July 2, 2020

Sterilized farmers pursue France’s Dow Chemical for damages 

A couple of decades ago in Central America several banana plantations used a powerful pesticide called Nemagon. The side effects were devastating. That chemical sterilized farm workers on a mass scale. 

The active ingredient in Nemagon is the chemical dibromochloropropane which was banned in the United States in 1977. The use of Nemagon in the United States was found to have caused sterility in several thousand workers who had been exposed to it at Dow, Shell and Occidental plants.  

Several hundred  of these victims have sought compensation from the chemical companies that produced it. In Nicaragua, where several of the poisonings to the banana workers happened, the courts awarded the plaintiffs millions of dollars in damages.

Nicaraguan courts ordered damages of $805 million to be paid  but the companies refused to pay out claiming that the local courts lacked any jurisdiction. 

This sent the victims looking to collect the compensation across the oceans to Europe where Shell Oil & Dow Chemical have considerable assets.  French courts have always been open to hearing cases linked to human rights  abuses but this particular case is a first with the considerable sum of damages involved. 

If the plaintiffs succeed at the Paris Trial Court, this case could set a remarkable & most welcome precedent. 

Consequentially, this would lead to more lawsuits in France for damages caused in other countries with this pesticide.

A French judge will  now have to determine whether court results from abroad, in this instance Nicaragua, can in fact be enforced in the European Union. In the globalised world we live in, this would allow the victims of damages to cross borders to enforce payment. 

The case comes after decades of  wrangling &  legal maneuvering going back and forth between Central America & the United States which is where the companies are based.  Several lawsuits brought by Nicaraguan plantation workers in the 1990s against Dow, Shell & the growers of Dole Fruit, Del Monte Fruit & Chiquita Brands  were blocked in the courts, with the companies arguing that the cases should be tried where the alleged damages happened – Central America. 

Nicaraguan courts have since passed a law for victims damaged by the dibromochloropropane chemical in Nemagon which required corporate defendants to put up a bond of $100,000 per case.