How EarthRights is supporting a Vietnamese community harmed by a toxic waste spill

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EarthRights files amicus in Taiwan Supreme Court case against Formosa Corporations 

In April 2016, massive amounts of dead fish washed up in four provinces along Vietnam’s coast, decimating the local fishing industry. Locals continued eating the poisoned fish for almost an entire month before the Vietnamese government banned the acts of fishing, eating fish, or selling fish. The slew of dead fish was caused by a toxic waste spill from the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in Ha Tinh, Vietnam. The Formosa Corporation accepted responsibility and forged an agreement with the Vietnamese government to pay compensation to fisherpeople and communities harmed by the spill. Affected fisherpeople were given rice and 50,000 Vietnamese dong–about US$2.20. Now, over four years later, Vietnamese fisherpeople are still seeking justice and EarthRights filed an amicus brief in support of their claims

Fighting for justice in Taiwan

The case is currently before the Taiwanese Supreme Court. The case is being heard in Taiwan because the corporations that own the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant are primarily headquartered there. Formosa Ha Tinh is a joint venture between five  Formosa-owned corporations and three smaller non-Formosa investors. The Formosa corporations are all part of Formosa Plastics Group, an unincorporated entity made up of a web of corporations owned and controlled by one family. The main Formosa corporations are all Taiwanese, although there is also a Formosa Plastics USA and multiple Formosa entities incorporated in the Cayman Islands. 

Widespread damage and destruction 

The fisherpeople have continued fighting for justice and adequate compensation in Taiwan after their attempts to file lawsuits in Vietnam were met with violence and potential plaintiffs were physically blocked from entering the courthouse. The massive amount of water pollution and environmental destruction has created widespread and long-lasting economic and social challenges. A few months after the hazardous waste spill, the Vietnamese government linked the disaster to the death of an estimated 100 tons of marine wildlife and the destruction of 22 hectares of crab, clam, and prawn farms.  Nearly 18,000 fishing boats were affected, undermining the livelihoods of more than 40,000 community members. 

Where the case stands today

In June 2019, a coalition of Taiwanese environmental organizations filed suit in Taiwan on behalf of nearly 8,000 Vietnamese fisherpeople against 19 Formosa Plastics Group corporate entities. This lawsuit in Taiwan was dismissed by the district court for lack of “international jurisdiction” without even hearing objections from defendants.  The dismissal was upheld on appeal in March of 2020 and the case is currently before the Taiwan Supreme Court.

EarthRights submitted an amicus in August of 2020 supporting the ability of the Taiwanese Court to exercise jurisdiction over the Taiwanese corporations headquartered there. We drew on our experience litigating similar transnational tort cases against multinational corporations in U.S. courts to show that it is standard practice to find jurisdiction in such cases and so is unlikely to violate any international norms of jurisdiction. We also outlined the steps taken by U.S. courts when looking at forum non conveniens, a doctrine predominantly developed in the United States to determine whether the U.S. or a foreign country is the more convenient forum to hear the case, to help inform the Taiwanese court when it considers the possibility of Vietnam as an alternative forum. 

Why we’re adding our voice to the fight

EarthRights fights for the rights of affected communities to obtain justice from large corporations who fail to enact adequate safeguards to protect local populations from toxic waste. In the Formosa toxic spill, the Vietnamese government’s investigation determined that there were 53 separate administrative violations that contributed to the expulsion of toxic chemicals into the ocean. Notably, the toxic wastewater in Vietnam is not Formosa’s only environmental catastrophe – just last year Formosa Plastics agreed to pay $50 million for violating the Clean Water Act after discharging plastic waste into waterways in Texas. We hope the lawsuit in Taiwan will continue to go forward and provide the Vietnamese fisherpeople reparation for the toxic waste and marine pollution that decimated their livelihoods.

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