Bolloré Socapalm Case
Why a legal action brought against Bolloré?
Socapalm, an indirect subsidiary of Bolloré SE, is the most important palm oil company in Cameroon.
In 2010, Sherpa, along with three other associations, referred to the OECD’s non-judicial mechanism by filing a specific instance before the French, Belgian and Luxembourg National Contact Points (NCPs) regarding Socapalm’s activities and social, environmental and land issues affecting local communities and workers.
In 2013, mediation between Sherpa and Bolloré led to the conclusion of an action plan, under which Bolloré committed to use its influence to remedy these problems on and around the plantations.
Since Bolloré did not execute the agreement, Sherpa, the Amicale des Villages Riverains de la Plantation Socapalm Edéa, FIAN-Belgium, Forêts et Développement Rural, the GRAIN Foundation, Bread for All, ReAct Transnational, the National Justice and Peace Service, and trade union SATAM, filed a legal action against the French multinational to request the forced implementation of this action plan.
This case highlights the failure of non-judicial mechanisms such as the NCP, which can be used by multinationals to avoid their responsibilities. As Bolloré sued Sherpa and its partners for defamation, it also underlines the importance of the work carried out by NGOs against Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, procedures that aim to stifle the exercise of freedom of expression through judicial intimidation.
Sherpa recalls that any person accused or prosecuted by a national or international jurisdiction is presumed innocent until found guilty by a final court decision. In this respect, an appealable decision does not constitute a final decision.
Filing of a specific instance
Sherpa, alongside the Center for Environment and Development (Cameroun), FOCARFE (Cameroun) and MISEREOR (Germany), filed a specific instance before the French, Belgian and Luxembourg NCPs against Bolloré and other companies involved.
Conclusion of an action plan
The mediation led to the conclusion of an action plan to remedy the identified violations and improve the living and working conditions of Socapalm's residents and workers.
Non-implementation of the action plan by Bolloré
Bolloré announced that it would not execute the action on the grounds that Socfin, its subsidiaries, refused to apply it.
Case transfer to Belgian NCP
After multiple requests to Bolloré to execute the action plan and noting that Socfin was blocking the progress of the amicable settlement, the French NCP announced its withdrawal in favor of the Belgian NCP, the nationality of Socfin at the time.
Specific instance closure
Given Socfin and Bolloré persistent inaction, the Belgian NCP closed the specific instance
Sherpa and 9 NGOs filed a lawsuit against Bolloré. The organisations request that Bolloré be forced to execute the action plan and to repair the damages suffered as a result of its non-implementation.
Rejection of the procedural arguments raised by Bolloré
Return of the case to the original judges in Nanterre
The trial continues before the judges initially seized, who will have to decide the other issues raised in this case. In particular, the judges will have to decide if the action plan constitutes a contract, if it can be enforced against Bolloré, and if Bolloré can be forced in court to execute it.