Decades ago, banana plantations around Central America sprayed a powerful pesticide with a terrible side effect: It sterilized workers on a mass scale. Thousands of victims have sought compensation ever since from the chemical companies that produced it.
Now, some survivors and their families are suing three big chemical makers in France to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid damages awarded to them by courts in Nicaragua, where many of the poisonings of banana workers occurred. If successful, the case could set a legal precedent and lead to more lawsuits in France for harm done in other countries by the pesticide Nemagon.
Last decade, Nicaraguan courts ordered a total of $805 million in damages to be paid to hundreds of victims by Dow Chemical, Shell Oil and Occidental Chemical, which has since become OxyChem. The companies refused to pay, saying the courts lacked jurisdiction and had denied them fair trials.
The case now has a new life half a world away in Europe, where the companies have significant assets and 1,245 former workers and relatives are looking to collect the money. While French courts have been open to hearing cases linked to human rights abuses that have occurred elsewhere, this is the first with such a large monetary award at stake. On Tuesday, a French court delivered documents to Dow France provisionally freezing shares worth 99 million euros, or about $110 million, pending a trial scheduled for January at the Paris Trial Court.
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