Download In what is being described as a landmark case, a Taiwanese owned manufacturer has made an out of court settlement with thousands of Vietnamese farmers who claim pollution caused by his firm significantly affected their livelihoods.
Vedan Vietnam, which makes food additives including monosodium glutamate (known as MSG), reportedly discharged waste water in such quantities into the local river that it damaged the ecosystem.
Thousands of fish and shrimp farmers claimed the toxic waters killed their catch and ruined farmland along the river's banks.
Vedan has admitted responsibility and offered compensation worth 11.5 million US dollar to farmers in three provinces.
Bo Hill of Radio Australia has the story.
Almost two years ago, authorities discovered that the Vedan Vietnam MSG plant in Dong Nai province had illegally released waste water into the Thi Vai River for 14 years.
An estimated 105 million litres of untreated water flowed on to thousands of fish and shrimp farms in Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City.
The government demanded Vedan pay more than seven million US dollar in overdue environmental fees and slapped the firm with a 15,000 dollar fine.
But the calls of thousands of farmers for compensation went unheard.
Eventually the farmers came together and with the help of the Vietnam Farmers Union and volunteer lawyers launched a court action to force Vedan to pay for their mistake.
The union's spokesman, Mr Huang, says Vedan's decision to settle out of court is very welcome.
“We are happy because I think that the Vedan case is very clear - Vedan who make the pollution.”
While it was clear that the pollution had occurred, Vedan was not quick to deliver compensation.
What may have changed their decision was a nationwide boycott of the company's products, including in four major supermarket chains.
“It was successful because in this case farmers from three provinces protested against the Vedan company, who made [polluted the environment] and affected seriously the lives of the farmers.”
A representative of Vedan Vietnam told Radio Australia the firm was unwilling to make a comment, but said the case was 'sensitive' and that they needed time to work out a response.
In announcing the compensation deal earlier this week, company chief executive Yang Kun Hsiang told reporters in Vietnam that Vedan did not want to avoid any responsibility in the matter.
The Vietnamese government welcomed the decision and said it would ensure businesses were held accountable for actions that caused environmental damage.
So far just one of the three provinces has accepted Vedan's offer.
The farmers in Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau have yet to agree.
Le Viet Hung is the director of Dong Nai province's environment department.
“We will divide all the compensation that Vedan promised to the farmers. However, the farmers are the ones who will decide whether they accept Vedan's compensation or not. They will also make decisions on how this amount will be distributed.”
It's unlikely the case will have a long term negative effect on Vedan's business.
Le Viet Hung from the Dong Nai environment department says the case will, however, have a long term impact on Vietnam.
“Economic development has had an impact on the environment, especially in a country like Vietnam, because we use old technology and little attention is paid to environmental issues. The Vedan case has shown the Vietnamese government there's a need for policy and changes to law to reduce the impact of industrial waste on the environment. And companies and organisations operating in Vietnam have started to show more responsibility to the environment.”