“This is a story of corporate crime, human rights abuse and governments’ failure to protect people and the environment. It is a story that exposes how systems for enforcing international law have failed to keep up with companies that operate trans-nationally, and how one company has been able to take full advantage of legal uncertainties and jurisdictional loopholes, with devastating consquences.
For the people at the centre of the story – the people of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire – it starts with horror and ends in tragedy. It began on 20 August 2006 when they woke up to find that foul-smelling, toxic waste had been dumped in numerous places around their city.
Tens of thousands of people suffered from nausea, headaches, breathing difficulties, stinging eyes and burning skin. They did not know what was happening; they were terrified. Health centres and hospitals were soon overwhelmed. International agencies were drafted in to help overstretched local medical staff. More than 100,000 people were treated, according to official records, but it is likely that the number affected was higher as records are incomplete. The authorities reported that between 15 and 17 people died.
With medical treatment and time, the symptoms abated, but for many the fear remains. Six years on, they still do not know what was in the waste. It had been illegally exported from Europe, illegally brought into Abidjan, and illegally dumped there. Numerous laws – both national and international – had been ignored.
A three-year investigation by Amnesty International and Greenpeace has uncovered the central reason for the tragedy that unfolded in Abidjan: in the absence of effective law enforcement, one company acted to secure corporate profit without regard for the human and environmental costs. That company was Trafigura.”