Applicable law and statutes of limitation in CSR /business and human rights cases. The High Court, at least prima facie, on shipbreaking in Bangladesh in Begum v Maran.

Update 28 August 2020 permission to appeal and cross-appeal has been granted and is being additionally sought by both parties on various issues.

Hamida Begum v Maran UK [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) engages exactly the kinds of issues that I have just posted about, in court rather than in concept. On 30th March 2018 Mr Mohammed Khalil Mollah fell to his death whilst working on the demolition of a defunct oil tanker in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyar in Chittagong (now Chattogram), Bangladesh. On 11th April 2019 the deceased’s widow issued proceedings claiming damages for negligence under the UK Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976; alternatively, under Bangladeshi law. The scope of the proceedings has subsequently been broadened inasmuch as draft Amended Particulars of Claim advance a cause of action in restitution: more precisely, unjust enrichment.

Application in the current case is for strike-out and /or summary judgment (denying liability) hence the legal issues are dealt with at prima facie instead of full throttle level. One or two of the decisions deserve full assessment at trial. Trial will indeed follow for the application was dismissed.

The case engages with the exact issues in exchanges I had at the w-e.

Proceedings have not been brought against the owner of the yard and/or the deceased’s employer. Both are Bangladeshi entities. Maran (UK) Ltd,  defendant, is a company registered in the UK and, it is alleged, was both factually and legally responsible for the vessel ending up in Bangladesh where working conditions were known to be highly dangerous.

Focus of the oral argument has been whether claim discloses viable claims in English law on the basis of tort of negligence (answer: yes) and in unjust enrichment (answer: no).

The issue of liability in tort is discussed on the basis of English law, which is odd at first sight given Rome II might suggest as a starting point Bangladeshi law as the lex causae ; Justice Jay himself says so much, but only at 76 ff when he discusses Rome II viz the issue of limitation. In applications for summary judgment however, reasoning and order of argument may take odd form as a result of the prima facie nature of the proceedings and the conversations between bench and parties at case management stage.

On the tort of neglicence claimant argues under English law, with direct relevance to the current debate on environmental and human rights due diligence, that a duty of care required the defendant to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its negotiated and agreed end of life sale and the consequent disposal of the Vessel for demolition would not and did not endanger human health, damage the environment and/or breach international regulations for the protection of human health and the environment. The EU Ship Recycling Regulation 1257/2013 was suggested as playing a role, which is dismissed by Justice Jay at 24 for the Regulation was not applicable ratione temporis.

At 30, claimant’s case on negligence is summarised:

First, the vessel had reached the end of its operating life and a decision was taken (perforce) to dispose of it. Secondly, end-of-life vessels are difficult to dispose of safely. Aside from the evident difficulties inherent in dismantling a large metal structure, a process replete with potential danger, an oil tanker such as this contains numerous hazardous substances such as asbestos, mercury and radio-active components. Although these were listed for Basel Convention purposes and for the attention of the buyer, and the deceased was not injured as a result of exposure to any hazardous substance, the only reasonable inference is that waste such as asbestos is not disposed of safely in Chattogram. Thirdly, the defendant had a choice as to whether to entrust the vessel to a buyer who would convey it to a yard which was either safe or unsafe. Fourthly, the defendant had control and full autonomy over the sale. Fifthly, the defendant knew in all the circumstances that the vessel would end up on Chattogram beach. Sixthly, the defendant knew that the modus operandi at that location entailed scant regard for human life.

The gist of the argument under tort therefore is a classic Donoghue v Stevenson type case of liability arising from a known source of danger.

At 42 ff Justice Jay discusses what to my mind is of great relevance in particular under Article 7 Rome II, should it be engaged, giving claimant a choice between lex locus delicti commissi and lex locus damni for environmental damage, in particular, the issue of ‘control’. One may be aware from my earlier writings (for an overview see my chapter in the 2019 OUP Handbook of Comparative environmental law) that the determination of the lex causae for that issue of control has not been properly discussed by either the CJEU or national courts. This being a prima facie review, the issue is not settled definitively of course however Justice Jay ends by holding that there is no reason to dismiss the case on this issue first hand. This will therefore go to trial.

As noted Rome II is only discussed towards the end, when the issue of limitation surfaces (logically, it would have come first). Claimant does not convince the judge that the case is manifestly more closely connected with England than with Bangladesh under A4(3) Rome II. Then follows the discussion whether this might be ‘environmental damage’ under Article 7 Rome II, which Justice J at 83 ff holds preliminarily and prima facie, it is. Analysis of Article 7 is bound to be of great importance at trial and /or appeal.

