The Court of Cassation, France’s highest court, ruled Wednesday to resolve procedural issues in favor of six nonprofit groups in their case against oil giant Total Uganda.
Six French and Ugandan civil society organizations (CSOs) brought the case against Total in 2019: Friends of the Earth France, Survie, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), CRED, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Navigators of Development Organisation (NAVODA). The organizations argued that, under France’s new duty of vigilance law, Total’s oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania “failed to comply with the company’s legal obligations to prevent human rights violations and environmental harm.” The duty of vigilance law holds France-based parent companies of transnational corporations legally accountable for their impacts around the world.
The parties have argued over procedural issues for two years. The CSOs contended that their case should have been heard by a civil court, while Total argued for evaluation in a commercial court. In January 2020, the civil court of Nanterre ruled that the dispute fell under the jurisdiction of the commercial courts. In October 2020, the Versailles Court of Appeal affirmed. The CSOs appealed to the Court of Cassation.
Now, the Court of Cassation recognized that the CSOs have a “droit d’option” or right to choose litigation in a civil or commercial court because they are non-commercial claimants.
Juliette Renaud, a senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth France, said she was “relieved” by the ruling but “concerned about the impact of the delays this procedural issue has caused.”
The plaintiffs will now be heard on the merits in the civil court of Nanterre.