10th May 2023
In January, alongside our French partners Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France, we took Danone to court over its global plastic pollution.
Danone is a French-headquartered company behind well-known international brands such as Evian, Activia and Volvic. We believe the company's plastic use goes against a key French law that demands companies acknowledge and address the impacts their operations have on the environment, health and human rights.
In September 2022, we issued legal warnings to Danone and a number of other companies including Nestlé France and McDonald's France, for inadequately addressing the risks related to the plastic pollution they produce. Danone responded, but it wasn't good enough. So we filed a court action.
Now, months later, Danone has just issued a fresh document that’s supposed to detail its approach to dealing with pollution and rights issues – a new ‘vigilance plan’. Astonishingly, it’s still nowhere near good enough. And we’re about to head to our first court hearing.
We think Danone is burying its head in the sand when it comes to plastics.
In 2021, the company used more than 750,000 tonnes of plastic – the equivalent of the weight of almost 75 Eiffel Towers – even more than it did in 2020.
As a producer and supplier of food products generally packed in single-use plastic, it has never adopted adequate measures to address the harm related to its use of plastics.
That’s despite the fact that it’s among the top 10 biggest plastic polluters worldwide.
Plastics are present throughout its supply chain, with a huge amount used to package its products, including water bottles and yoghurt pots.
Danone’s plastic apathy is not just a problem in France. The company is truly global, with its products available in more than 120 countries.
It also has a large presence in countries which are on the receiving end of the Western world’s plastic excesses, such as Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia, putting further strain on their waste management facilities.
It has even topped the plastic polluter ranking in Indonesia for the last three years.
Danone is 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.
Rosa Pritchard, ClientEarth plastics lawyer
Danone’s main strategy to deal with plastics is to increase the recyclability of its products. But recycling is a limited solution as only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled. After almost 30 years of fossil fuel companies touting recycling as the solution to the plastics problem, recycling rates remain woefully low, with infrastructure overwhelmed by the sheer volume and number of types of plastics on the market.
It’s unrealistic for food giants like Danone to pretend recycling is the silver bullet.
Rosa Pritchard, ClientEarth plastics lawyer
We’re in a plastics crisis. Global plastic waste production nearly doubled between 2000 and 2019 and could triple by 2060.
This is a problem because:
To protect people and nature, there is a need to reduce plastic use at all levels of society, and businesses have a major role to play in this.
The French Duty of Vigilance law is a groundbreaking new law that was adopted in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy – the collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh in 2013 which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. The discovery of labels from famous clothing brands in the rubble moved public opinion. Until the law was adopted, companies were not held responsible for what happens in their value chain.
But now, under this law, large companies with more than 5,000 employees in France, or 10,000 employees in France and their foreign subsidiaries, must publish an annual ‘vigilance plan’ identifying the environmental and social risks stemming from their activities and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors, all around the world. These plans must include mitigation and prevention measures adapted to the severity of these risks, as well as a report on the implementation of these measures.
Logically, given the scale of the plastics crisis, we believe this law should oblige companies to provide satisfactory responses on the subject. But Danone’s 2021 ‘vigilance plan’ was completely silent on plastics.
Our first hearing in the Paris Tribunal Judiciaire – the equivalent of the UK High Court – is taking place on Thursday 11 May.
Unfortunately, eight months after the warning and four months after the lawsuit was filed, Danone has not taken any concrete measures to address our demands.
Since we launched our case, Danone came out with a new ‘vigilance plan’ but it falls short. Their plastic use is on the rise this year once again and their existing targets on plastics have been pushed back from 2025 to 2030.
In the face of the unfolding plastic crisis, Danone continues to churn out hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastics in more than 120 countries across the world.
The vast quantity of plastic used by Danone and then destined for the dustbin is harmful to the environment and human health, and it must be addressed immediately. Over the coming months, we’ll be making that case in court.
Plastic litigation is on the rise – and that won’t be changing until companies stop kicking the can down the road and address the plastics crisis once and for all. We’re not the only ones asking for companies to step up – a coalition of 183 investors recently made the same demand.