Written by 14 h 48 min -Press release-en, Access to justice, Environment and Climate, Front page, Labor rights and Modern slavery, Strategic litigation

Bolloré/Socapalm : the judge rules in favor of the NGOs !

Paris, March 25th, 2021 – While Bolloré tried to have the NGOs’ claim dismissed, the judge agreed with the NGOs. She ruled that an agreement resulting from a mediation before the French National Point of Contact (NCP) is not covered by confidentiality when its forced execution is sought. The disputed action plan can therefore be produced in support of the NGOs’ legal action.

In 2010, Sherpa had referred to the NCP the activities of Socapalm – the Cameroonian palm oil company of Socfin linked to the Bolloré group – concerning social, environmental and land issues affecting local communities and workers. At the end of the mediation process, Bolloré and Sherpa agreed on the implementation of an action plan for the benefit of the victims.

As Bolloré failed to implement the plan[1], Sherpa and the organizations ReAct, GRAIN, FIAN-Belgium, Pain pour le prochain, SYNAPARCAM, FODER, SNJP, the Amicale des Riverains d’Edéa and the SATAM trade union summoned Bolloré to request its forced implementation[2].

At the hearing on January 21, 2021, the multinational company claimed that the agreement resulting from the mediation was confidential and could not be produced in court. On the contrary, the NGOs argued that such a mediation agreement cannot be covered by confidentiality when it has not been performed and enforcement is sought, as it would otherwise make the NCP mechanism meaningless. They were heard by the judge, who held, among other things, that “the principle of confidentiality is obviously not applicable in this case because it would have the effect of nullifying ab initio any request for forced enforcement made by the party who considers itself wronged[3].

Sherpa has been advocating along with many civil society actors for many years to denounce the dysfunctions of the NCP: lack of impartiality in NCP governance, opacity and unpredictability of mediation procedures, confidentiality detrimental to the effectiveness of the mechanism, etc

In 2018, a collective request for NCP reform had been made to the government. 

Given the lack of response, Sherpa and several other organizations had decided to boycott the NCP and no longer attend the annual meetings known as “dialogue with civil society”[4].

According to Sandra Cossart, Executive Director at Sherpa: The decision means that an agreement negotiated under the auspices of the NCP to remedy violations of the OECD Guidelines can be brought to court for enforcement, in order to sanction the company and provide the communities affected with the expected reparations. We are pleased with this decision, which could finally allow us to get to the merits of this case.”

For Emmanuel Elong, president of the SYNAPARCAM (National Synergy of Peasants and Villagers in Cameroon),“While Socapalm, the subsidiary of the Socfin/Bolloré group in Cameroon, does not respect its commitments signed with the State (land retrocession, continuation of public service missions, improvement of worker’s living conditions and zero deforestation), it continues to develop its activities, relying on favorable RSPO[5]certifications”.

The case was adjourned to June 17th 2021 for communication of the company’s submissions in defense.

After the refusal of Vincent Bolloré’s guilty plea by a Parisian magistrate[6] concerning allegations of corruption in Togo on February 26th, this is another trial that should not be avoidable.

PRESS CONTACT

Laura Bourgeois – Sherpa : +33 6 78 00 07 17 laura.bourgeois@asso-sherpa.org


[1] Le PCN belge clôture l’affaire Socapalm en raison de la non-application du plan d’action par les sociétés Bolloré et Socfin (In French)

[2] Palm oil in Cameroon : the Bolloré group sued by NGOs in an unprecedented legal action

[3] Nanterre Civil Court, decision dated March 25th 2021, n°19/06222

[4] Boycott : email adressé au Point de Contact National de l’OCDE (In French)

[5] Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

[6] Le Monde Article, Dans une affaire de corruption en Afrique, la justice française refuse le plaider-coupable de Vincent Bolloré, 26 février 2021, Simon Piel (In French)

Tags: Last modified: 26 March 2021
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