French logistics big Bolloré SE has been deemed an unethical funding by a few of Switzerland’s strongest pension funds.Bolloré didn’t act to resolve accusations of human rights abuses dedicated by its subsidiary, Socfin, round oil palm and rubber plantations in West Africa and Southeast Asia, the Swiss Association for Responsible Investments (SVVK-ASIR) decided.Investigators commissioned by Socfin not too long ago discovered credible claims of sexual harassment, land disputes and unfair recruitment in Liberia and Cameroon; area visits to different websites will happen later this yr.
Some of Switzerland’s largest pension funds have positioned French logistics big Bolloré SE on a blacklist. The Swiss Association for Responsible Investments (SVVK-ASIR) determined its members ought to not spend money on Bolloré after it didn’t act to resolve accusations of land-grabbing, environmental injury and complicity in human rights violations on oil palm and rubber plantations operated by Socfin, through which it holds a 39% stake.
“Bolloré SE’s subsidiary has been repeatedly accused of violating the rights of native populations in nations equivalent to Cambodia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cameroon,” wrote Christina Meier, an affiliate at SVVK-ASIR, in an emailed response to Mongabay. “Bolloré SE shares accountability for making certain that human rights are noticed and guarded by the subsidiary as a consequence of its appreciable affect.”
SVVK-ASIR is a gaggle based by a few of Switzerland’s strongest pension and social safety funds, which collectively handle $329 billion in belongings. The affiliation recurrently assesses the moral conduct of corporations its members have invested in just about requirements set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the U.N.
There are at present 30 companies on the affiliation’s exclusion listing Bolloré is the primary French firm to be positioned on this listing, which is a part of a voluntary guideline to moral funding to which SVVK-ASIR’s members agree.
SVVK-ASIR blacklists corporations solely after an prolonged course of. When an organization is discovered to be concerned in demonstrable, extreme and systematic violations, the affiliation initiates a dialogue to provide the accused firm a possibility to enhance its conduct. This course of can take three to 4 years, after which an organization will obtain a ultimate name for dialogue earlier than it’s blacklisted.
“The exclusion advice from Bolloré SE was the results of an unsuccessful engagement dialogue that lasted a number of years,” wrote Meier, explaining that the corporate didn’t reply adequately or constructively to SVVK-ASIR and its companions’ questions. “There was no substantial contribution to fulfill the targets of the engagement.”
The Socfin Group’s oil palm and rubber plantations occupy 190,000 hectares (469,500 acres) in eight nations in West and Central Africa, and two in Southeast Asia. Image by Victoria Schneider for Mongabay.
Oil palm originates in West and Central Africa, and many individuals displaced by Socfin’s industrial plantations proceed to domesticate and course of oil palm on a small scale. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Communities have accused the corporate of polluting water sources, turning a blind eye to sexual harassment by safety personnel and different staff, poor working situations, and land irregularities. Image by Thierry Didier Kicheu.
In Cameroon, communities have complained about unresolved land disputes and an absence of safety for sacred websites inside plantations. Image by Dylan Collins for Mongabay.
In Liberia, girls in the neighborhood stated they have been sexually harassed by Socfin’s workers. Image by Ashoka Mukpo / Mongabay.
Socfin has constantly denied the allegations in opposition to it. It additionally rejected a number of antagonistic findings by worldwide mediating our bodies from the OECD and the IFC. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Despite the sustained criticism, a lot of Socfin’s West and Central African plantations and mills have been licensed by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Earlier this yr, Socfin employed the Earthworm Foundation, which it’s a member of, to conduct an unbiased investigation, however the transfer was rejected by many neighborhood representatives. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Community members, alongside native and worldwide civil society, need Socfin to interact with their considerations instantly to allow them to regain entry to land and work alternatives, and as soon as once more really feel protected on their very own lands. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Repeated makes an attempt by affected communities to deal with grievances instantly with Socfin have failed to supply outcomes.
Neth Prak, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s Bunong Indigenous People Association (BIPA), instructed Mongabay that his affiliation has been making an attempt to resolve land disputes with Socfin since 2008. “The downside is that Socfin has not been keen to take a seat down with us and discover a answer collectively,” he stated. “Instead of getting into a dialogue, the corporate introduced in their very own mechanism and tried to make use of its energy to make issues look as in the event that they have been solved.”
In Nigeria, complaints over pressured evictions and arbitrary arrests of neighborhood members dwelling round Socfin’s Okomu plantation have additionally produced no outcomes. “Judging from the Nigerian perspective, there isn’t a traceable impact. We are nonetheless just like the corn crying for justice on the court docket composed of chickens,” stated Ajele Sunday, the coordinator of Community Forest Watch Nigeria.
Sunday stated SVVK-ASIR’s transfer to blacklist Bolloré may very well be a step in the appropriate route. “I hope that different establishments might additionally take the bull by the horns.”
Communities have approached worldwide organizations for assist earlier than. Grievance procedures filed with the International Finance Corporation and the OECD each confirmed irregularities. Socfin, nevertheless, rejected the findings.
The OECD criticism led to that group’s French National Contact Point, Bolloré, and French social justice affiliation Sherpa drawing up an motion plan to deal with complaints in Cameroon in 2013. But a yr later, Bolloré shifted all accountability for implementing the plan to Socfin, which later pulled out of the settlement totally, objecting to unbiased monitoring of its actions.
Socfin and Bolloré could also be operating out of room to keep away from addressing complaints. Sherpa has sued Bolloré in a French court docket to compel it to implement the OECD-brokered motion plan for Socfin’s Cameroon operations. Socfin not too long ago employed the Earthworm Foundation to analyze grievances in its West African and Asian operations; preliminary findings after visiting websites in Liberia and Cameroon discovered credible claims of sexual harassment, land disputes and unfair recruitment.
And now Bolloré has landed on the Swiss pension funds’ blacklist. Silva Lieberherr, an agricultural scientist who has been working with communities affected by Socfin for the Swiss NGO Bread for All, stated Bolloré’s itemizing is critical. “It is a vital step and a strong signal that an unbiased advisory group takes a stand on this firm based mostly on years of reporting from communities and their allies. It sends a powerful message that somebody is listening to those voices — at one of many facilities of monetary capitalism.”
Bolloré SE didn’t reply to Mongabay’s request for remark; Socfin declined to remark.
Banner picture: Members of Synaparcam, an affiliation of communities affected by Socapalm. Image courtesy Thierry Didier Kuicheu
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