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New report reveals an industry at odds with human rights

In April 2016, toxic waste was discharged from a steel mill in Ha Tinh Province, Vietnam, devastating 125 miles of coastline and leading to a massive marine life and fish kill. More than 300 tons of fish died, affecting the livelihoods of more than a quarter million people, including tens of thousands who worked in the fishing and tourism industries.

People who ate the contaminated seafood in the weeks that followed reported falling ill. This prompted the government to issue a two-year prohibition on the sale and consumption of fish, which further debilitated the fishing industry. Years later, the incident at the Ha Tinh Steel mill is still widely discussed as one of the worst environmental disasters in Vietnamese history.

The facility that discharged the waste was owned and operated by a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, a Taiwanese conglomerate and a leader in the global expansion of plastic production. Now the world’s fourth-largest producer of petrochemicals and plastics, Formosa Plastics’ six-decade long history shows a recurring pattern of harms to workers, communities, and the environment stretching from Vietnam to Cambodia to the company’s home country of Taiwan, and all the way across the globe to US states like Texas and Illinois.

While egregious, this pattern is unfortunately not exceptional. Plastics and petrochemicals impact human rights at every stage of the life cycle, from production to disposal. Regrettably but not surprisingly, the recurring human rights violations and environmental degradation across Formosa Plastics’ facilities exemplify the operations of an industry at odds with human rights.

Last week, CIEL, in partnership with the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthworks, published the results of a two-year investigation and analysis of Formosa Plastics Group. The comprehensive report sheds light on the impacts of one of the largest players in the industry, exposing how the ongoing expansion of plastics and petrochemical production worldwide poses profound risks to the environment, human health, human rights, and good governance.

Formosa Plastics Group: A Serial Offender of Environmental and Human Rights (A Case Study) begins by taking a global look at the company, its products, and its web of subsidiaries and affiliates. The report then zooms in on the environmental, health, safety, and rights violations in communities from southeast Asia to the US Gulf Coast.

In particular, it shines a spotlight on St. James Parish, Louisiana, where frontline communities have reached a pivotal moment in the fight to stop Formosa Plastics from building one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes. It’s a project that threatens to have catastrophic effects on the community’s right to live in a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Now, weeks after fossil-fueled Hurricane Ida devastated the community, frontline leaders from St. James Parish are in Washington, DC demanding a meeting with President Biden. Their demands are simple: they want to live, breathe clean air, and drink clean water. They want to stop pollution and to save people’s lives. That includes stopping Formosa Plastics.

The evidence and analysis in this report make clear that it is irresponsible for decision makers to subject communities to the risks posed by plastic and petrochemical facilities — in St. James or anywhere. We invite you to read and share this critical call to action, and stay tuned to learn how you can plug into the movement to #StopFormosa.

Thank you for helping CIEL and our partners to hold corporations like Formosa accountable for environmental and human rights violations — and prevent them from causing future harm.

Jane Patton

Plastics & Petrochemicals Campaign Manager

Center for International Environmental Law

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