Along with 13 municipalities and four other NGOs, the French environmental organization Notre Affaire à Tous requested the oil company Total to take measures to prevent human rights and environmental violations. After a meeting with Total in June 2019, the complainants issued a “mise en demeure” (a letter of formal notice) to the oil giant that is responsible for more than two-thirds of France’s greenhouse gas emissions. They granted Total three months to include reasonable greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in its “due diligence plan” before they would file a lawsuit.
On 28 January 2020, the complainants asked the District Court of Nanterre to order Total to align its practices with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the complainants, Total has not provided sufficient detail in its “vigilance plan” to reduce its emissions and that the company is still not in compliance with international climate agreements, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement. Among other requests, the complainants ask the Court to order Total to reduce its net emissions by 40% by 2040 (compared to 2019).
Total claimed that the Nanterre District Court lacked jurisdiction and requested that the case be brought before the Commercial Court. On 11 February 2021, the pre-trial judge rejected this request and confirmed the jurisdiction of the District Court. In order to settle this dispute, the Versailles Court of Appeal confirmed the District Court’s jurisdiction and based its decision on “the legislator’s intention to entrust actions relating to ecological damage to specially designated judicial courts only.”
The complainants argued that Total’s obligation to take measures to prevent human rights and environmental violations stems from the Law on the Duty of Vigilance of 27 March 2017. This law obliges a company to establish a detailed “vigilance plan” which identifies and seeks to mitigate the risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, the environment, and public health that may result directly or indirectly from a company’s activities.
Date of decision:
Suggested case citation:
Nanterre District Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. Total SA, complaint of 28 January 2020.
For the full complaint (in French), see here.
For an unofficial translation of the complaint (in English), see here.
For the order confirming the jurisdiction of the Nanterre District Court (in French), see here.