Toxic pollution hidden behind “recycling”: Thai villagers who suffered from contamination finally won a fight for environmental justice

6.1.2021 - NAM PU SUBDISTRICT (THAILAND)
PHOTO: facebook of EARTH Thailand

Damages to the environment and natural resources, economic losses in the agriculture sector, impacts to local people’s health and mental health due to living in polluted area – these are some of the most serious impacts and damages caused by operation of Wax Garbage Recycle Centre Company. Now, after decades when chemical substances have been leaking from the factory area and contaminating the “Nam Pu creek” – the only reliable water resource for the people in Nam Pu subdistrict – the efforts of local Ratchaburi villagers have finally paid off. The Civil Court recently handed down a landmark verdict in their favour, ordering the company to pay millions of baht in compensation and to rehabilitate the environment.

On December 24th 2020, Wax Garbage Recycle Center Company was ordered to pay all three plaintiffs who filed complaints in 2017 about one million baht in cash, pay for damages on agriculture, provide medical treatment, rehabilitate contaminated farmland and also pay the clean-up costs. Non-governmental organizations see this as a big success, meaning that irresponsible companies will be held accountable for environmental damages. Furthermore, from now on, class-action suits, which are huge leverage for the villagers affected by pollution (1), will put pressure on executive board members to pay more attention to social and environmental issues.

A victory after two decades of unresolved problems

The villagers filed their first complaint with the Pollution Control Department (PCD) over the impacts caused by the Wax Garbage Company’s factory in 2001 after a year of its operation. Since then, despite 20 years of numerous complaints, petitions, inspections, prosecutions, and fines, as well as conflicts with the local communities, the factory kept operating. “Unfortunately, this is caused mainly by legal limitations and problems in law enforcement. Despite the company has received several orders to suspend its work and improve its operations as well as resolve the impacts, the problems in the area remain unresolved. However, after two decades of suffering without any solution, the local people finally decided to bring the case to court and it paid off,” says Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH).

After the victory in this first class-action pollution lawsuit in Thailand, other villagers who are suffering from industrial pollution will hopefully follow their footsteps. “This is one of the reasons why EARTH and Arnika in our joint project focus on the right to know. We want to support people to get back their environmental rights, to have access to all of the necessary information and to be able to participate in decision making processes. Witnessing the legal loopholes and long disputes and severe problems it brings to the local communities and the environment as such, we have to act to change it and to support similar cases,” adds Miroslava Jopkova, project coordinator from Arnika.


Footnotes:

(1) Previously, people needed to file cases individually, making the environmental lawsuits time-consuming (possibly taking 10 years or longer) and involving complicated court procedures, which discouraged individuals from taking legal action.

(2) Original article - Bangkok Post: Finally, a win for villagers: https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2041499/finally-a-win-for-villagers?fbclid=IwAR1MX7miW3gfRXN52rQumaR6nDaebV3bGquNZu5cooDB4PTJz00tl1xI3NI

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