The Trafigura Case and the System of Prior Informed Consent Under the Basel Convention – A Broken System?


Gary Cox
International Environmental Planning Consultant
9 Colour House
7 Bell Yard Mews
London SE1 3UA
United Kingdom


The much publicised Trafigura case of the illegal dumping of hazardous petrochemical waste in and around Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire has reignited the debate about the international trade in hazardous wastes as well as issues of international corporate social responsibility. The incident, which took place in August 2006, highlights major flaws in the existing international regulatory system, particularly around the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure. PIC forms the keystone of the 1989 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes. This article focuses on the effectiveness of the PIC procedures under the Basel Convention in the light of the response to the Trafigura incident. The incident exemplifies the failures of the PIC system under the Basel Convention. It reveals confusion on the part of regulatory authorities, failure to take prompt and appropriate action by the authorities involved, a lack of proactive supervisory intervention on the part of the Basel Secretariat, and a more far-reaching lack of developing country support for capacity building and technical assistance. There is a need for a more thorough-going approach to the assessment of environmentally sound management in developing countries. More fundamentally, meaningful consent encompasses the human rights dimension of hazardous wastes on local communities. Efforts aimed at increasing co-operation between the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm and MARPOL Conventions should be fully supported but they should be rapidly complemented by addressing deficiencies at ‘the sharp end’ around compliance and the effectiveness of the current system of PIC. A more integrated multilateral environmental regime dealing with all aspects of hazardous chemicals and wastes is warranted based on a wider focus on common concern for the global environment.


Bamako Convention, Basel Convention, Corporate Social Responsibility, Côte d’Ivoire, Hazardous waste, human rights, international trade, Trafigura, Probo Koala.             LEAD Journal - ISSN 1746-5893