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9 Jul 2020

International Federation for Human Rights

Questions & Answers: SUEZ is served notice to amend its vigilance plan.

During the evening of 10 July 2019, some 2000 liters of oil were released at the Caipulli drinking-water treatment plant managed by ESSAL, a controlled entity of the French multinational SUEZ, which is responsible for the sanitation network in the Chilean city of Osorno. The leak was due to negligence in the plant’s maintenance and management. The plant’s water source was contaminated with hydrocarbons, thereby affecting the entire water supply for 49,000 households, equivalent to 140,500 inhabitants (97.9% of the population). The contamination also reached two water courses – the Rahue and Damas rivers. The health crisis could have been avoided if the problems of poor lighting, faulty infrastructure and staff shortage had been properly handled. 

At first, ESSAL informed the Los Lagos regional ministerial health secretariat that the situation was under control and that the service would be restored within 24 hours. But the situation turned out to be more complicated and the water supply was cut off for more than ten days, during which time the inhabitants of Osorno as well as establishments providing essential services to the city, such as hospitals, health centers, dialysis centers and residential care homes for the elderly, were deprived of their drinking-water supply, prompting a major health crisis...

Because of the imminent health risk involved, a health emergency was officially declared on 12 July 2019. During this period the health crisis grew worse because of the delayed and incomplete installation of alternative water-supply points that should have been immediately put in place by ESSAL...

 These human rights abuses are all the more serious partly because ESSAL failed to introduce preventive and remedial measures, even after the Superintendencia de Servicios Sanitarios, the public entity in charge of inspecting this type of service in Chile, had warned about the many irregularities in the infrastructure and the related “high risk” back in 2018...

If SUEZ fails to put forward adequate measures for mitigating and preventing the risks of human rights violations as denounced by our organizations within the next three months (i.e. by 9 October 2020), our organizations will sue the French multinational, so that it will be instructed – under threat of sanctions if necessary – to put measures in place to avoid any new health emergency arising from its subsidiaries’ negligent

Part of the following timelines

Suez sent formal request to comply with its duty of vigilance under French law or face potential litigation, following sanitary crisis in Chile

NGOs file complaint against Suez for alleged failure to respect French duty of vigilance law following sanitary crisis in Chile