REPUBLIC OF COTE D'IVOIRE: Trafigura unrepentant 10 years after toxic waste dump

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23 Aug 2016
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Business and Human Rights

Commodities giant Trafigura must come clean over the contents of toxic waste dumped in the Côte d’Ivoire capital Abidjan ten years ago, said Amnesty International today.

Trafigura has never disclosed exactly what was in the 540,000 plus litres of toxic waste dumped at 18 sites in Abidjanon 19 August 2006. More than 100,000 people sought medical attention after the dumping for a whole range of symptoms.

“A decade on from one of the worst environmental disasters of the 21st century, Trafigura and governments alike have abandoned the victims to suffer a toxic legacy.

“Trafigura has never really been properly brought to book for its role in the dumping. If toxic waste was dumped in central London, there would be hell to pay and rightly so. But in this case Trafigura executives in an office in London signed-off on toxic waste being disposed of without due care in the biggest capital city in West Africa.”

Trafigura opacity prolongs fear in Abidjan

In a 2012 joint report, Amnesty International and Greenpeace documented how Trafigura’s refusal to disclose the contents of the toxic waste hampered the clean-up and medical response to the disaster.

When Amnesty International wrote to Trafigura in June asking it to seize the tenth anniversary as an opportunity to finally disclose the contents of the waste it replied, “We have nothing further to add to what has been said [to Amnesty International in August 2012] and we see no purpose in further discussion”.

Trafigura went on to claim that it had already disclosed the contents of the waste in UK court proceedings, What it actually disclosed, however, was based on tests conducted by a government agency in Amsterdam six weeks before the waste was dumped.

Trafigura also continued to play down the toxic waste’s impact, saying that “the slops [waste] could at worst have caused a range of short term low-level flu like symptoms and anxiety”. But the evidence supporting this statement is confidential following a settlement of the UK court proceedings in 2009.

Amnesty International and Greenpeace’s 2012 report showed that victims had suffered a range of serious health issues, including respiratory problems, severe abdominal pain and digestive problems consistent with the likely effects of exposure to the chemicals thought to be in the waste.

In July 2016 Amnesty International interviewed Abidjan residents affected by the 2006 dumping. They said they are still ill from inhaling the chemical waste that remained on dumpsites near residential areas.

All but three of the 38 Abidjan residents Amnesty International spoke to said they still suffer health problems.

The Côte d’Ivoire government has not monitored the victims to assess if they have suffered any long-term health effects.

“Trafigura says the toxic waste caused nothing more harmful than the flu but bases its case on evidence it made confidential. If the company has nothing to hide, why not disclose all the information the victims need to get on with their lives?”

Trafigura seeks rebrand

Meanwhile, Trafigura has rebranded itself, claiming it is a transparent, responsible company.
Meanwhile, Trafigura is looking to rebrand itself as a leader in corporate responsibility in the commodities trading sector. This corporate giant, which posted profits of US$1.1 billion in 2015, was the first commodities firm to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2014, a move the organization’s CEO said reflected its “commitment to transparency and accountability”.

If Trafigura was truly transparent and accountable it would disclose all the information about the toxic waste dumped in Abidjan and its possible impacts on the people who live there. Why would Trafigura continue to hamper medical treatment for people in Abidjan if it didn’t have something to hide?” said Lucy Graham.

Governments give corporate crime carte blanche

Ten years on, no government has forced Trafigura to disclose the exact contents of the toxic waste, or fully investigated Trafigura’s role in the dumping.

In August 2015 Amnesty International exposed the UK government’s shocking failure to investigate Trafigura’s role in the dumping of the toxic waste.
UK authorities told Amnesty International that they lacked the legal firepower, resources and expertise to take on a corporate giant.

“As long as rogue companies are allowed to exploit weak laws in industrialised countries or weak governance in fragile and conflict-affected countries, there is every reason to fear that the scandal that happened in Abidjan in 2006 could happen again today.”

19 August 2016

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