Suez case: the Paris Court of Appeal must ensure the effectiveness of the Law on the Duty of Vigilance

Raphaël Lopoukhine

A crucial hearing in the Suez case will be held on 5 March 2024 before the Paris Court of Appeal. On this occasion, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Observatorio Ciudadano, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme and Red Ambiental Ciudadana de Osorno recall the need to ensure the full application of the French Law on the Duty of Vigilance. There must be means to hold companies responsible for human rights violations and environmental damage resulting from their activities.

Paris, 4 March 2024. The Suez case is one of three to be heard on 5 March 2024, before the new chamber 5-12 of the Paris Court of Appeal,dedicated to litigation based on the French Law on the Duty of Vigilance and environmental liability claims. This hearing, which will also deal with the EDF Mexico and Total Climate cases, is crucial for the future of the Law on the Duty of Vigilance.

"After being dismissed on procedural grounds by a first-instance court, civil society organisations appealed to obtain justice for the victims of Suez’s negligence in Chile. As in many other cases, after four years of waiting, no decision has yet been handed down regarding the serious violations that took place in Osorno", said José Aylwin, coordinator of the Observatorio Ciudadano’s Business and Human Rights programme and FIDH project officer.

Like many other cases brought against companies on the basis of the Law on the Duty of Vigilance, the Suez case was dismissed on 1 June 2023 by the Paris Judicial Court. Based on an extremely restrictive interpretation of the Law, the judges ruled that the NGOs should have sued the company based on the same vigilance plan as in the formal notice, and that this plan in question did not mention which entity in the Suez Group was responsible for it. The organisations have appealed against this decision to ensure that the judges finally guarantee the full application of the Law.

A pioneering law weakened by controversial decisions

The 2017 Law on the Duty of Vigilance requires large French companies to develop, publish and implement a vigilance plan containing measures to identify risks and prevent serious human rights and environmental abuses arising from their activities and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors, including abroad. The French legislation, a trailblazer in this area, has been a source of inspiration for other countries and influenced the drafting of an EU directive on the matter, which is currently being finalised.

"Several years after the Law came into force, it is being voided of its meaning by restrictive interpretations such as the one in the Suez case, based on controversial procedural points", said Maddalena Neglia, head of the FIDH’s Business, Human Rights and Environment Office. "We hope that the Court of Appeal will make access to justice effective for communities affected by corporate abuses and that these decisions will finally lead to real enforcement of this crucial law."


In July 2019, the residents of Osorno were deprived of water for ten days and a health emergency was declared due to contamination of the potable water network following a new operating incident at ESSAL, a company controlled by Suez. Chilean authorities had repeatedly pointed to the company’s ongoing malfunctions and shortcomings. As part of its See You In Court campaign, FIDH and its partners in the case took Suez to court in 2021, after a formal notice in 2020 and an unsuccessful dialogue to attempt to obtain a new vigilance plan and prevent a repetition of the Osorno facts.

For more details on the Suez case and the Law, see the Q&A.

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