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Issue: Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon

Description 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. The Luxemburg-based holding company, SOCFIN, has refused to implement it, and neither the Luxemburg, the French, nor the
Belgian NCP has managed to convince the company to honour the agreement. Bolloré
has made improvements to its community engagement policy as a result of the case,
but the communities have otherwise been left without any form of remedy to date.

4 cases relating to 'Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon':

Title Issue Date filed Status
Sherpa et al vs Financière du champ de Mars Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon 7 December 2010 Concluded
Sherpa et al vs Bolloré Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon 7 December 2010 Agreement
Sherpa et al vs Intercultures Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon 7 December 2010 Pending
Sherpa et al vs SOCFINAL Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon 7 December 2010 Concluded

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