At 85 a further issue for debate is trial is announced, namely whether the one-year statute of limitation under Bangladeshi law, should be extended under Article 26 Rome II’s allowance for ordre public (compare Roberts and CJEU C-149/18 Martins v DEKRA – that case concerning lois de police and statutes of limitation. 

Plenty of issues to be discussed thoroughly at trial.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

A language Fest: Sharpston AG on the Basel Convention and mixtures of wastes in Interseroh.

Update 6 July 2020 The Court held at the end of May (at the time of writing, an EN version is still not available). Given the mixed messages in the language versions of the Regulation’s Annexes, it gives priority to the international agreement which the Regulation is meant to transpose, ie the Basel Convention. From the statutory build-up of the relevant Basel Annex, it holds that mixtures of wastes cannot be classified under one of the relevant entries of the green list; and also that up to 10% impurities do not impact the classification.

In C-654/18 Interseroh Sharpston AG opined on 30 January, in answer to a German court wishing to ascertain whether a waste stream composed principally of paper products should be categorised as so-called ‘green’ waste and therefore subject to the flexible control procedure provided in the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation 1013/2016. The referring court also asks whether such waste can still be categorised as ‘green’ if it contains up to 10% impurities.

The Regulation combines rules of purely EU origin, with a sometimes complex combination of OECD and 1989 Basel Convention rules. It generally employs a listing system with corresponding light signals (green and amber, previously also red) with the green list being the most desirable to exporters: these only require compliance with the same rules as ordinary commercial transactions.

Regardless of whether or not wastes are included on the list of wastes subject to the Green Control Procedure (Appendix 3 of the EU Regulation), they may not be subject to the Green control procedure if they are contaminated by other materials to an extent which (a) increases the risks associated with the wastes sufficiently to render them appropriate for submission to the amber control procedure, when taking into account the criteria in Appendix 6 to this Decision, or (b) prevents the recovery of the wastes in an environmentally sound manner’.

In the dispute at issue Interseroh collects used sales packaging (lightweight packaging) from private final consumers throughout Germany which it then consigns to recovery. It ships the prepared waste paper across the border for recycling in a paper factory in Hoogezand (Netherlands). New paper and new paperboard is produced from the waste paper. The Netherlands purchaser, ESKA stipulates that the waste paper must meet the following specifications. It should be composed of at least 90% used, residue-drained, system-compatible paper, paperboard or cardboard (PPC) articles and PPC-based combinations, with the exception of liquid packaging board including packaging parts such as labels etc. Also, the waste stream must contain no more than 10% impurities (‘the mixture of wastes at issue’).

The Dutch and German import cq export authorities differ as to the inclusion or not of the transported wastes at issue, with the Dutch taking a more relaxed approach on the basis of the Dutch version of the relevant Basel entry B3020.

  • The Dutch version reads „De volgende materialen, mits deze niet vermengd zijn met gevaarlijke afvalstoffen:
    Oud papier en karton:
    – ongebleekt papier en karton of gegolfd papier en golfkarton; – overig papier en karton, hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van gebleekt chemisch pulp, dat niet in bulk is gekleurd; – papier en karton hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van mechanisch pulp (bv. kranten, tijdschriften en soortgelijk drukwerk); – overige, met inbegrip van: 1. gelamineerd karton, 2. ongesorteerd afval
  • The German version: “Folgende Stoffe, sofern sie nicht mit gefährlichen Abfällen vermischt sind:
    Abfälle und Ausschuss von Papier und Pappe
    – ungebleichtes Papier und Wellpapier und ungebleichte Pappe und Wellpappe; – hauptsächlich aus gebleichter, nicht in der Masse gefärbter Holzcellulose bestehendes anderes Papier und daraus bestehende andere Pappe; – hauptsächlich aus mechanischen Halbstoffen bestehendes Papier und daraus bestehende Pappe (beispielsweise Zeitungen, Zeitschriften und ähnliche Drucksachen); – andere, einschließlich, aber nicht begrenzt auf: 1. geklebte/laminierte Pappe (Karton) , 2. nicht sortierter Ausschuss.
  • The English version: The following materials, provided they are not mixed with hazardous wastes:
    Waste and scrap of paper or paperboard of:
    – unbleached paper or paperboard or of corrugated paper or paperboard; – other paper or paperboard, made mainly of bleached chemical pulp, not coloured in the mass; – paper or paperboard made mainly of mechanical pulp (for example, newspapers, journals and similar printed matter); – other, including but not limited to: (1) laminated paperboard, (2) unsorted scrap.

