UK oil firm settles toxic waste case

By staff

British oil trading firm Trafigura is set to pay out millions of pounds after settling in one of the largest class actions in history.

The firm, which is based in Holland but has a strong London arm, was accused of dumping hundreds of tons of ‘slops’ near Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, through a contractor.

The dumping led to claims from thousands in the surrounding area that they were suffering health problems. Ivorian authorities said 15 people had died as a result of the chemicals.

Leigh Day and Co, the London law firm which took the company to court, represented over 30,000 of the people affected – one of the largest class actions ever made in the United Kingdom.

Despite previously claiming the slops were harmless, the company is now on the verge of agreeing a settlement, although the financial settlement has yet to be finalised.

The announcement came on the same day that special rapporteur professor Okechukwu Ibeanu presented his report to the UN into whether there had been human rights violations in the Ivory Coast as a result of the toxic waste dump.

Last year he told “Certainly, human rights were violated in the Ivory Coast. It is very well known that a right to health and a right to information and, you know, even a right to life was widely violated. There’s no debate about that. The debate is about whether this was a result of dumping the waste and who has the liability.”

In his report Prof Ibeanu stated: “According to official estimates 15 people died, 69 were hospitalised and there were more than 108,000 medical consultations resulting from the incident.”

He goes on to report that: “An assessment by the ministry of health and public hygiene concluded that there were 63,296 probable and 34,408 confirmed cases of exposure to the waste from Probo Koala.”

Meanwhile, a BBC Newsnight investigation has obtained internal communications between staff at Trafigura which reveal staff did know the slops were toxic.

Trafigura yesterday tried to blame Prof Ibeanu for prejudicing the cases against it, stating it was “appalled at the basic lack of balance and analytical rigour reflected in the report,” and that it had “offered its full cooperation to the UNHRC’s special rapporteur, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, in advance of the publication of his mission report.”

“By publishing his report now, Prof Ibeanu clearly risks being seen to pre-judge the ongoing civil legal proceedings in the UK and criminal proceedings in the Netherlands. Both Trafigura and its lawyers previously requested Professor Ibeanu to exercise great caution in this respect and it is deeply regrettable that he has overlooked these concerns,” the company statement continued.

Trafigura released a further statement following the settlement agreement yesterday in which it stated: “It currently appears that this settlement is likely to be acceptable to most, if not all of the claimants.

“Claims are not being made in this litigation for deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects and other serious injuries.

“Trafigura has always maintained that the dumped slops could never have caused the deaths and serious illnesses which have been alleged.”

Read the internal emails obtained by BBC Newsnight (republished with permission from BBC Newsnight) which show staff at Trafigura knew the waste being dumped in the Ivory Coast was harmful despite the company’s persistent denials.