Last month, Traidcraft campaigners headed down to the River Thames at Westminster and mocked up a stunt with a barrel labelled ‘toxic waste’. We were making the point that we’d quite rightly be arrested if we did this for real.
But it’s only ten years since something very like this did happen for real…
Here are the events that unfolded:
August 2006: cargo ship the MV Probo Koala has docked in Abidjan, the capital of Cote D’Ivoire in West Africa. The ship is carrying around 500 cubic metres of ‘spent caustic’, a highly toxic mix of chemicals created on board by processing petroleum products. The ship is working for a commodity trading company called Trafigura, headquartered in the Netherlands, with a subsidiary in London.
Disposing of the waste has become a big problem. A waste disposal company in Amsterdam wanted more than half a million Euros to deal with it – Trafigura turned down the deal as too expensive. Attempts to dispose of the waste in Lagos, Nigeria also failed. When a company turns up in Abidjan asking just US$17,000 to deal with it, Trafigura agrees.
On 19 August, the highly toxic waste is loaded into lorries – which then dump it in at least 18 locations across the city. Tens of thousands of people experience headaches, skin irritations and breathing problems. More than 100,000 people seek medical assistance and there are a number of deaths.
In the ten years since, Trafigura has continued to maintain that they were not responsible for what happened and that they believed that the waste would be treated and safely disposed of.
Others think differently. Our friends at Amnesty International have followed the case over a number of years and in 2014 sent the UK authorities a dossier of evidence that Trafigura’s directors and employees in the UK may have conspired to dump the waste illegally. The UK authorities declined to take action.
Despite numerous examples of UK companies taking actions which result in death, serious injury or widescale pollution in some of the world’s poorest countries, there hasn’t been a single prosecution.
At Traidcraft, we think it’s time for change. British companies should be subject to the law, just like the rest of us, and they should be prosecuted if they cause serious harm – wherever it takes place.