On Wednesday 28 October, 10:30 am, the appeal hearing against oil giant Total will start in Versailles Court of Appeal, in France. The case against Total’s mega-project in Uganda and Tanzania is brought by two French organisations (Friends of the Earth France and Survie) and four Ugandan groups (AFIEGO, CRED, NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda and NAVODA). This is a crucial step in this first of its kind legal action based on the French law of duty of vigilance of transnational corporations.

The importance of what is at stake in this case is shown by the fact that the Court will sit in a mixed chamber (1) of seven judges, presided over by the first President of the Versailles Court of Appeal.

This law – a historic first at both the global and national level – means that the parent companies of transnational corporations can be made liable by law in France for the impacts of their activities throughout the world. It creates a legal obligation to prevent risks of human rights violations and environmental damage arising from their activities, including those carried out by their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers. In October 2019, the six organisations first took Total to court for serious breaches of its duty of vigilance in relation to the Tilenga (oil extraction in the heart of a Natural Park in Uganda) and EACOP (giant heated oil pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania) projects.

On 30 January 2020, the Nanterre Civil Court of Justice declared itself incompetent in favor of the commercial court (2) and therefore did not rule on the merits of the case (3).

The six organisations considered that this decision was based on a misinterpretation of the law (4), and so appealed the ruling last March. They are supported on this point by two “voluntary interventions” (amicus) filed by three civil society organisations (ActionAid France, CCFD-Terre Solidaire and collectif Éthique sur l’étiquette) and by the main French trade union, CFDT.

Total’s activities in Uganda and Tanzania currently affect around 100,000 people, who have been completely or partially deprived of their land before even receiving any compensation, as revealed in a new report (5) submitted to the court by Friends of the Earth France and Survie last week.

According to Thomas Bart, a Survie activist,

These procedural issues add long delays, at the expense of affected peoples, who find themselves without means of subsistence, causing, according to many testimonies, famine and massive school dropouts.”

According to Juliette Renaud, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth France,

Urgent action is needed in France to stop these human rights violations and avoid a new ecological and climate disaster. Affected communities, members of the partner organisations and journalists in Uganda who dare to denounce the negative impacts of these projects are facing threats, harassment and arrests.” (6)

Due to the urgency of the situation, the organisations are asking the Versailles Court of Appeal to rule on the merits of the case besides the jurisdiction issue, to force Total to comply with French law and put an end to the human rights violations identified by civil society. The judges will announce the date of their verdict at the end of the hearing.

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Press contacts :

Juliette Renaud, Friends of the Earth France: +33 6.37.65.56.40, juliette.renaud[at]amisdelaterre.org

Thomas Bart, Survie: + 33 6.52.21.15.61, thomas.bart[at]protonmail.com

General press enquiries: press[at]foei.org

Notes for editors

(1) When the Court sits in mixed chambers, the judges are drawn from different chambers, including civil, commercial and social specialized judges.

(2) Press release from 30 January 2020, and the ruling of the Nanterre Judicial Court.

(3) This summons followed a formal notice issued in June 2019, and Total’s response to this formal notice, challenging all charges. For more information on the legal proceedings, see Friends of the Earth France and Survie briefing: Total Uganda – A first lawsuit under the duty of vigilance law: an update, October 2020.

(4) For a simplified explanation of our interpretation of the law, see pages 6 and 7 of the briefing Total Uganda – A first lawsuit under the duty of vigilance law: an update, October 2020.

(5) Report (in French): A Nightmare Named Total – An Alarming Increase in Human Rights Violations in Uganda and Tanzania, October 2020. English version to be published in November 2020.

(6) In response to these threats to human rights defenders, four UN Special Rapporteurs questioned Total, as well as the French and Ugandan governments. For more information on the threats:

Image credit: Lambert Coleman/Hans Lucas