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Monday, June 21, 2021

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Trafigura wins on expensive semantics

Posted to On the waterfront (by on December 22, 2009

As Newsnight is forced to apologise, Trafigura wins a hollow victory

The Trafigura waste dumping story just seems to get more and more toxic as it drifts through the British broadcasting and legal systems. Once again, the latest development is nothing to do with the actual people and their very real health issues, but more to do with the fact that no one is prepared to accept responsibility. 

Of course, Trafigura had been proven to have known all about the toxic nature of the waste it dumped off the Ivory Coast, with the Carter Ruck climb down and twitter extravaganza that lead to it admitting that there was indeed an email trail that showed it knew all about the dangerous nature of the waste. 

This latest instalment is essentially more to do with the semantics of the legal system. Now, this can have huge financial ramifications, so it’s no surprise that Trafigura have had its been people on the job, especially as it’s desperate to claw back a little respect after what has been one of the worst PR disasters since Gerard Ratner’s ill-advised comment on the ‘crap’ quality of his jewellery.

So what’s happened? Well, a recent report on the BBC’s respected Newsnight programme stated that the Trafigura waste-dumping issues had caused a number of deaths in the Ivory Coast. The fact that Trafigura had paid out £30million in compensation to the victims and their families would point to some acceptance of guilt, but, and this is where the all-important semantics come in, Trafigura have said this payment was only in recognition of ‘low-level’ illnesses caused by the waste matter and that no link had been officially confirmed between the dumping and any actual deaths. 

So it’s all rather unseemly but because admission of guilt for deaths could potentially open a very expensive can of worms, Trafigura and its lawyers Leigh Day have pounced on Newsnight and the BBC with a libel action.

In a statement, the British-based oil trading company said, “Experts in the compensation case were not able to establish a link between the waste and serious long-term consequences, including deaths.” It is on this basis that Trafigura decided to sue the BBC for libel.

The BBC has played a leading role in bringing to the public’s attention to the issue, alongside the twitter and Guardian reporting that highlighted various aspects of the so-called cover-up. However, the BBC have accepted that the evidence does not directly prove the actual deaths and has withdrawn the allegations, with a full apology soon to be broadcast on the Newsnight programme. 

This doesn’t mean that everyone’s happy with the decision though, especially as the way the entire case has been handled has shown up the power of gagging. An unnamed BBC representative commented, “The result is very unfair. It is completely outrageous that Trafigura should never yet have been brought to a court verdict on their own behaviour, but the BBC should have been penalised for trying to report on it.”