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Sherpa et al vs SOCAPALM/SOCFIN/SOCFINAF

Case overview

Date filed 7 December 2010
Current status Concluded
Issue Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon
Summary of the case Sherpa, CED, FOCARFE and MISEREOR allege that the Société Camerounaise de Palmeraiess (SOCAPALM), a Cameroonian producer of palm oil, has negatively affected the traditional livelihoods of local communities and plantation workers.

The expansion of SOCAPALMs operations has allegedly diminished the size of local communities and the availability of public services and natural resources, and the company has not contributed to local development, thereby violating its contract with the Government of Cameroon.

The complaint alleges that water and air pollution are not adequately treated, causing problems for both the communities and the environment.
Local villagers also have reported physical abuse by SOCAPALMs security agent Africa Security.
The complainants also allege that SOCAPALMs treatment of plantation workers constituted a breach of the Guidelines. They claim that precarious work is rampant and freedom of association is limited.

Additionally, the housing facilities are deplorable and dividends promised to employees when SOCAPALM was privatised in 2000 were never paid.

The complaint also contends that SOCAPALM has breached the Guidelines Disclosure Chapter by failing to properly disclose relevant information about the company and potential environmental risks.

The French, Belgian and Luxembourgian holding companies Bolloré, Financière du Champ de Mars, SOCFINAL and Intercultures exert joint control over SOCAPALMs operations in Cameroon through complex financial investments.
The complainants allege that these companies have breached the Guidelines by failing to take action to prevent SOCAPALMs negative impact on the environment, local communities, and workers.
Developments/Outcome The French NCP declared all four cases admissible.

After refusing to cooperate for almost two years, Bolloré indicated a willingness to solve the issues and bring SOCAPALMs operations in line with the Guidelines. Sherpa and Bolloré accepted the NCPs offer of mediation in February 2013.

The NCPs June 2013 final statement concluded that through their business relations with SOCAPALM, all four holding companies violated the Guidelines.

The NCP found that SOCAPALM had breached certain Guidelines relating to general policies, employment and industrial relations, and the environment. The NCP said the companies were not respecting recommendations on information disclosure.

The NCP recommended that the companies find a remedy to the violations, and that they rely on the action plan prepared during the mediation to do so. The action plan covers a range of issues, including community dialogue, reduction of environmental nuisances, public services, local development, workers rights and conditions of work, transparency, and compensation of local communities for their loss of resources and lands.

A procedural issue to note is the complainants insisted on obtaining the NCPs final statement before the end of the mediation, so they could concentrate on the action plan rather than discussing the alleged violations. This approach aimed to clearly differentiate mediation from the process of agreeing to a final statement.

The complainants were pleased that the NCPs statement pointed out the violations, including reviewing each chapter of the Guidelines in relation to these.

In March 2014, the NCP announced in a follow-up statement that the action plan was adopted in September 2013 and that an independent organisation has been selected to monitor its implementation. The NCPs follow-up statement also notes that it should be informed annually about the action plans implementation. The NCP issued a second follow-up communiqué in March 2015 to ask all parties to take responsibility for concrete implementation of the action plan.

Even after the NCPs findings of non-compliance and additional statements, the action plan is not being carried out as planned.

After the roadmap failed to operationalize, the French NCP asked Bollore Group to reconsider the terms of its relationship with Socfin. The NCP then called on the Belgian and Luxembourg NCPs to take forward their efforts to engage into a dialogue with Socfin for the implementation of the roadmap.

After the Belgian NCP proposed its good office to the Socfin Group, who turned them down, the Belgian NCP published a statement expressing its “concern over Socfins refusal of cooperation,” which “means that suitable solutions cannot get underway for the Socapalm workers and local populations.

In early 2016, the Belgian NCP informed the French NCP that Socfin was now prepared to enter into dialogue with it. In its Statement, the Belgian NCP states “Following its statement of 5 October 2015, the Belgian NCP has been approached by Socfin in order to reopen the specific instance referred by four NGOs to the French, Belgian and Luxembourg NCPs since 2010. The Belgian NCP hereby states its agreement with this approach and will ask NGOs to take part in reopening the specific instance.”

The French then transferred the case to the Belgian NCP in early 2016.


In September 2016, the NCP held its first meeting for the parties and NCPs. Sherpa did not join, but issued a statement requesting that mediation be conditional upon a written declaration by Socifin committing to implement the agreement that had been made in 2013. Socfin refused to do so.

A second meeting was held in November 2016, between the Belgian NCP and Socfin and had also invited to Belgian Development Agency to consider playing a role in monitoring the agreement that had been made in 2013.

In February 2017, a meeting was held between all parties. However, the Bollore Group did not respond to the invitation to join. The NCP proposed to include a new stakeholder to the specific instance whose role would be to verify the implementation of the action plan. The NCP alos asked Socfin to provide a written public statement that the agreement made in 2013 would be executed, along with a proposed timeline. Socfin did not adhere to the request.

In June 2017, the Belgian NCP concluded the case and issued a Final Statement because Socfin was not willing to adhere to the NCP’s requests and will only partially implement the agreement that had been made in 2013.

While the NCP notes that Socfin has not demonstrated that Socapalm and compliance with the agreement within Cameroon is a priority and they regret that no independent monitoring of the agreement made by Bollore and Sherpa will be possible.

The Belgian NCP will have a follow up meeting in one year.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
Case keywords Labour rights, Environment, Financial sector, Disclosure of information, Forestry sector, Multiple NCPs

NCP Information

NCP name National Contact Point France
NCP address Rue de Bercy 139 75572 Paris, Cedex 12, France
NCP website www.minefi.gouv.fr/directions_ser
Other NCPs involved

Complainants

NGO

Company Information

Company responsible Socfinal
Company address
Company website
Company in violation
Country of operations Cameroon
Other companies involved

Timeline of developments

Date Actor Action Description Document
22 June 2017 Association Sherpa press release Press Release by Sherpa (FR) download pdf (291Kb)  
15 June 2017 National Contact Point Belgium statement Final Statement in French download pdf (335Kb)  
4 February 2016 National Contact Point Belgium statement In early 2016, the Belgian NCP informed the French NCP that Socfin was now prepared to enter into dialogue with it. In its Statement, the Belgian NCP states “Following its statement of 5 October 2015, the Belgian NCP has been approached by Socfin in order to reopen the specific instance referred by four NGOs to the French, Belgian and Luxembourg NCPs since 2010. The Belgian NCP hereby states its agreement with this approach and will ask NGOs to take part in reopening the specific instance.” download pdf (200Kb)  
5 October 2015 National Contact Point Belgium statement After the Belgian NCP proposed its good office to the Socfin Group, who turned them down, the Belgian NCP published a statement expressing its “concern over Socfins refusal of cooperation,” which “means that suitable solutions cannot get underway for the Socapalm workers and local populations. download pdf (330Kb)  
17 March 2014 National Contact Point France statement French NCP follow-up statement announcing that an independent body to monitor the action plan has been selected by the parties. download pdf (355Kb)  
19 June 2013 National Contact Point France statement French NCP issues final statement. download pdf (136Kb)  
24 August 2011 National Contact Point France accept The French NCP has accepted the complaint  
7 December 2010 Association Sherpa file Complaint filed at Belgian, French and Luxembourg NCPs download pdf (468Kb)  

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