Environmental groups take Danone to court

The environmental groups ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France have filed a lawsuit in France against Danone over its global plastic pollution.

According to these NGOs, Danone is not doing enough to reduce its plastic footprint, and is thus in violation of France's Duty of Vigilance act. This act was passed in 2017 and holds large French companies responsible for the impacts of their activities worldwide, including subsidiaries and the totality of their supply chains. Under this law, companies over a certain size must publish an annual "vigilance plan' that establishes effective measures to identify risks and assess and prevent severe impacts on human rights and the environment.

In September 2022, these same three environmental groups put Danone and eight other food industry giants on legal notice over what they then described as the companies' 'threadbare plastics approach', alleging inadequate acknowledgement and management of plastic pollution stemming from their business models, leading to their failure to live up to their duties under the law. The NGOs stated that in the vigilance plans of these companies, some referred to incomplete or unsatisfactory measures on plastic; some - like Danone - omitted to mention plastic completely; and some failed to publish a plan at all.

While Danone replied to the formal notice letter, the three NGOs viewed the response as insufficient, saying it did not adequately address their demands.

Monday, 9 Jan. they therefore filed a lawsuit against the French company in the Paris Tribunal Judiciaire, in which they maintain that Danone should map the impacts its use of plastics has on the environment, climate, health and human rights from production to end-of-life and provide a complete assessment of its plastic footprint, including plastics used in producing the products it sells, plastics used in logistics and promotions and plastic packaging. Based on this assessment, the company should put together a 'deplastification' plan with quantified and dated objectives and act on it.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, who contacted the company, Danone "firmly refuted" the accusations made against it and assured that its vigilance plan "meets the requirements set by the legislator."

In 2021, Danone used more than 750,000 tonnes of plastics for its packaging – the equivalent of almost 75 Eiffel towers – which is even more than it did in 2020. Plastics are present throughout its value chain, with a considerable amount used to package its products, including water bottles and yoghurt pots. Moreover, Danone has topped the plastic polluter ranking in Indonesia for the last three years, say the NGOs - 'trudging ahead without a serious plan to deal with plastics, despite clear concern from climate and health experts and consumers, and a legal obligation to face up to the issue'.

"It continues to rely on single-use plastic packaging in the hopes that recycling will miraculously deal with the flood of plastics it puts on the market," said ClientEarth plastics lawyer Rosa Pritchard.

"It's 2023 and high time Danone started implementing proper solutions such as refill and reuse beyond a few pilots to give consumers real access to a sustainable model. It needs to deplastify now."

Solutions for reducing plastic in the food sector include eliminating unnecessary packaging, rethinking product design and shifting to reusable/refillable packaging models.

"The momentum around plastics litigation has been building fast – and it's only the beginning," warned Pritchard. "Companies across the plastics value chain, from fossil fuels companies to consumer goods giants and waste management companies, should be on high alert."
The next steps in the court case will be determined by a judge in an initial hearing in the next couple of months.

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. From its offices in Europe, Asia and the USA, it shapes, implements and enforces the law to build a future for the planet where people and nature can thrive together.
Surfrider Foundation Europe is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to protect and showcase the importance of lakes, rivers, the ocean, waves, and coastlines.
Zero Waste France is a citizen organisation created in 1997 that campaigns for waste reduction and better resource management.

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