Toxic Trade News / 26 September 2006
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In Wake of the African Dumping Scandal: Toxic Trade Activists Call for Rapid Entry into Force of Basel Ban and Actions against Criminal Waste Traffickers

BAN Press Release
26 September 2006 (Seattle) – The Basel Action Network, (BAN) global toxic trade watchdog today outlined an action plan to "derive something positive from the tragic events in Cote d'Ivoire" in West Africa where seven people have now died following the dumping of chemical waste by the transnational company Trafigura and to stem the toxic tide now engulfing developing nations. First on the list of steps needed, BAN has called for nations around the world to demand the rapid entry into force of the Basel Ban Amendment -- a 1995 agreement to amend the Basel Convention to prohibit globally the export of hazardous waste from rich to poorer countries for any reason which has now achieved 62 ratifications but is held up by a technical legal question.

It has been almost 20 years now since the world first witnessed the horrors of toxic waste dumping in developing countries. As early as 1988 following the infamous dumping of a boatload of toxic Italian chemical waste in Koko, Nigeria, African nations called for a global ban on toxic waste dumping. This ban was finally adopted by a consensus of countries at the United Nations' Basel Convention meeting in 1995, and has already been implemented in the European Union, but has yet to enter into global force due to a controversy in interpretation over the Convention text.

Ironically many of the countries that are currently having their workers and environmental health severely impacted by hazardous waste have failed as yet to ratify it. These countries include, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Meanwhile, some countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and South Korea have openly opposed the global ban. Worst of all, the US, the nation that produces the most hazardous waste per capita, has failed to ratify the original Basel Convention let alone the Basel Ban Amendment. Despite this, there are already the requisite 62 countries that have ratified the amendment and the controversy over entry into force could be easily resolved by a vote of the Parties at the upcoming Basel meeting in Nairobi at the end of November of this year.

"Not only are we still wasting the world after 20 years of this ugly trade, but we are wasting time," said BAN coordinator Jim Puckett. "Its time the Basel Convention Parties once and for all agree to an interpretation that puts this much needed ban into the force of international law. There can be no excuse not to accomplish this at the first opportunity and how fitting it will be to do so in the first ever Basel meeting to take place in Africa this November."

BAN also called for the Dutch government to accept responsibility for allowing the illegal trafficking in hazardous waste when they mistakenly allowed Trafigura to pump the suspect waste back on board the Probo Koala and then let it sail onward to other destinations and final export in Cote d'Ivoire. According to BAN, once the waste was taken off of the ship, it was clearly no longer a ship-born waste under the MARPOL Convention on ship pollution, but became a Basel Convention waste subject to strict EU rules including an export prohibition to developing countries.

"It is sad but true that the tragedy that transpired in Africa could have been avoided had the Dutch done their job and stopped the criminal intentions of Trafigura early in the game," said Puckett. "Thankfully Trafigura is a Dutch company and the Dutch government can hopefully, while admitting the part they played in the scandal, seek justice from Trafigura through unyielding diligent prosecution."

BAN has called for the following concrete steps to be taken to achieve environmental justice:

  • All Basel Parties that have not already done so, must ratify the Basel Ban Amendment.

  • All Basel Parties must seek the most liberal interpretation for entry into force of the Basel Ban Amendment.

  • The Cote d'Ivoire must ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and ask all other developing countries to do the same in solidarity.

  • The Cote d'Ivoire should seek compensation from the Netherlands government for their part in illegal traffic and ensure that this compensation goes first to the victims and their families and secondly to environmental remediation costs.

  • The Dutch government must admit complicity in illegal trafficking in hazardous waste and at the same time prosecute Trafigura for their criminal trafficking offenses. A full criminal investigation of Trafigura's activities prior to the dumping must be undertaken by Dutch authorities.

  • All countries should diligently enforce the Basel Convention not only for this type of chemical dumping but for the massive trade in toxic post-consumer electronic wastes as well as obsolete ships and vessels.

  • All nations should fully support Greenpeace's police action arresting the vessel Probo Koala in Estonia pending a full investigation.

  • A full and independent analysis to determine the nature of the wastes dumped near Abidjan must be undertaken.

According to BAN, the recent dumping scandal in Cote D’Ivoire is but one example of what appears to be an alarming resurgence of a waste trade epidemic.

Last month another ship load of oily residue waste was exported illegally to the Philippines and seaports in Asia and Africa are daily being inundated with container loads of hazardous electronic waste as old computers, monitors, phones, and other cast-off electronic devices from rich developed countries. Much of this electronic waste is simply dumped or sent to primitive recycling operations that endanger workers and the local environment.

Likewise old ships are exported to horrific, dirty recycling operations in the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A recent study released last month by the Indian government revealed that 1 in 6 workers at the Indian shipbreaking yards are suffering from asbestosis from inhaling hazardous asbestos waste from the ship construction.

“Unfortunately if it’s easy to poison the poor for profit, unscrupulous operators and businesses will do it,” said Puckett. “That is why the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban were created -- to prevent the effluent of the affluent being foisted on developing countries. It’s now time for every nation to enforce those rules, to rapidly agree to ensure rapid entry into force of the global ban and end this sad chapter of environmental injustice once and for all.”


For more information contact:

Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network, +1 (206) 652.5555 (office), +1 (206) 354-0391 (cell), e-mail:

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Select images courtesy of Chris Jordan