Dirty Diesel: Dutch Environment Inspectors Confirm Dodgy Business of Swiss Commodities Traders

Yesterday the Dutch “Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate” (ILT) presented a report to parliament about the composition and hazardousness of fuels exported to West Africa from Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The investigation highlighted the decisive role played by commodities trading firms that maximize profits by taking advantage of lax West African fuel standards. In contrast to Holland, neither the Swiss firms named in the report – Vitol, Gunvor and Litasco – nor the Swiss authorities recognize their responsibility for this scandal that harms the health of millions of people.

In September 2016, Public Eye's "Dirty Diesel" investigation uncovered the business model of sending low-quality and harmful fuels to Africa. The Dutch government was forced to promise the legislature a report in which the environment inspectors now confirmed the role played by Swiss commodities trading firms: Vitol, Gunvor, Litasco as well as other companies, deliberately and systematically use toxic "blend stocks" in the mixing of fuels.

Starting in 2017, ILT researched the loading of 44 tankers destined for West Africa. It found diesel with 300 times more sulfur and twice as many cancer-causing hydrocarbons as are allowed in Europe. Gasoline contained elements high in sulfur as well as cancer-causing substances like manganese, in concentrations up to 30 times over the European limit. The report concluded that the concerned companies either ignored or were unaware of the European regulation for chemical substances (REACH) and the Dutch law. The environment inspector also investigated fuel oil for sea-going vessels and found products from two commodities trading firms that are categorized as illegal waste.

These results show that West African countries like Nigeria, where the implementation of stricter gasoline standards has been blocked for months, must urgently enact the standards, to protect their people from such toxic cocktails. UN Environment Director Erik Solheim, in his response to the report, called out the corporations profiting from this political indecisiveness: "Substandard products should not be sold even if they meet national standards."

With this investigation, the Netherlands has taken responsibility as a location for the production and export of hazardous fuels. A further investigation is in progress to determine if "Dirty Diesel" companies are violating the OECD guidelines for multinational corporations. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, where the concerned corporations have their headquarters, there has so far been no political response to the scandal, not to mention an investigation. This inaction by the authorities to a flagrant violation of the right to health of people in African countries is another example why the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative is necessary.

For more information:
Oliver Classen, Media Director, oliver.classen@publiceye.ch, +41 44 277 79 06
Andreas Missbach, Head of Commodities, andreas.missbach@publiceye.ch, +41 44 277 79 07