9 January 2023
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're going to court.
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 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 amongst 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, putting further strain on their waste management facilities, such as Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia. It has even topped the plastic polluter ranking in Indonesia for the last three years.
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.
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. 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. But recycling is a limited solution as only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled. 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 lawis 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 ‘vigilance plan’ remains completely silent on plastics.
The court case has now been filed in the Paris Tribunal Judiciaire – the equivalent of the UK High Court. The next steps in the court case will be determined by a judge in an initial hearing in the next few months.
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.