[Original article published on Friends of the Earth International website: https://www.foei.org/news/total-legal-action-france-human-rights-environment-uganda]
Paris, 23 October 2019
Today Friends of the Earth France, Survie, AFIEGO, CRED, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda and NAVODA are taking Total to court for its failure to elaborate and implement its human rights and environmental vigilance plan in Uganda. This is the first ever legal action of its kind - seeking emergency proceedings against Total for non-compliance with its legal obligations under the 2017 French duty of vigilance law, which aims to address corporate negligence.
Total is the main operator of a mega oil project in Lake Albert and Murchison Falls, a protected natural park in Uganda. Total plans to drill over 400 wells, extracting around 200,000 barrels of oil per day. A 1,445km long giant pipeline will be built to transport the oil, impacting communities and nature in Tanzania as well as Uganda.
France's new Duty of Vigilance law compels Total to meet its human rights obligations concerning this project. The judge will decide if the corporation should be forced, with potential financial penalties, to review its vigilance plan, acknowledging the true impact of its oil activities on local communities and the environment. The court may also order Total to undertake urgent measures in order to prevent further human rights violations or environmental damage.
In June 2019 the six NGOs presented the French fossil fuel giant with a formal demand to revise its vigilance plan and the implementation of that plan for the oil project in Uganda. Total rejected the charges after a three month legal deadline, allowing the complainants to take Total to court. The social and environmental impacts are so dire that they filed proceedings with the urgent applications judge.
In addition to denying the charges, Total has failed to change its behavior on the ground in Uganda. Pressure on local communities, who are threatened with eviction, as well as on the NGOs supporting them, has increased. The impacts and risks flagged in this legal case are escalating daily.
Thomas Bart, Survie activist who coordinated the on-site investigation explains, “Thousands of people are already acutely feeling the dire consequences of the oil project. It’s not only the people, whose homes and land have been stolen, but also the region's exceptional biodiversity that is under attack. Putting a giant pipeline through these ecosystems will endanger them in the immediate future. It's urgent that we put a stop to this. If we consider all the risks linked to the pipeline, we’re talking about tens of thousands of affected people.”
This is the first time that a French transnational corporation is being taken to court under the duty of vigilance law - a groundbreaking law that French civil society spent many years fighting for.
Juliette Renaud, corporate accountability senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth France said, “In addition to the urgent need to put an end to this scandalous project, this unprecedented legal case is also a legitimate sign of recognition that transnational corporations have new and very concrete legal obligations under this law. Corporations can no longer hide behind 'good intentions'. We hope this legal action will mark a turning point, and the jurisprudence created could serve for many other cases. We will therefore defend the letter and the spirit of the law, which is a major step forward in fighting corporate impunity.”
This case is part of a growing global movement for justice. Last week at the United Nations, 90 governments and over 200 civil society organizations participated in ongoing negotiations for a new international binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. The French duty of vigilance law and case against Total in Uganda was presented as evidence at the UN, underlining the need to strengthen the jurisdiction of national courts and to create strong international implementation mechanisms, including an international court. Strong campaigns already exist to replicate this new French law in Switzerland, UK, Germany and at the European level demanding Rights for People and Rules for Corporations.
Karin Nansen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International added,“For too long large oil corporations like Total have acted with impunity, trampling over human rights and destroying the environment. But this new Duty of Vigilance law and court case means we have a chance to hold Total, a French transnational corporation, accountable in France for human rights violations and environmental and livelihood destruction in a Southern country. This case is a groundbreaking moment in the global movement to end corporate impunity.”
Ten of thousand people have already signed the online “See you in Court, Total!” petition supporting the case and the complainants are calling on the international community to join. Their voices will be heard in the Nanterre High Court, where a hearing is due to take place on 8 January 2020.
Juliette Renaud, Friends of the Earth France, senior campaigner
+33 6 37 65 56 40
Thomas Bart, Survie, Uganda investigation coordinator:
+33 6 52 21 15 61
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