According to the wording of the German-language version, point 2 of the fourth indent covers ‘nicht sortierten Ausschuss’ (‘unsorted scrap’) and not ‘nicht sortierte Abfälle’ (‘unsorted waste’), as the Dutch Supreme Court held on the basis of the Dutch language version (‘ongesorteerd afval’). The term ‘scrap’ is not synonymous with the terms ‘waste’ or ‘mixture’. In addition, a distinction is drawn in the French language version between ‘mélange de déchets’ and ‘rebuts non triés’, just as in the English-language version between ‘mixture of wastes’ and ‘unsorted scrap’. The terms ‘scrap’ and ‘waste’ are therefore not synonymous. Since, in the Dutch language version of the heading of Basel Code B3020, the term ‘waste’ is not used, but it instead reads ‘papier, karton en papierproducten’, the term ‘afval’ in point 2 of the fourth indent in the Dutch-language version does not cover the entire entry, but only what does not come under the first three indents.

Specifically, on 20 May 2015, the Raad van State (Council of State, Netherlands) ruled in proceedings involving ESKA that a waste paper mixture, regardless of the presence of impurities, comes under Basel Code B3020. Accordingly, any such mixture of wastes constituted ‘Green’ listed waste and came within the list of wastes subject to the Green control procedure under Article 18 of Regulation No 1013/2006. It did so on the basis of the Dutch language version of Basel Code B3020. ESKA had previously been employing the stricter prior notification procedure under Article 4 of the Regulation.

Interseroh then brought an action before the referring German court seeking a declaration that it is entitled to ship the mixture of wastes at issue to other EU Member States in accordance with the Green control procedure.

Sharpston AG at 27 starts by pointing out that the shipments at issue are kosher commercial and regulatory transactions: at least 90% of the mixture is made up of what can be described generically as paper, paperboard and paper product wastes. The waste also includes a maximum of 10% impurities. This, in other words, is not a cowboyesque trafficking practice. She then explores the legislative history of the amended Annexes, paying less attention to the linguistic analysis perhaps than one might expect – object and purpose is, after all, a guiding principle in the interpretation of texts with seemingly diverging language versions. She concludes from that assessment (please refer to her Opinion itself; there is little point in me paraphrasing it here) that the lighter, green list procedure can only apply if the notifier shows with scientific evidence that the level of impurities does not prevent the recovery of the wastes in question in an environmentally sound manner. She also acknowledges at 72 (as the EC already did in its 2009 FAQs) that clarity on the issue is wanting: ‘establishing what is a tolerable level of contamination is a matter that is due (perhaps, overdue) for examination’. However given the lack of formal regulatory guidance on the issue, the Article 28 procedure of Regulation applies: where the competent authorities of the Member State of dispatch and the Member State of destination cannot agree on the classification of a particular consignment of wastes (and hence on whether the more flexible Green control procedure in Article 18 may be used), the Annex IV amber list procedure must be applied.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.

 

Regina v Biffa: Jury instructions and the Basel export ban.

Update 3 July 2020. The conviction was upheld in [2020] EWCA Crim 827.

Update 10 October 2019 BIFFA was found guilty (and has asked for leave to appeal) and reportedly has been fined £350.000.

[2019] EWCA Crim 20 Regina v BIFFA Waste Services is a rare example of interlocutory appeal concerning jury instruction and summing up. It involves Regulation 1013/2006, the Waste shipments Regulation, particularly the EU’s enforcement of the ‘Basel Ban‘: the ban on exports of hazardous wastes destined for disposal in non-OECD countries.

The only real point arising on appeal is whether (contrary to the judge’s approach at Crown Court) the prosecution was to be required to show not just that a shipment of wastes was not ‘Green List’ wastes but rather household (domestic) wastes, but in addition, to prove that the waste was contaminated by other materials to an extent which prevented the recovery of waste in an ‘environmentally sound manner’ (the general Basel condition for exports); and whether the jury was to be instructed in the summing-up accordingly.

