Victory in case against oil company Total in Uganda

Victory in case against oil company Total in Uganda

Friends of De La Terreflatten

Following a ruling by the Nanterre Civil Court in January 2020, which found that this dispute fell within the jurisdiction of the Commercial Court, confirmed in December 2020 by the Versailles Court of Appeal (2), Amis de la Terre France, Survie and its four Ugandan partners decided in early 2021 to appeal to the Supreme Court. On this issue of competence, they were supported by three other civil society organizations: ActionAid France, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Collectif Éthique sur l'étiquette and the CFDT union.

For the plaintiffs, today’s ruling by the Court of Cassation, which attributes jurisdiction to the civil courts, is an important victory. The court ruled in favor of civil society organizations by recognizing the “right to choose” (Right of option) which they enjoy as non-commercial claimants (3). By referring the case to the civil court, this decision makes it possible to achieve the objectives of the Vigilance Act. The aim of this law is to hold companies liable for the effects of their activities on third parties, such as employees of subsidiaries, suppliers, subcontractors, local communities and the environment.

While commercial courts derive their legitimacy from their knowledge of the business world, cases brought under duty of care law are compatible with the protection of human rights and the planet, so cannot be reduced to a purely commercial case.

Moreover, this decision is in line with the text recently adopted by the French Parliament in a new procedural law to be issued soon, which grants jurisdiction to the Paris Civil Court in all cases based on the law on the duty of vigilance (4).

“We are relieved by this decision by the Court of Cassation, which finally ends nearly two long years of procedural battle,” said Juliette Renaud of Friends of the Earth France. “However, we are deeply concerned about the impact of the delay caused by this procedural problem. Meanwhile, according to our research, more than 100,000 people are still completely or partially deprived of their land and livelihoods in Uganda and Tanzania (5). Urgent action is needed, and we hope that the next decision on the merits of the matter will order Total to take concrete steps to put an end to these violations.”

For Thomas Bart of Survie, “This decision is the first victory in the long legal battle we have been waging against this transnational company. Finally, we can focus on the heart of the matter. Despite repeated warnings from civil society, the project is continuing at full speed without worrying about the repression of people on the ground: our partners and community members who dare to raise their voices against this mega-oil project are subjected to “increasing intimidation and arbitrary arrests.” (6)

This ruling by the Court of Cassation returns the case to the Nanterre Civil Court, where a hearing is scheduled in the coming months where the merits of the case will finally be discussed.



  1. Court of Cassation decision is available here.
    In France, commercial courts are courts of first instance that form part of the civil justice system. They are courts with specific and limited jurisdiction, and are composed of lay judges from the business sector, elected by their peers, to deal with commercial disputes because of their technical knowledge of the business world.
  2. See our press release dated December 10, 2020: «Uganda Total Case: Versailles Court of Appeal Refers Case to Commercial Court«. To learn more about the previous stages of this lawsuit, read the report by Friends of the Earth France and Surveillance (October 2020): «Total Uganda – First Lawsuit Under the Duty to Monitor Act: Update«.
  3. Under the right of option (‘droit d’option’), if the claimants are a non-commercial entity, as is the case with our organisations, they can choose to bring a lawsuit against a commercial entity before the civil or commercial court. In November 2020, the Court of Cassation reaffirmed this principle in the Uber judgment (available here (in French only), even where the subject of the dispute is directly related to the internal management of the company. The Nanterre Court relied on this decision in the case of «macroclimate“Also based on the Vigilance Duty Law.
  4. See the press release issued by Amis de la Terre dated October 21, 2021: «Assigning jurisdiction to the judicial court: Parliamentarians’ survival from the spirit of the law is a duty of vigilance!«
  5. See the report by Amis de la Terre and Survie (October 2020): Portrait of Judith Climat-Energy Communicated by Presse3 December 2020 “A nightmare called Total in Uganda«
  6. See Le Monde report dated November 26, 2021: «In Uganda, Total Oil imposes silence and peace(In Uganda, Total oil imposes silence and fear).

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