PARIS (FRANCE) / TOKYO (JAPAN) – Leaked documents from the ‘Group of 8’ (G8) exposing a dispute between G8 ministers over liability of big business for oil spills were released by Friends of the Earth International today.[1]

The controversy emerges on the eve environment ministers from the G8 [2] sit down in Paris to agree upon their contribution to the G8 heads of government summit in June. The meeting of G8 environment ministers is from April 25 to 27.

Some of the G8 countries are proposing and supporting ‘strengthening’ of the ineffectual liability regime that has allowed oil multinationals to get away with disasters such as the Erika and Prestige oil tanker spills in recent years.

But Japan is opposing the new proposals. Both the Erika and the Prestige oil tankers were originally manufactured in Japan.

The leaked documents released today [1] (comments by Japan and Italy on the G8 Environment Ministers Meeting Communiqué) show that the Japanese government is seeking to weaken every commitment the G8 environment ministers intend to take on maritime transport.

The dispute puts the issue of the conduct of multinationals centre stage at the G8 – with the topic of corporate social responsibility already planned as a major theme of the G8 heads of government summit in June.

The issue has been placed on the agenda following the oil spill off the coast of Galicia, Spain when the Prestige oil tanker sank. The Spanish government has announced that so far the spill has cost €1bn. Under the present liability regime the maximum available to victims of the spill is (up to) €164.43m (USD180m) and that does not cover environmental liabilities. The Japanese are even refusing to take action, for example, to ban single-hulled tankers carrying heavy fuel oil from their ports.

Friends of the Earth has criticised the oil spill liability regime because it has resulted in oil companies chartering unsuitable vessels because they, and the shipping corporations, do not carry the full risk of transporting their cargo. Instead the risk is born by taxpayers, communities such as the Galician fishers affected by the Prestige spill and the environment.

The G8 environment ministers are meeting in preparation for the G8 heads of government Summit in Evian, France on 1 June. The Summit has put corporate responsibility high on its agenda. Today’s leaked documents indicate an initiative will also be agreed on maritime transport. However, the Japanese comments suggest that not much concrete will result.

According to Hélène Ballande of Friends of the Earth France : “While the oil from the Prestige and Erika spills lapped the coastline of Galicia and Brittany, the oil multinationals were holding their hands up saying they had nothing to do with them. We need real rules that hold multinationals liable for bad practices like hiring unsuitable ships for their dangerous cargo.”

“The G8 countries are home to most of the world’s multinationals. These governments are the most responsible for exploitation of the world’s resources and must deliver rights for communities to redress environmental crimes by multinationals,” Ballande added.

“Environment ministers meeting in Paris must show their commitment by making their oil-spilling multinationals pay for destruction,” she concluded.


[1] The leaked documents released today by Friends of the Earth International are the comments by Japan and Italy on the G8 Environment Ministers Meeting Communiqué. They are available for the media in English as a ‘.doc’ file via email from any of the contacts below.

[2] The G8 (Group of 8) is the powerful group of eight countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) that meet each year to discuss broad economic and foreign policies.


Hélène Ballande, Friends of the Earth France, in Paris (FRANCE) Tel: +33-1-4851 3222 or +33-6-77107125 (mobile)

Xulio Lopez, Friends of the Earth Spain, in Galicia (SPAIN): Tel +34-988 374318 or +34-649-752351 (mobile) -in SPANISH only-

Matt Phillips, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland in London (UK) Tel : +44-207566 1660 or +44-7817 314 706 (mobile)

Kenichi Nakazawa, Friends of the Earth JAPAN: +81-3-39511081