I have in the past reported fleetingly about the Trafigura litigation, in which the company is and has been pursued in various jurisdictions for the environmental and public health damage resulting from the dumping in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capita, of toxic waste originating from the Probo Koala. I discuss the corporate social responsibility implications of conflict of laws ia here.
The case has led ia to the so-called ‘Leigh Day settlement’ in the United Kingdom (representing 30.000 victims) and to a 2007 ‘Protocole d’Accord’ between Trafigura and Ivory coast.
Current judgment was issued on 30 November and involves Stichting Union des Victimes de Déchets Toxiques D`Abidjan et Banlieues, a foundation set up in accordance with Dutch law, claiming to represent victims not yet represented in the Leigh Day settlement.
The Dutch court first of all swiftly rejects any impact of the choice of court clause included in the 2007 protocol. This discussion could have been quite interesting, however the Court suffices with a reference to the narrow formulation of the clause. It refers to any and all issues arising out of the validity, application and interpretation of the agreement. The agreement being a contractual arrangement and the suit here being based on liability in tort, in an action started by victims not party to the agreement, the court at Amsterdam suffices with the remark that current case is evidently not covered by the clause.
This leaves aside the discussion on the merits with respect to that choice of court. The 2007 protocol was signed by Ivory Coast ‘for and on behalf of all victims of the toxic wastes’. Whether the State can legitimately bind all those victims, particularly since presumably not all of them are Ivory Coast nationals, requires a lex causae to settle. Were this to follow the Brussels I Recast rule (the case looks to have been introduced after January 2015), this would imply a discussion on the inclusion of choice of court ex-EU. Over and above that discussion, the Court at Amsterdam would then have to discuss whether perhaps ordre public protests against allowing a State to represent all victims in cases such as these.
Having dismissed (again, all too briefly) choice of court, the court subsequently upholds jurisdiction on the basis of Article 4 Brussels I Recast: the Dutch domicile of Trafigura Beheer BV.
In the remainder of the assessment of jurisdiction and standing, the Court applies Dutch law (de Stichting has been set up under Dutch law) and finds ultimately that the personal, business interests of its creator are not sufficiently split from the interests of the victims which the foundation purports to represent. The court adds that the Stichting would not seem properly to manage its documentation etc., leaving doubt as to whether it is properly equipped to attain its objective.
The suit is therefore dismissed on standing.
An interesting judgment to kick-start all sorts of issues of relevance to corporate social responsibility.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.