Carter-Ruck Muck up Attempting to Clean up Cote d’Ivoire Fuck Up
Tweeting uprising gags Ruck’s gagging order and forces embarrassing roundabout
In 2006 Trafigura a multinational oil firm based in Switzerland kept up the fine environmental standards set by the oil business by dumping toxic waste off the cost of Cote d’Ivoire. Despite claims that the waste was dishwater from the ships sinks it turned out to be a cocktail of fuel, caustic soda and hydrogen sulphide. This is an easy mistake to make; 500 tonnes of dishwater is a slightly dark colour and 500 tonnes of toxic waste shines neon green.
The result of this fairly major error was that 17 Ivoirians died, 30,000 had various injuries ranging from headaches to burns of the lungs and skin and 100,000 were treated for the effects of the dumping. Being the fair and honest company that they are, Trafigura didn’t want to admit to this. Instead they paid $198million for the clean up without accepting blame. That’s a very charitable contribution for an oil company, these are companies that try their best to avoid taxes yet here they are giving money to clean up toxic waste that they had nothing to do with.
This saga began in 2002 when state-owned Mexican oil company Pemex began to accumulate significant amounts of coker gasoline containing large quantities of silica and sulphur. They soon ran out of storage room and decided to sell it to Trafigura who turned it into Naptha which they sold. Instead of cutting their profit margins by paying a refinery they used an experimental process called caustic washing on board their ship, the Poablo Koala. The process worked and the resulting Naptha was sold for $19million.
Trafigura looked for a way to dump the waste. They were told that to dispose of the substance in a regulated toxic waste site in Amsterdam would cost them 1,000 euro per square cubic metre. Interestingly they thought that price too high but considered the cost of paying for a cleanup that they had no involvement in perfectly acceptable. They were then turned away from numerous countries before settling on the Cote d’Ivoire, perhaps because it was cheap, perhaps because it’s poor and the people have little legal clout. The dumping continued for three weeks before people started to complain about foul smells coming from the landfills and tried to block trucks from entering the dumping sites. The government ordered the free movement of traffic to allow the numerous people who needed to get to the hospitals to be allowed through.
Carter-Ruck are the law firm charged with making sure nobody says anything remotely harmful to their client, Trafigura. They used their huge legal clout and attempted to stop any mention of Trafigura’s wrongdoing in the whole affair. On the 11th September 2009 they took out a super injunction, which prevents anyone from mentioning anything to do with the events in Cote d’Ivoire. Paul Farrelly MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme asked a fairly innocuous question about various judicial processes of which one was the internal Minton Report commissioned by Trafigura which said what many suspected: Trafigura were responsible for the deaths and injuries in Africa. Carter-Ruck warned the Guardian, one of the organisations subject to the gagging order, that they still weren’t allowed to print anything about Trafigura’s supposed involvement in a supposed dumping of a supposed toxic waste. The Guardian instead published an incoherent story saying that they couldn’t print what they were talking about but claimed the injunction breached the 1668 Freedom of Speech Act. Soon certain pieces of this huge jigsaw were put together on the social networking site Twitter and this pressure combined with the Guardian’s claims that the injunction breached freedom of speech laws meant Carter-Ruck had to drop their gagging order before they were taken to court.
So what happens to Trafigura now? Are they going to be sued by every Ivorian who was affected? Well no, because the Cote d’Ivore government have said they won’t press charges after Trafigura paid them $198million for the cleanup. So perhaps a victory for free speech. But what stops an oil company from dumping more toxic waste and just paying that nation’s government to keep quiet?