Six environmental civil society organizations (CSOs) in France and Uganda have sued the French multinational oil company – Total over its failure to elaborate and implement its human rights and environmental vigilance plan in Uganda.
The six CSOs are Friends of the Earth France, Survie, Africa Institute for Energy and Governance (AFIEGO), Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Friends of the Earth Uganda and NAVODA.
According to a statement issued by Friends of the Earth France, the suit is the first legal action under the 2017 French Duty of Vigilance Law, which aims to address corporate negligence. The CSOs are seeking emergency proceedings against Total for non-compliance with its legal obligations under the new law.
Total E&P Uganda – a subsidiary of a French oil giant Total, is the main operator for Tilenga project that encompasses Lake Albert and Murchison Falls, a protected national park in Uganda.
Murchison Falls, also called Kabalega Falls, is a waterfall between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert on the Victoria Nile River in Uganda.
Total plans to drill over 400 wells some of which in the park, extracting around 200,000 barrels of oil per day. A 1,445 km long pipeline is planned to transport the oil from Hoima in Uganda and Tanga in Tanzania, impacting communities and the environment in both countries.
France’s new Duty of Vigilance law compels Total to meet its human rights obligations concerning this project. Under the law, Total is charged with violating human rights and endangering the environment.
In their response Total denies any wrongdoing. The company argues that their vigilance plan clearly identifies the risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, human health and safety, and the environment that could result from their activities.
“The French Law on Corporate Duty of Care takes a general approach by type of risk. It does not require disclosure of risks specific to individual projects,” Total argues.
The company added, “Total E&P Uganda and its partners have conducted detailed environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) that in particular cover access to land and water and potential environmental impacts. These assessments led to measures being devised to prevent or mitigate such impacts,”
Total emphasizes that the vigilance plan does not cover management of the risks related to our operations. That management is provided through action plans and procedures in force within Total and other measures taken for individual projects, notably in response to impact assessments.
Total E&P Uganda and its partners have proposed measures to prevent the risks identified for the EACOP and Tilenga projects, the company notes.
“The impact assessments were conducted in line with national provisions and international standards, notably those of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which are among the most stringent in the areas of environmental and social impacts. Nearly 70,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania were consulted during the assessments,” the company argues.
The case will be decided in the Nanterre High Court, where a hearing is scheduled to take place on January 8, 2020. Court is expected to decide whether Total should be forced, with potential financial penalties, to review its vigilance plan, acknowledging the true impact of its oil activities on local communities and the environment.