Trafigura: What if police said it was too hard to chase criminals?

Prosecutors, the police and the Environment Agency have essentially told us that they can’t be bothered to investigate a UK company’s role in the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast which left up to 100,000 people with skin rashes, headaches and respiratory problems.

This incident in August 2006, documented by Amnesty, triggered an environmental and health disaster in the capital city, Abidjan. The hazardous waste was dumped at some 18 locations including near a poor residential neighbourhood.

Amnesty sent a dossier of evidence to UK’s Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police, calling for a criminal investigation into Trafigura Ltd for what we believed to be an illegal conspiracy to dump the waste.

The CPS passed this dossier on to the Environment Agency, the body charged with investigating environmental crime.

Much to our concern the Environment Agency decided not to investigate, coming up with the astonishing excuse that it lacked the resources and expertise, and was worried that Trafigura might challenge any steps it took.

Amnesty wrote to three authorities: CPS: not our job Met: no reply Environment Agency: we don't know how http://t.co/m5ry1lOP5f

— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 23, 2015

This is the equivalent of the police saying that they won’t investigate a serious crime because of fear of a backlash from the alleged criminals.

How crass is that and how inconsistent with law enforcement? In response Amnesty has documented(PDF) and publicised these failings.

We believe that this pass the buck approach ensures that nobody is held accountable for one of the biggest corporate-related catastrophes of the 21st century. The indifference shown by the UK authorities sends a clear message to companies that they can commit crimes on a massive scale and get away with it.

In contrast to the failure of the UK’s criminal justice system to act, law firm Leigh Day succeeded in bringing a civil claim on behalf of 30,000 Ivorians, which was settled for approximately £30m. While this was a significant step towards justice for those affected, it is no substitute for a proper investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

The reluctance of the authorities to enforce the law against companies suggests that at the very least investigators need more resources, training and specialised support for dealing with corporate crime. But more fundamentally, stronger laws are needed to address the behaviour of UK companies abroad when they are implicated in serious crimes.

The global power and reach of multinationals makes it more important than ever to hold them to account when they abuse peoples’ rights. The UK justice system is woefully ill-equipped to do this.

The government shouldn’t be giving a green light to corporate crime -  it needs to tackle this issue and make sure companies like Trafigura are held to account.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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