The containers in question were to form part of a larger consignment of containers (448 in total) destined for China. In May and early June 2015 they were the subject of interception and examination at the port of Felixstowe by officials of the Environment Agency. It is asserted that such examination revealed that these particular containers, or some of them, included significant contamination by items which were not mixed paper items at all; for example, soiled nappies and sanitary wear, sealed bags of excrement, clothing, food packaging, plastic bottles and so on. It is asserted that this was indicative of the consignments being mixed household waste rather than mixed paper waste: it being common ground that household waste, as such, could not be lawfully exported in this way to China.

Of particular specific relevance for the appeal is Recital (28)  of the Waste Shipments Regulation which provides “It is also necessary, in order to protect the environment of the countries concerned, to clarify the scope of the prohibition of exports of hazardous waste destined for recovery in a country to which the OECD Decision does not apply, also laid down in accordance with the Basel Convention. In particular, it is necessary to clarify the list of waste to which that prohibition applies and to ensure that it also includes waste listed in Annex II to the Basel Convention, namely waste collected from households and residues from the incineration of household waste.”

Davis LJ at 33 deals swiftly with the issue. Appreciating that plenty could be said about the precise application of the Regulation, he nevertheless simply points to the prosecution’s intention. They have never sought to say that these were consignments which were indeed essentially Heading B3020 waste paper but nevertheless contaminated by other materials not collected from households (for example, corrosive fluids or dangerous metals etc). so as to prevent recovery of the waste in an environmentally safe manner. They had relied solely on showing the jury that the shipment was not paper waste. If it was, then the waste in question could not be B3020 waste paper (which is within the “green” list of waste which may legitimately be exported). If it was proved that the relevant consignments were indeed heading Y46 waste (household waste) instead, then that was within Article 36(1)(b) of the Regulation and that was the end of the matter. If, on the other hand, the prosecution failed to prove that the relevant consignments were indeed Y46, then that too was the end of the matter and the defendant was entitled to be acquitted.

At 36 he ends with congratulatory remarks to judge Auerbach at Crown Court:

In a matter which is by no means the common currency of Crown Courts, he speedily produced a comprehensive reserved written ruling which set out in full detail the legislative background and authorities; fully analysed and discussed the competing arguments; and explained the reasons for his conclusion with crystal clarity. It is just because of the care and detail underpinning his ruling that this court has been able to approach matters rather more succinctly than otherwise might have been the case.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.

Fairphone: A trip to Ghana exposes challenges of both incoming and outgoing WEEE

Fairphone posted a blog piece on their recent trip to Ghana – thanks to Raluca Radu, a former student of mine, for keeping me updated. The piece and accompanying photos make very sober reading, highlighting the realities of WEEE export to this part of the world. Not that one is not aware of it. However it is very worthwhile to keep being reminded! Fairphone’s project in Ghana, though, is also novel in highlighting the challenge of toxic waste produced in Africa, not just imported there. Finally, the posting (and comments) underline the challenges of all three pillars of sustainable development. Plenty of challenges therefore however it is great to see people trying!

Geert.

RERA: a weee chance of US Basel ratification?

Many thanks to Gideon Kracov for pointing this out to me: the proposed Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (a private member’s Bill) would install an EU-type regime on the export of electric and electronic waste outside of the US. The US have signed but not  ratified the Basel Convention : RERA would amount to implementation of the Convention in practice. The Bill also recognises the relevance of recovering the many rare earth materials contained in WEEE.

Here’s the blurb (the official summary of the Bill, in fact):

_______________

Introduced in House (07/23/2013)

Responsible Electronics Recycling Act – Amends the Solid Waste Disposal Act to: (1) prohibit the export of restricted electronic waste to countries that are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU), or Liechtenstein; (2) require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and promulgate procedures for identifying certain electronic equipment as well as additional restricted toxic materials contained in such equipment which poses a potential hazard to human health or the environment; and (3) establish criminal penalties for knowingly exporting restricted electronic waste in violation of this Act. Allows certain exceptions to such export ban.

Defines “restricted electronic waste” to include electronic equipment (excluding parts of a motor vehicle), such as computers, televisions, printers, copiers, video game systems, telephones, and similar used electronic products, that contain cathode ray tubes, batteries, switches, and other parts containing lead, cadmium, mercury, organic solvents, hexavalent chromium, beryllium, or other toxic ingredients.

Requires persons who handle restricted electronic wastes to permit appropriate EPA and state officials access to such wastes upon request.

Directs the Secretary of Energy to establish a competitive research application program to provide grants for research in the recovering and recycling of critical minerals and rare earth elements found in electronic devices.

