Legal action brought against Total for failure to fulfill its duty of vigilance - Eugene Birchall - CC by 2.0

Legal action brought against Total for failure to fulfill its duty of vigilance

19 communities and associations initiated legal proceedings before the Ordinary Court of Nanterre to compel Total to guard against the risks related to its activity estimating that the firm failed in its duty of vigilance in in relation to climate risks.

This group is composed of 13 communities (Arcueil, Bayonne, Bles, Bize-Minervois, Champneuville, Correns, Grande-Synthe, est-ensemble Grand Paris, Grenoble, Possession, Mouans-Sartoux, Nanterre, Sevran, Vitry-le-François) and five associations (les eco Maires, Sherpa, Zea, France nature environnement, notre affaire à tous).

Formally, the action is based on non-compliance with Article L. 225-102-4 of the French Commercial Code introduced by the law relating to the duty of vigilance. According to this article, any company with at least 5,000 employees, established on the French territory, has the duty to prevent serious violations against human rights and fundamental freedoms: health, the safety of persons and the environment. A basis on which Total is already attacked by Friends of the Earth International and several NGOs for its activities in Uganda. This text compels the largest French multinationals to identify and guard against the risks of serious human rights abuses and risks to the environment caused by their activities both in France and abroad. These measures must be included in a vigilance plan and implemented in an effective manner. Failing this, after a formal notice has remained without effect, any person with an interest in bringing proceedings may ask the courts to order the company to respect this obligation. Concretely, the group accuses it of not doing enough to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting the increase in temperatures to 1.5° by 2100, as compared to the preindustrial era. It considers that this “climate inaction” is in contradiction with the aforementioned law on the duty of vigilance.

The group also based its action on the provisions relating to the repair of ecological prejudice introduced into the French Civil Code by the law on regaining biodiversity of August 2016. These provisions provide for the possibility of asking the judge to “prescribe reasonable specific measures to prevent or stop damage”.

This lawsuit echoes the one initiated last year against Shell, in the Netherlands. Several groups for the defense of the environment, among which figure Friends of Earth International and Greenpeace as well as thousands of co-plaintiffs brought the petroleum giant to court. The plaintiffs are of the opinion that Shell puts the life of citizens in danger by refusing to act in the fight against global warming. In particular, they invoke a “violation of human rights” and non-compliance with the duty of vigilance. They are asking for a 45% reduction of its CO2 emissions by 2030 as compared to those of 2010, up to zero for 2050.

Photo: Eugene Birchall - CC by 2.0

Camille de Bueger

By Camille de Bueger

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