Trafigura, the London-based oil-trading company accused of dumping toxic waste in poverty-stricken Ivory Coast, says it has agreed a £28 million settlement with lawyers representing 31,000 people affected by the incident.
Each victim will receive approximately £950 in compensation.
The settlement dwarfs the £122 million Trafigura paid the government of the Ivory Coast in 2007 to exempt it from legal proceedings there.
A report by an investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council states that "15 people died[ and] 69 people were hospitalized" after a ship chartered by Trafigura - the Panamanian-registered vessel Probo Koala - dumped 500 tonnes of toxic waste belonging to the company at sites around Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city.
Within hours of the dumping, "thousands of individuals visited health-care centres complaining of nausea, headaches, vomiting, abdominal pains, skin reactions and a range of eye, ear, nose, throat, pulmonary and gastric problems;" "more than 108,000 medical consultations result[ed] from the incident." Moreover, the areas where the toxic waste was dumped still have not been decontaminated and continue to threaten residents' health.
As part of the settlement, Leigh Day & Co, the British law firm representing victims, agreed to a 'joint statement' with Trafigura that the toxic waste "could at worst have caused ... short term low level flu like symptoms and anxiety." The firm also withdrew comments made on its website that the waste had caused a number of deaths and miscarriages. In return, Trafigura agreed to drop a libel action against it.
Company director Eric de Turckheim claims "the settlement completely vindicates Trafigura;" that the company did not foresee, nor could it have foreseen, its contractor Tommy Ltd. would dump toxic waste; and that the contractor "acted entirely independently of, and without any authority from, Trafigura."
Is that the end of the matter?
The Guardian newspaper and BBC Newsnight have both uncovered evidence showing Trafigura knew the waste dumped in Abidjan was hazardous. Trafigura is suing the BBC for libel, but they show no signs of backing down.
And Greenpeace has launched a legal action in Amsterdam calling for Trafigura to be prosecuted for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. Trafigura also faces a Dutch prosecution for allegedly lying about the true nature of its waste.
In addition, the UN report referenced above criticised Trafigura for failing to conduct proper due diligence in selecting a contractor to dispose of the waste:
"Tommy Ltd. was only created shortly prior to the arrival of the Probo Koala and had neither previous experience with waste treatment nor adequate facilities, equipment and expertise to treat waste ... [T]hese shortcomings do not appear to have been taken into consideration by Trafigura."
Denis Pipira Yao, president of the Ivorian National Federation of Victims of Toxic Waste, has promised to continue fighting: "Trafigura wants to excuse itself morally but it is not fair," he told Reuters. "The waste was toxic and lethal ... As people are poor in Africa, Trafigura is using money to get away with it. We are not at all happy with this way of doing business and we will work with our lawyers to make that clear."