French energy company TotalEnergies, formerly known as Total, is in hot water yet again, this time over its projects in Uganda and Tanzania. Five activist groups have filed a second major lawsuit against the company, accusing it of violating human rights and causing environmental damage. The lawsuit takes advantage of the French Vigilance Law of 2017, which mandates that companies identify and mitigate risks within their global operations and supply chains.
This second lawsuit represents a significant development for corporate accountability. These legal proceedings can be seen as a landmark test for the legislation, which highlights France’s commitment to holding large corporations accountable for their actions, particularly in relation to human rights and environmental concerns.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the lawsuit, the events leading up to it, and the possible implications of the case.
A Quick Insight Into the French Vigilance Law
The French Vigilance law was enacted in 2017 and is considered to be one of the most progressive pieces of legislation concerning corporate accountability. The law aims to prevent human rights violations and environmental damage caused by the operations of large corporations, both in France and abroad. The law requires companies headquartered in France to establish and implement a vigilance plan to identify and prevent risks resulting from their activities, those of their subsidiaries, as well as from their suppliers and subcontractors.
The French Vigilance law, on which the lawsuit is based, requires companies with over 5,000 employees to identify and prevent risks related to human rights violations, environmental damage, and corruption in their global operations and supply chains. Companies must also establish a Vigilance Plan and report on its implementation every year. The law has been lauded as a significant step forward in corporate accountability, and this case against TotalEnergies could set a precedent for other companies to be held accountable for their actions. The legislation is designed to encourage companies to proactively assess and mitigate risks associated with their operations, which takes into account their entire value chain. By holding companies legally responsible for the impact of their activities, the Vigilance Law seeks to promote greater transparency, prevent harm, ensure that affect individuals and communities have access to legal recourse.
TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, is currently facing legal action under the Vigilance Law. The company has been accused of failing to fulfil its obligations and adequately prevent human rights violations and environmental harm resulting from its activities. The allegations against TotalEnergies primarily revolve around its overseas operations, particularly in countries such as Uganda, Myanmar, and Colombia. TotalEnergies’ projects in Uganda and Tanzania are focused on oil and gas exploration and production. The company holds a 33.3% stake in a drilling project in Lake Albert, Uganda, which has been opposed by local communities and environmentalists due to the potential impacts on fishing and tourism. In Tanzania, TotalEnergies is one of several companies involved in a liquefied natural gas project in the coastal region of Lindi. The project has faced criticism for displacing local communities and destroying habitats.
The lawsuit against TotalEnergies was filed in June 2021 by five activist groups: Survie, Friends of the Earth France, ZOA, CCFD-Terre Solidaire and Sherpa. The groups allege that TotalEnergies failed to adequately assess the risks posed by its projects and implement measures to prevent harm to human rights, the environment, and the affected communities. They are seeking €10.2 million in damages. This is the second time TotalEnergies has faced a lawsuit over its activities in Africa; in 2019, it settled a case brought against it by the Uganda-based NGO, Friends of the Earth. The current claimants have stated that that TotalEnergies’ activities have had severe consequences, including forced displacement of indigenous communities, pollution of water bodies, and destruction of biodiversity-rich habitats.
TotalEnergies has defended its actions, stating that it has conducted due diligence and implemented measures to mitigate risks related to its projects. The company claims to have engaged with local communities and stakeholders and taken their concerns into account. However, activists argue that the company’s actions have not gone far enough to prevent harm to human rights and the environment. If the allegations against the company are proven, it could set a precedent for other countries and jurisdictions to adopt similar legislation and enforce accountability for corporations operating within their borders.
The case also sheds light on the increasing expectations from stakeholders, including investors, consumers, and civil society, for companies to operate responsibly and in alignment with social and environmental standards. The spotlight on TotalEnergies highlights the growing demand for greater corporate transparency, ethical conduct, and adherence to human rights principles.
The lawsuit against TotalEnergies highlights the importance of corporate accountability and responsible investing. It demonstrates the power of the French Vigilance law to hold companies accountable for the impacts of their activities on people and the planet. While TotalEnergies maintains its innocence, the case will be closely watched by the business community, investors, and activists alike. It could lead to greater scrutiny of companies’ environmental and social impacts, as well as greater demands for transparency and disclosure. Ultimately, companies that take a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks related to human rights and the environment will be better positioned to succeed in the long term.
How can Ardea International help?
Ardea International understands that businesses have to ensure that they establish robust due diligence procedures. We support our clients by helping them identify how to manage human rights impacts and risks, ensuring they meet legal compliance obligations and integrate best practices into their policies and procedures.
Ardea International has developed a number of effective compliance solutions, including a human rights and environmental disclosure legal register. The legal compliance due diligence register allows businesses to track incoming legislation as well as current laws they may be subject to. We can also assess your business’s compliance with human rights regulations, including preparedness to comply with new legislation. In addition, Ardea can examine your business’ due diligence procedures and provide priority steps to improve performance. We have an upcoming workshop on Managing Director’s Liability: Climate Change and Human Rights. This course will equip you with the knowledge to manage the risk of potential liability arising from climate change and human rights legislation. Furthermore, this course will aid you in implementing a robust due diligence framework for environmental and human rights.
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