French NGOs have celebrated a legal victory over Perenco, on access to the oil company’s files on its actions in Congo Kinshasa.
The Court of Cassation found in favour of Sherpa and Les Amis de la Terre on March 9. The two NGOs were seeking internal documents from Perenco France. The two have compared the process to that of discovery in the UK legal system.
In particular, they seek answers on alleged pollution in Congo’s Muanda Region, in the Lower Congo.
A French court ruled for Perenco to provide documents in 2019. Perenco refused to accept the ruling, though. The Court of Appeal, in 2020, found in favour of the oil company.
The Court of Cassation ruling reverses this.
Perenco had argued the question should be answered under Congolese law. The NGOs, though, argued for French law to take precedence. In France, legislation “explicitly allows action for compensation for ecological damage”.
The Court of Cassation ruling finds that the French law applies. It does not order Perenco to hand over the files.
Issue of access
Sherpa executive director Sandra Cossart said the court’s decision “sets a precedent that facilitates access to evidence for civil society organisations when damage occurs abroad”.
Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France – senior campaigner Juliette Renaud said there was still a long way to go for “justice and reparation”. However, “this victory in the Court of cassation is another step in the fight against the impunity of transnational corporations. It serves to dissuade companies who use opacity to escape justice.
“This is also an important victory in a context where the possibility for civil society organisations to take legal action to defend fundamental causes is weakened by other judicial and political decisions in France.”
Perenco has not yet responded to a request for comment. The company produced 23,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, from 11 fields, on- and offshore.
It produces to the Kalamu floating terminal, which has 1 million barrels of storage capacity.
In previous correspondence with the NGOs, Perenco has played down its insight into its companies working abroad.
CCFD-Terre Solidaire published a report on Perenco’s activities in Muanda in 2014. The report said the locals saw no benefits from Perenco’s activities and complained that flaring and oil leaks were an “everyday feature”.
Updated at 3:46 pm to clarify the Court of Cassation ruling, that French law applies, rather than ordering Perenco to hand over the files.