Trafigura settles with Ivorian toxic waste victims

Not sure if this is good news or bad news: Trafigura, the company responsible for the Probo Koala toxic waste scandal 3 years ago, settled with the lawyers representing the Ivorian victims for $46 Million – that’s a little over $1,500 per person.

Yes, that’s real money for most folks in Cote d’Ivoire – a bit less than the annual per capita GDP of $1,700 (2008 – #191 of 229 countries). And perhaps that’s about as good as one could expect from the multi-national petro-behemoth Trafigura when it comes to owning up to its responsibility and compensating the victims of its atrocities in West Africa. After all, there is not much precedent for large corporations ruining people’s lives and then owning up to that and making things right. Consider that Trafigura’s annual revenue is roughly equivalent to Cote d’Ivoire’s annual Gross Domestic Product ($33 Billion) – so 46 Million is pocket change for them and this settlement represents little more than a slap on the wrist.

So from that perspective that’s not really justice. A company that hurts thousands and kills dozens of people as a direct result of greed and a callous disregard for life deserves a more severe punishment than a  slap on the wrist. I think these criminals should be put out of business for good and their assets given to the victims and to charity. Dumping hundreds of tons of highly toxic waste into the sewers and waterways of a city does not only violate laws, it is an act so unconscionable and egregious that it should be classified not as a mere crime, but as “terrorism” or “mass murder.”

This is especially true considering Trafigura’s attempts at downplaying this disaster and covering up its responsibility for it, which has been well documented by several investigative reports, specifically by the NY Times, the Guardian and in a thorough documentary by the BBC in May 2009.

Just recently, the BBC found clear evidence that Trafigura knew how toxic the waste was and that its representatives were only interested in the cheapest way to get rid of it:

Trafigura chartered the Probo Koala and while the ship was off the coast of Gibraltar poured tons of caustic soda and a catalyst into the dirty oil to clean it – a rough and ready process known as “caustic washing”.

The method is cheap, but it generates such dangerous waste that it is effectively banned in most places around the world.

The e-mails obtained by Newsnight show that in the months before the waste was dumped the company knew about the difficulties they would face in disposing of the waste.

“This operation is no longer allowed in the European Union, the United States and Singapore” it is “banned in most countries due to the ‘hazardous nature of the waste'”, one e-mail warns.

Another e-mail points out that “environmental agencies do not allow disposal of the toxic caustic”.

The process left a toxic sulphurous sludge in the tanks of the Probo Koala.

BBC Newsnight, 16 September 2009

The emails Newsnight obtained, document clearly the utter disregard of the people in charge of this operation for laws or responsibility and expose their total focus on the cheapest solution to dispose of the toxic waste. Such cynical disregard for the health of others should be punished much more severely.

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