______________-

 

Let them stop eating pollution – The European ban on beaching of EU ships

When teaching International Environmental Law, I tend to at some point in the proceedings have the students ponder Lawrence Summers’ 1992 ‘Let them eat pollution‘ memo. It is a document most wonderful to teach basic economics, internalisation (or lack thereof) of externalities, morality in international trade, comparative advantage etc etc. As well as some history (remember Marie Antoinette, anyone?) and the myths surrounding quotes (qu’ils mangent de la brioche).

The EU have recently decided no longer to let developing countries recycle EU-registered ships through ‘beaching’: basically, one towes a discarded ship, typically with plenty of toxic substances on board or integrated in the ship’s build, unto a beach in a developing country, where subsequently the ship is dismantled without much regard to environmental control of occupational health and safety issues.

The long struggle to regulate the trade is a good example of the challenges of positive harmonisation in international environmental law. For instance, the definition of ‘waste’ as applied to a disused ship long differed between the EU (waste as soon as it is no longer used for its original purpose), the International maritime organisation (no waste as long as it can float) and the Basel Convention (reference to ‘discard’ and to national law). The 2009 Hong Kong Convention aims to address the challenges. This Convention has now been implemented by the EU, who have reportedly ‘gold plated’ it: i.e. the EU have gone beyond what is required under the Convention.

Some details of the scheme may be found here (Irish Presidency of the EU) – the text itself is not yet available. The regime uses a core element of the regime of the Basel Convention on the transboundary shipments of hazardous wastes and their disposal: i.e. employ export authorities in the ‘developed’ world, to only allow exports to ‘developing’ countries when conditions in the latter are deemed sufficiently safe from the workers’ and the environment’s point of view. In the case of the ship recycling regime, this is done by only allowing export of EU-flagged waste ships if they are to be dismantled in facilities that have been approved by the EU.

Plenty of complications remain: this includes the compatibility of the regime with the Basel Convention, and with international trade law; the problem of enforcement and inspection; and the possibility of circumvention by switching flag state.

Geert. Postscript July 2014: the Regulation was eventually adopted as Regulation 1257/2013.

There’s only that much delay the ECJ will tolerate – Rotterdam court has to start from scratch in EBS, no clarification on waste shipments

The Court’s order in EBS, Case C-240/12 (available in French and Dutch only), has only now come to my attention (thanks to Raluca Rada) – and for the wrong reasons. This is a preliminary review by the Court at Rotterdam, concerning the application of the waste shipments Regulation.

The case at hand refers to a transport of unsorted used clothes from France to the United Arab Emirates via the Port of Rotterdam, seized by the Dutch authorities due to alleged failure to comply with the notification requirements under the waste shipment Regulation for waste transit. The defendant in the criminal proceedings essentially argued that the Dutch authorities interpret the concept of ‘transit’ in too wide a manner. Since these are criminal proceedings, there is additional tension on the notion of transit in old v new waste shipments Regulation – under criminal law, the provision with the most advantageous consequences for the defendant needs to be applied, even if it was not applicable at the time of the alleged infringement (retroactive application of the milder criminal law; thank you to Gaelle Marlier for confirming that).

The ECJ forewarned the national court that not enough information on the facts had been given for it to review. Time was given for the national court to provide additional data – the oral hearing was postponed to accommodate the national court’s delay in answering. Subsequently, the national court wanted to hear the parties on the additional facts to be given to the court: such hearing could not be scheduled for some time in view of the workload of the national court. The ECJ was then requested to try and answer the question anyway, on the basis of the facts that had been given in the request, supplemented with the few extra nuggets that had been provided informally. Not surprisingly therefore, the Court in the end declined full stop.

I am not sure what this means for the procedure: presumably, the question may be asked again, this time with the right amount of data? To my knowledge these kinds of orders do not occur all that frequently, pity it should do in this case, for I was rather looking forward to hearing the outcome.

Geert.

Questions referred

Where waste is shipped by vessel from an EU Member State (in this case France) to a State in which the OECD-Decision does not apply (in this case the United Arab Emirates), is there ‘transit’ within the meaning of the former 2 and the new  Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) if under way the vessel puts in at a port of another EU Member State (in this case the Port of Rotterdam)?

Does it make any difference to the answer to question 1 if:

there is storage and/or transhipment of that waste at that port and/or

that waste is taken ashore and/or

that waste is declared for import at customs?