Indonesian islanders file climate complaint against Swiss cement company

For the first time, a Swiss company must legally answer for its role in climate change“. In a press release, the NGO Entraide Protestante Suisse (EPER), one of the organizations that supports the inhabitants, details the case.

The plaintiffs – three men and a woman – ask the cement manufacturer to compensate them for the damage on the island, to participate in the financing of flood protection measures and to quickly reduce its CO2 emissions.

In July, they had already taken legal action in Zug where the headquarters of the Swiss group, resulting from the merger in 2015 with the French Lafarge, is located.

During the hearing, Holcim showed no intention of responding to their requests. NGO Entraide Protestante Suisse (EPER)

The procedure first involved a conciliation stage, which “ended in failure“, says EPER, a religious organization that campaigns for human rights and climate justice, despite the small sums involved.

The four plaintiffs are each claiming “3600 Swiss francs” (an equivalent sum in euros), including 100 francs for individual damages, 1000 francs for moral damage and 2500 francs intended to finance the planting of a mangrove and measures to defend the environment. island, detailed Cordelia Bähr, the Zurich lawyer who represents them at a press conference.

During the hearing, Holcim showed no intention of responding to their demands.“, says the NGO, thus pushing these four inhabitants to file a complaint “on behalf of the island“against Holcim at the Cantonal Court of Zug.

Located northwest of Jakarta, this island which lives mainly from fishing and tourism was flooded five times last year, indicates the NGO, which specifies that it has lost 11% of its surface in eleven years.

One of the complainants, who was speaking via videoconference through an interpreter, explained that a wall in his home was damaged but that, together with the tides, the floods also affected the wells that provide water for daily uses, damaged the trees that produce papaya or bananas and rusted the motorbikes that allow you to move around the island.

Create a precedent

“A case like this has never been brought before a Swiss judge,” said Nina Burri, the NGO’s business and human rights manager, at the press conference, but “this will set a precedent“.

We do not believe that corporate-focused lawsuits in isolation are an effective mechanism for tackling the overall complexity of climate action. Spokesperson for cement manufacturer Holcim

This complaint is part of a wider international movement to ask big companies to assume their responsibilities in the face of climate change which affects the livelihoods of millions of people, especially in the Global South.

“Climate action is a top priority for Holcim, at the heart of our strategy”said a spokesperson for the group.

We do not believe that corporate-focused litigation is an effective mechanism for tackling the global complexity of climate action.“, however, added the Swiss group.

This complaint comes as Holcim has set itself ambitious climate targets, wanting to be a pioneer in the building sector, a major producer of greenhouse gases. In particular, it aims to reduce its type 1 and 2 emissions by 25% per tonne of cement compared to 2018.

To us, Holcim presents this as very green. But if we do a detailed study, we see […] that he doesn’t do enough“, judged Yvan Maillard, responsible for the climate justice file of the Swiss NGO, during the press conference.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer estimates that the procedure could last three to four years if the case goes up to the highest court in Switzerland.

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