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An insight into TotalEnergies’ CSO legal battles.

A French Court decision on February 28th, 2023, left both sides to the case harboring emotions in equal measures- the defendant, TotalEnergies was jubilating, while the plaintiff, six non-governmental organizations was mourning over the dismissal of the landmark case. 

After protracted legal battles, the Court dismissed the case against TotalEnergies because it was “inadmissible” on procedural grounds. 

While the NGOs have a right to appeal, the decision leaves Uganda’s project unscathed, and activities will go as planned with the first oil expected in 2025. Uganda has 6.5 billion barrels of oil per day in place, while between 1.4 billion to 1.7 billion barrels are recoverable.

The opposition to Uganda’s oil and gas project has been sustained for a long time under the #StopEACOP. This called for a similar measure #SupportEACOP to counter. 

The two hashtags have become synonymous with entire Uganda’s oil and gas development projects that span across its borders in the case of midstream developments. Uganda will build a pipeline, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to ship the crude oil produced in the Albertine Graben to international markets through Tanzania’s port of Tanga.  

But activists have been mounting pressure on the governments of Uganda, Tanzania, and TotalEnergies to stop the entire project. This activism culminated in a lawsuit against TotalEnergies. 

Similarly, in November 2022, European Parliament passed a resolution stopping all the oil and gas projects claiming human rights abuses and environmental concerns, but this met immediate resistance from Uganda and Tanzania’s heads of state.  

The Context  

Six non-governmental organizations from France and Uganda – AFIEGO, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Friends of the Earth France, Survie, Civic Response on Environment Development (CRED), and NAVODA sued TotalEnergies in 2019 accusing the multinational company of violating the Duty of Vigilance Act, 2017 in their Uganda projects. This was the first case prosecuted under this Act.  

The Act applies to companies and groups located in France that employ 5,000 people in France or more than 10,000 people in France and abroad for two consecutive years. It requires them to establish, publish, implement, and monitor a Vigilance Plan to identify and prevent risks of severe violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms, health and safety of people,  and the environment in their entire sphere of influence; subsidiaries, and subcontractors where an established commercial relationship exists. 

The plaintiffs argued the Vigilance Plan published by TotalEnergies is inadequate because it does not reference its Ugandan project, thus violating French law.

TotalEnergies denied the claims and argued that its Vigilance Plan clearly identifies the risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, human health and safety, and the environment that could result from our activities.

The Joint Venture Partners

While the suit was brought against TotalEnergies alone, it operates the Uganda project in Joint Venture Partnership. The other partners are China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC), and the Tanzania Petroleum  Development Corporation partners in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). On the other hand TotalEnergies, CNOOC and UNOC are partners in the upstream projects(Tilenga and King Fisher). Any decision in this case therefore affects the rest of the partners.

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