The lawsuit against Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) for the marine disaster in Vietnam was ruled by the Taipei District Court as not falling within its jurisdiction (after the plaintiffs paid 1.2 million NTD court fee). The plaintiffs decide to file an appeal to the Taipei District Court on Oct 24, and their lawyers will request the Department of Justice to review jurisdiction-related regulations.
In April 2016, massive dead fish was found along the coast in central Vietnam. The Vietnamese government invited international experts to investigate the causes of marine disaster. On June 28, 2016, the Vietnamese government announced that the marine pollution was caused by the toxic wastewater discharged by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation (FHS), a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) based in Taiwan. FHS admitted and made a public apology that it was responsible for the disaster, and paid 500 million USD in compensation to the Vietnamese government for disaster relief work.
Despite the payment was made from FHS to the Vietnamese government, many victims in central Vietnam affected by the marine disaster have yet to receive any compensation in the past three years. Through the effort of Taiwanese lawyers and Vietnamese Catholic churches to collect their POAs (Power of Attorney), the Vietnamese victims filed a lawsuit against FPG in Taipei, Taiwan on June 11, 2019. There are 7,875 plaintiffs in this case with the first group of 51 plaintiffs asking for 4 million USD in compensation while the damage of the rest of the plaintiffs will be determined afterwards.
On June 13, the Taipei District Court asked the Vietnamese plaintiffs to pay the court fee of 1.2 million NTD to proceed the case. However, on Oct 14, the Taipei District Court ruled that this lawsuit does not fall within its jurisdiction and rejected this case.
Consulting with the lawyers, the plaintiffs decide to file an appeal against the court’s decision. Because this civil case was rejected without noticing the defendant or hearing the case, the lawyers had no chance to argue in the court why Taiwan Courts enjoys the jurisdiction to hear this case.
This lawsuit was brought to the court because that tens of thousands victims in central Vietnam did not receive any compensation or received only little compensation after the pollution. Since FHS and FPG claimed that they have paid the Vietnamese government 500 million USD to compensate the victims, why happens to those people who have not receive any compensations?
Firstly, the Vietnamese government mainly gave compensations to those who live in Ha Tinh but not other affected provinces in central Vietnam. Many victims in Quang Binh, Nghe An, and Quang Tri were also severely affected by the marine disaster but did not receive any compensations.
Secondly, the marine disaster in 2016 has severe impact on the ecosystem, which caused the drastic decrease of fish population and has not recovered up to date. In addition, neither the marine disaster investigation report nor the environmental monitoring data has made available to the public. Because people have serious concerns about oceanic contamination, the fishermen and the seafood industries still suffered from the aftermath of the marine disaster.
Thirdly, many fishermen and the people working in seafood industries and seafood restaurants owners in central Vietnam bought their boats, machines, and houses with loans and mortgage from banks before the marine disaster. When the marine disaster happened, many of them lost their jobs and could not even pay their loans and mortgage to the banks. Most of them were forced to leave home and their families to work in other cities or even foreign countries.
In addition, many Vietnamese were shocked by the marine disaster and protested against Ha Tinh Steel Corporation. More than a dozen protesters have been arrested and many more harassed by Vietnamese government.
In summary, the marine disaster affects people beyond Ha Tinh, beyond central Vietnam, and beyond Vietnam because its aftermath is beyond the financial loss.
There are two reasons for the plaintiffs to file this lawsuit in Taiwan: Firstly, the Vietnamese government has arrested several protesters after the marine disaster, and there is no court in Vietnam able to accept the lawsuit under the pressure from the Vietnam government. The plaintiffs who attempted to seek remedies before the Vietnamese courts have been violently suppressed. Therefore, they can only find justice in other countries.
Secondly, the lawyers in Taiwan believe that they can prove that FPG in Taiwan bears the responsibility for the wrong doings and negligence of Ha Tinh Steel Corporation’s malpractice. Ha Tinh Steel Corporation in Vietnam was jointly invested by FPG, China Steel, and JFE Steel. Among all, FPG holds most of the shares, in other words, FPG plays an important role in the operation of Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, and makes profit from Ha Tinh Steel Corporation.
Since FPG is based in Taiwan, if the court in Taiwan rejects this infringement lawsuit, the judgement would leave tens of thousands of victims in Vietnam in despairs of injustice and shield FPG from being held accountability for the marine disaster.
The lawyers of the plaintiffs pointed out that the decision made by Taipei District Court without hearing the case is a serious flaw and violates the procedures for an infringement case. Since this lawsuit is the first transnational litigation in Taiwan, the lawyers ask the Taipei District Court to reconsider the decision and hear the case from the plaintiffs.
After the Taipei District Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) passed an urgent resolution to call on the Taipei District Court to reconsider this case and hear the litigation to provide better protection for the interest of the plaintiffs, who are vulnerable. Meanwhile, thousands of people from 19 countries have also signed a petition to support the appeal.