A first test of the law on the duty of vigilance. The Paris court will have to rule on the question of the mega oil project in Uganda and Tanzania, decried by local and French NGOs for its consequences in terms of human rights and the environment. According to Friends of the Earth, which is one of the six French and Ugandan organizations behind the legal action, this is the first time that a legal action has been based on the duty of vigilance of companies.
Towards a dismissal
The trial is scheduled for Wednesday, October 12, but the NGOs have requested a dismissal, on the grounds that TotalEnergies would have brought new elements to its case on Monday evening.
” In 36 hours, it is simply impossible for our associations and our lawyers to read everything, analyze and write our counter-arguments which must be submitted to the judge in writing before the hearing to be taken into account.said the NGO Friends of the Earth in a press release.
Duty of care
On the merits, however, the case should not be rushed. The duty of vigilance text was adopted in 2017, following the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 workers.
It obliges companies with more than 5,000 employees in France or 10,000 abroad to set up “reasonable vigilance measures to identify risks and prevent serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the health and safety of people and the environment”. The text thus makes it possible to engage the liability of a French company in the event of damage in a large number of areas, whether these have been committed by the parent company, its subsidiaries or subcontractors.
Supported by the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments, the Tilenga and EACOP projects should make the region a new oil El Dorado. The two are closely linked: the first involves the drilling of 419 wells in Uganda, a third of which in the Murchison Falls natural park.
The second is to build and operate what will be the longest heated pipeline in the world. It should make it possible to transport hydrocarbons from Tilenga to the Indian Ocean by crossing Tanzania over 1,445 km. Mining could last between 25 and 30 years, with peak production estimated at 230,000 barrels per day.
In both countries, NGOs have identified situations that they believe could amount to human rights violations. In a report published on October 6, Friends of the Earth noted, on the basis of testimonies collected on the spot, a “recurrent lack of free consent” land redemption, a lack of financial compensation, bans on planting perennial crops on certain lands.
Organizations also have potential environmental damage in their sights, both in terms of biodiversity and the climate. The infrastructure crosses several protected areas in the country.
According to estimates by the Climate Accountability Institute, quoted by Friends of the Earth, the project would also lead to the emission of 379 million tonnes of CO2 over the entire operating life (counting the refining and end use of the products tankers). TotalEnergies for its part figures emissions at less than 7 million tonnes, taking into account only the construction of the pipeline and its direct use.
Appeals against the project
A group of international personalities – politicians, climatologists, association leaders, bishops… – called on Monday, October 10 in a tribune “to stop” this megaproject which would precipitate “Climate change and its procession of deadly disasters”.
In a column published by La Croix, 400 young Catholics had asked the French bishops on October 3 to denounce the project which “seems incompatible with the search for the common good”… They feel that “the Church of France cannot remain silent about the greatest enterprise in our country” and The Vatican also condemned the project.
In the eyes of Juliette Renaud, the TotalEnergies trial will be crucial: “This legal action is important because the judge’s decision will lay the foundations of case law in terms of duty of vigilance”. After three years of legal proceedings, the NGOs have obtained that the trial takes place before a judicial court, where exclusively professional magistrates sit, and not before a commercial court.
Solicited, TotalEnergies did not respond to our email. The previous week, reacting to the report published by Friends of the Earth, the group indicated that this project “constitutes a major development challenge for Uganda and Tanzania”.
He assured to put “everything to make it an exemplary project in terms of transparency, shared prosperity, economic and social progress, sustainable development, environmental consideration and respect for human rights”. On its website, the group claims a land acquisition program was carried out “according to the best international standards”.