Polluted rivers, arable lands and forests occupied by palm oil trees and rubber trees, unfulfilled commitment… the neighboring communities of the SOCFIN industrial plantations, mainly owned by the Bolloré group, face numerous abuses. Against the multinational, avec with the help of ReAct organizers, they organized at the local and international level to demand justice.
SOCFIN EMPIRE AND ITS PARTNER BOLLORÉ
SOCFIN is a Luxembourg holding owned by a belgian businessman named Hubert Fabri, and whose main shareholder is the Bolloré group with 39% of the share. This holding owns industrial palm oil trees and rubber trees in many countries in Africa and Asia. Since 2008, these plantations have expanded endlessly.
The SOCFIN African plantations went from 129 658 to 185 324 hectares between 2009 and 2015, an increase of over 40%. This expansion causes serious conflicts with neighboring communities who are deprived of land and see their living conditions continuously worsening. Deaf to their claims, SOCFIN’s behavior reminds colonial practices from the early 20th century. Practices that it seems to stand out for since it highlights ‘its century-long history which prove its capacity to integrate among local communities.’
The Bolloré group and its CEO, Vincent Bolloré has an important influence over the SOCFIN but refuses to use it, alleging that he is not a majority shareholder and that he does not have a decision power. However considering the great profit he makes out of these plantations, he cannot escape his responsibilities. Moreover these profits are the direct fruit of the deleterious situations maintained by the plantations: low compensations, low wages, lack of consideration… Even the National Contact Point of the OECD recognize the responsibilities of the Bolloré group over the SOCFIN plantations.
MOBILIZATION OF NEIGHBORING COMMUNITIES
Against this unbearable situation farmers and owners of the confiscated lands in several countries, Camroun, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cambodia, are mobilizing to fight against way these plantations are established and exploited. They demand compensations for the consequences of the exploitation of lands and forest which cause a deprivation of their means of subsistence. The low compensations given in exchange with the lands is another source of conflict. Neighboring communities were never really informed and never freely agreed on the conditions of cession of their lands. Moreover, the SOCFIN does not fulfill the obligations it took when obtaining the lands, in particular the supply of public services such as water, electricity, schools, health centers and roads. It only partially respect its commitments. In the rare plantations where the company hire local workers, the wages are low and the working conditions very poor. No protection are given to workers against pesticides and tree thorns. Working contracts are not precarious and segmented. These are definitely not decent jobs with fair wages. Furthermore, private militia restrain the movements of local communities, to protect plantations against thefts and damages. The plantations are also detrimental for the environment, the massive use of pesticides pollute water and makes it unfit for consumption by local communities.
Against this situation, neighboring communities request:
- A real social dialogue
- The retrocession some confiscated lands
- Fair compensations and real projects for the social and economic development
- Efficient measures to protect the environment
A CONTINUOUS FIGHT
Bolloré is hiding behind the SOCFIN, he recently closed the negotiation doors after opening it in 2014 when he met with the Alliance of the Neighboring Communities. SOCFIN continue to reject any dialogue despite the continuing demand, it sends back the problems to local authorities. Today, on the field, neighboring communities are fighting to improve the situation, but they obtain very little results. In most country, there is no negotiation arena at the local level to solve problem conflict in a sustainable way. In the few existing negotiations framework the legitimate representative are excluded.
The communities’ effort haven’t be able to unlock at the global level in spite some victories at the local level. Thus we should now increase the pressure on the Bolloré group and the SOCFIN to force them to open a social dialogue with the communities.
To obtain this dialogue we are using all the leverages we can at the local level as well as in Europe, thus we are calling out the shareholders in Switzerland, in Luxembourg, and in Paris.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE FIGHT
Between 2010 and 2012, ReAct organizers came several times in many plantations to share and train local communities in collective organizing methods in order to overcome division and corruption.
By identifying and supporting local leaders, organizers helped to strengthen local organizations, reinforce their collective power and legitimize their claims.
After numerous exchange between organizations of five countries, the first letter with common claims was written and given in Vincent Bolloré’s hands on June 5th 2013 during the shareholders general assembly in Paris.
Due to the pressure of the Alliance of neighboring communities, Bolloré give in and accept to meet the leaders at his headquarters in Paris. The first transnational negotiation is held in Paris on October 24th 2014. The group Bolloré recognize the need for an independent expert to survey landed conflicts and promise the organization of a second meeting the following year to assess the evolutions and bring the SOCFIN around the negotiation table.
In Liberia, on January 5th 2015, 6 representative of local communities are arrested by the police on behalf of the SOCFIN. Thus, on January 15th, protests are organized in Cameroun, Cambodia and Sierra Leone to ask Bolloré to respect its commitments and favor dialogue over repression.
Following these actions, local negotiations were re-open in Cameroun, Cambodia and Liberia and neighboring communities continue to mobilize to obtain victories.
In 2016, repression hit again the members of the Alliance in Sierra Leone. Members such as Shiaka Sama (Photo) who were around the negotiation table in Paris in 2014 are arrested and jailed in early 2016. This new setback did not stop the mobilization and the fight for justice. The international mobilization enables to collect the necessary funds to free all the imprisoned members.
On June 1st 2016, on the SOCFIN shareholders general assembly in Luxemburg, the association of neighboring communities in Cameroun decided to organize nonviolent actions in all plantation in Cameroun to attract the attention of the management. Liberia also mobilized to maintain the pressure.
To supplement their local action in countries where it is possible, the international Alliance of the neighboring communities ask the ReAct to mobilize their allies to call out the shareholders at their general assemblies. No lands for farmers, no GA for the shareholders.