Brussels/Luxembourg/Paris, 29 May 2018. NGOs and solidarity organisations supporting the struggles of affected local communities assess the problems caused, and promises unkept, by the SOCFIN group, as shareholders meet for the rubber and oil palm giant’s AGM on 30 May.
Five years ago, on 5 June 2013, a first international mobilisation of local communities affected by the SOCFIN group (of which Vincent Bolloré and Hubert Fabri are the principal shareholders, at 38% and 50% respectively) was held. From Cameroon to Cambodia to Liberia, local groups rose up together to denounce the problems they were generating. At the same time, NGOs and solidarity organisations stood before the shareholders gathered for their Annual General Meeting. Since then, civil society organisations and affected local communities have persistently reached out to the company and its leadership to draw attention to the negative impacts of the group’s activities. Despite numerous mobilisations, both locally and internationally, mails and reports documenting the problems posed in terms of communities’ rights, the company has ignored most of the complaints and refused to dialogue with the communities to resolve the conflicts.
Land conflicts, lack of access to natural resources, polluted rivers, poor compensation, precarious working conditions: the living conditions for communities surrounding the plantations have been getting worse as land pressures intensify. From 2010 to 2017, the land area controlled by SOCFIN has grown by 25% from 323,198 to 402,344 hectares, while the area under production has grown by 36%. This expansion has exacerbated tensions, because in many cases concession agreements were drawn up without the participation of land-owner or land-occupying communities, or sometimes against their will.
Since last year, SOCFIN has taken measures to implement a “responsible management policy”, adopted in 2016. But local communities do not report real progress on the ground. For example:
– Despite the company’s promise to “engage with all concerned stakeholders”, it still refuses to dialogue with several local community organisations, such Synaparcam in Cameroon, MALOA in Sierra Leone or UVD in Côte d’Ivoire.
– Regarding contested plantation boundaries in Cameroon, the marking process which began in 2018 is already being questioned. The commission set up by the Ministry of State Property, Surveys and Tenure to manage the land conflict with Socapalm is completely opaque and includes no members of the concerned local communities nor civil society.
– In Sierra Leone, peasant families find that the few social projects  carried out by SOCFIN since 2011 cannot compensate for the loss of land they have suffered, as the land previously allowed them to meet their needs. “Ever since they took our land, we don’t have the capacity to send our children to school and we have to go into debt to feed ourselves,” the Taninahun community in Malen Chiefdom attests.
NGOs which accompany the communities are facing legal threats from SOCFIN. A defamation lawsuit brought against Greenpeace is in motion, while another suit filed against Sherpa and ReAct, as well as Mediapart, was lost by Socfin but is now being appealed. The list grows longer as one takes into account the lawsuits filed by the Bolloré group on the same issues. Since 2009, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed by SOCFIN and Bolloré .
The financial impacts of the SOCFIN group for its leaders and shareholders is unquestionable. But the social, political, economic, environmental and human right impacts on local communities remain contentious and their demands are still pending. Unilateral commitments have not proven to be the answer.
- ActionAid France
- AEFJN Belgique
- AEFJN Secrétariat International
- CADTM France
- CADTM Belgique
- Collectif Citoyen en France Contre les Accaparements de Terres
- Collectif TANY
- Coordination européenne Via Campesina (ECVC)
- Entraide et Fraternité
- FIAN Belgium
- Mouvement d’Action Paysanne (MAP)
- Oakland Institute
- Oxfam Solidarité
- Plateforme pour une agriculture socialement durable, Suisse
- SOS Faim Belgique
- SOS Faim Luxembourg
- Belgium: Manuel Eggen, +32 478 93 37 47
- France: Eloïse Maulet : +237 656 44 82 05 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Luxembourg: Marine Lefebvre, +352 49 09 96 26
 In Sierra Leone, more than 35 % of expenditures that SOCFIN claims to make for the direct benefit of communities goes to build and repair road infrastructures. These roads are needed by the company for its business activities and transport of palm oil, and are unfairly accounted for as social projects for the benefit of local communities.
 “We won’t be silenced by Bolloré gag suits!”, 25 January 2018, https://www.asso-sherpa.org/op-ed-we-wont-be-silenced-by-bollore-gag-suits
- Articles and media releases about SOCFIN and land conflicts : https://www.farmlandgrab.org/cat/show/700
- Information about the struggle of the International Alliance of Local Communities affected by SOCFIN/Bolloré : https://www.projet-react.org/en/the-landless-fight/
- Informations about the Malen case Sierra Leone : http://www.fian.be/Landgrabbing-by-SOCFIN-in-Sierra-Leone-documentation?lang=en