Trafigura’s shame

The Independent and Times Online have just reported on the lawsuit regarding the dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast by oil giant Trafigura, who has offered the 31,000 complainants from the affected area a total sum around £100m. The incident occurred in 2006, and has been dubbed as one of the worst pollution disasters in the last few decades. While £100m is a great amount of money in itself, once divided amongst the 31,000 complainants, each person will receive only several hundred dollars, and the greater population of 100,000 residents affected will not be compensated at all. As a private company with an annual turnover of £44b, this payout equates to a pitiful 0.2% of a year’s turnover. Their turnover is twice the GDP of the entire Ivory Coast. What makes this decision more difficult to swallow is that a UN report shows that Trafigura made a conscious decision to dump the waste in an inappropriate, illegal open-air waste site which the contractors informed them about prior to the incident. Internal emails published by the Guardian show the company’s dogged determination to cut costs while ignoring the costs to human life. Absolutely no compassion has been shown by the company so far, which, instead of paying those affected, has hired one of Britain’s most aggressive law firms to settle the suit while also employing a PR company to deny the link between the toxic waste and a flurry of complaints at hospitals immediately after the dumping. It has also denied liability, despite damning evidence to the contrary. No representatives from Trafigura have set up camp for a few days in an area affected by the own toxic waste, or even downed a glass to prove that the stuff is as harmless as it purports to human health. The UN meanwhile has released a report confirming the link between the waste and the health complaints. Trafigura has also been involved in trying to stifle news reporting on the issue by threatening to litigate against critical interpretations of the fiasco.

It looks like every repugnant act of defiant, determined evil has already been taken. Knowingly dump toxic waste on already disempowered citizens, check. Deny liability, check. Quickly go into damage control and spend money on lawyers and PR people rather than the victims, check. Offer an offensively small amount of compensation to a minority of those affected to seem as though something is being done, check. Continue to deny that toxic waste caused health complaints, check. Attempt to shut up anyone who disagrees with you, check.

Of course, before one gets too excited about blaming big oil giants, remember that it’s the consumption of oil on a massive scale that allows companies like Trafigura to not only exist, but thrive, and continue to exploit innocent people  in the name of bigger profits. Events like these are reminders that oil consumption has its consequences, and that these consequences are often devastating for those who are already disadvantaged. Remember that International Car Free Day is coming up (on the 22nd) – take a stand, and continue to walk, bike or bus instead of driving, as much as you can. There are plenty of other areas in our lives where we use oil unnecessarily as well – research them, but also keep in mind the effects of alternatives as well (the Hybrid car is a good example of a product that may actually be worse than a normal car).

Other links

How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster (Rainbow Warrior)
How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster (The Guardian)
The Company: The shadowy history of a slick oil giant (The Independent)

PS. When I first tried to publish this article, all the text disappeared, including all the past drafts that were auto-saved by WordPress. All that was left was the title. Freaky or what?!

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