin a criminal investigation into Trafigura’s role in the dumping as the UK arm of the Trafigura corporate group took many key decisions that led to the August 2006 disaster, including arranging for a local company to dispose of the waste in Abidjan.

Trafigura has never been properly held to account for its role in the actual dumping of the waste. In 2007, it reached a settlement with the government of Côte d’Ivoire granting Trafigura immunity from prosecution. In a civil claim in the UK, brought on behalf of some of the victims, Trafigura reached another out-of-court settlement. A Dutch court found the company guilty of illegally exporting the waste from the Netherlands but authorities decided not to prosecute Trafigura for the dumping. When Greenpeace brought a legal complaint against this decision, the Dutch court stated that it would not be feasible or expedient to investigate the alleged acts in Côte d’Ivoire.

Trafigura denies responsibility for the toxic waste dumping and maintains that it believed the local company would dispose of the waste safely and lawfully.

23 July 2015
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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