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Groundbreaking climate case against Swiss cement company Holcim

An island demands justice


The climate crisis is causing damage all over the world, resulting in human rights violations and the destruction of livelihoods – especially in the Global South where people have scarcely contributed to the crisis, like those on the Indonesian island Pari. Rising sea levels have led to increased flooding and extensive damage to houses, streets and businesses on the island. Without rapid reductions in global CO2 emissions, large portions of the island will likely be submerged under water in 30 years.

The people on Pari must now pay for the measures to protect the island themselves – even though they have hardly contributed to climate change. “This is unjust,” said the fisherman Edi Mulyono, one of the four plaintiffs, at a press conference in Bern on Tuesday. Furthermore, island residents are already suffering concrete losses. “Because of the flooding, fewer guests are coming, our income is dropping,” stated Asmania, who owns a guesthouse on Pari.

“Call for Climate Justice”

With their application for conciliation submitted on Monday in Zug, the four plaintiffs seek to hold the Swiss company accountable. They are therefore demanding proportional compensation for damages already caused by climate change, as well as the co-financing of necessary flood protection measures. Above all, however, they are demanding a rapid reduction in the company’s excessive CO2 emissions – so that less damage will occur in the future. The three organizations are supporting these demands with the "Call for Climate Justice" campaign.

Holcim is globally the leading manufacturer of cement, the basic material for concrete, and one of the 50 biggest CO2 emitters out of all companies worldwide. The production of cement releases enormous quantities of CO2. A new study shows that the Swiss company emitted more than seven billion tons of CO2 from 1950 to 2021. That amounts to 0.42 percent of all global industrial CO2 emissions since the year 1750 – or more than twice as much generated by the entire country of Switzerland during the same period. “Holcim thus bears a significant share of the responsibility for the climate crisis,” said Yvan Maillard Ardenti, climate expert at HEKS, “as well as for the situation on the island Pari.”

“Groundbreaking” case

The submission of the application for conciliation by the affected parties from Indonesia marks the first formal civil proceedings in Switzerland against a company for its contribution to climate change. In the request, the affected parties are invoking their human rights and are claiming that their personal rights have been violated. “If a company has caused damage, it should be held responsible for it,” claimed Nina Burri, expert on business and human rights at HEKS. But, ultimately this is about “global justice.”

The case against Holcim is part of a worldwide movement. “In many places in Europe, people are taking legal action against states and companies in order to compel them to protect the climate,” explained Miriam Saage-Maaß, Legal Director at ECCHR. The case against Holcim is however only the second worldwide to be initiated by affected parties from the Global South. Moreover, it calls for Holcim not only to assume historical responsibility, but also future responsibility with the demand for it to rapidly reduce emissions. “The case combines two different approaches,” says Saage-Maaß, “and is therefore groundbreaking.”

Our legal interventions are aimed at forcing those who hold power in politics and business to change their behavior, in order to protect and strengthen the rights of those affected by climate-damaging projects. 

More information on this lawsuit and other cases here.

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Who we are

To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck and other international human rights lawyers to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other human rights declarations and national constitutions, through legal means.

Together with those affected and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexual and gender-based violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.

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Philipp Jedamzik
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