Our success: five west-African countries lower their sulphur thresholds

© Carl de Keyzer/Magnum

Despite the irresponsible practices of Swiss commodities traders who are unwilling to give up their lucrative business model, Public Eye has achieved a great deal. Our revelations led to a wave of outrage in Africa and received media attention around the world. Together with our partners in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and the Ivory Coast we advocate enforceable fuel standards.

Following major protests, Ghana’s government significantly improved its national sulphur standard and as of July 2017 lowered the sulphur content permitted by the state for diesel imports sixtyfold. Nigeria and three further countries have also announced new standards.

© Public Eye
Ghana and Nigeria have decided to lower sulphur standards.

The Netherlands react

Alongside West Africa, the Dirty Diesel report also triggered a political process in the ARA (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) area, where most African Quality fuel is produced.

On 10 July 2018, the ILT (the Dutch environmental inspectorate) published a report for parliament on the composition and hazardous nature of fuels that are exported from Amsterdam and Rotterdam to West Africa.

The investigative authorities highlighted the decisive role of commodities trading companies that take advantage of lax West African fuel standards to maximise their profits.

Since the start of 2017, the ILT has investigated the cargo carried to West Africa by 44 tankers. It found diesel with 300 times higher sulphur content and double the level of carcinogenic hydrocarbons than levels permitted in Europe. Alongside high sulphur components, the gasoline found contained carcinogenic substances and a concentration of manganese up to 30 times the level permitted in Europe. The report concluded that the companies implicated were either ignoring or unaware of the European regulation on chemical substances (REACH) and Dutch provisions. The environmental inspectors also investigated ship fuels and found two products that it classed as illegal waste amongst those of commodities trading companies.

© Eric de Mildt

In his response to the report and this chapter of political indecision, the director of the United National Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, appealed to the companies, stating: “inferior products should not be sold, even if they comply with national standards”.

Switzerland must now also live up to its responsibility

With this investigation, the Netherlands lived up to its responsibility as the country where dangerous fuels are produced and exported. Another equivalent investigation is examining whether Dirty Diesel companies violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. On the other hand, in Switzerland – where the commodities trading companies in question are registered – the government has yet to take a stance on the scandal, let alone to carry out an investigation.