After visits to plantations in Liberia and Cameroon, the Earthworm Foundation consultancy has confirmed many allegations in opposition to Belgian tropical plantation operator Socfin.Investigators discovered credible claims of sexual harassment, land disputes and unfair recruitment practices at each of the websites they visited.Activists in each nations stay unhappy, saying the consultancy ought to have spoken to a wider vary of neighborhood members and calling for Socfin to reply on to communities with grievances.
International environmental consultancy the Earthworm Foundation has launched findings from area investigations it performed in April and May this 12 months into grievances in opposition to two plantations owned by Belgian multinational the Socfin Group.
EF investigators visited the plantations run by Socfin’s subsidiaries, one in Liberia and the opposite in Cameroon, the place communities and native and worldwide organizations had raised critical allegations of sexual harassment, land grabs, air pollution and unfair labor practices.
EF plans additional visits to different plantations, however in two experiences protecting the primary part, the investigators confirmed the vast majority of the allegations that have been topic to the investigation.
At Liberia’s Salala Rubber Plantation (SRC), considered one of two Socfin owns within the West African nation, EF’s staff discovered that allegations of sexual harassment have been credible. They discovered that ladies at SRC have been fired or denied work for refusing to interact in sexual acts.
A ”Gender Committee” that the corporate arrange in 2017 failed to choose up any of quite a few instances of sexual harassment, together with complaints by ladies about being touched inappropriately with out their consent. The EF staff additionally discovered that work on the plantation is mostly contracted and of a short-term nature, and a number of other affected communities had been not noted of recruitment processes.
In Cameroon, the investigators visited the Dibombari oil palm plantation, considered one of six run by Socfin’s Cameroon subsidiary, Socapalm. They confirmed experiences of rape and sexual harassment of ladies by workers on the plantation, together with one case confirmed by an area physician. Socapalm’s investigation of the case, nonetheless, was halted after “the alleged perpetrators and the households of the victims fled,” mentioned the report.
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 workers, poor working situations, and land irregularities. Image by Thierry Didier Kicheu.
In Cameroon, communities have complained about unresolved land disputes and a scarcity of safety for sacred websites inside plantations. Image by Dylan Collins for Mongabay.
In Liberia, ladies in the neighborhood mentioned 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 opposed findings by worldwide mediating our bodies from the OECD and the IFC. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
Despite the sustained criticism, lots 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 12 months, Socfin employed the Earthworm Foundation, which it’s a member of, to conduct an impartial 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 immediately 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.
EF’s staff additionally discovered that an ongoing battle over land that Socapalm’s lease stipulated could be returned to the communities has not been resolved. Further grievances round entry to and the safety of sacred websites contained in the plantation stay.
Investigators additionally discovered that regardless of the presence of company-built hand pumps, entry to ingesting water for resident communities was restricted. However, they discovered no proof that neighborhood members lacked entry to well being care amenities or colleges.
The consultancy got here up with a set of suggestions for every of Socfin’s subsidiaries. It gave Salala Rubber Corporation a timeframe to answer the issues recognized with an motion plan. “It is evident that though SRC is attempting to handle points associated to sexual harassment and resolving grievances with native communities, they nonetheless have a protracted method to go to totally handle these in a strong method,” the investigators wrote.
Francis Colee, head of applications at Liberia’s Green Advocates, which is supporting neighborhood members in a lawsuit in opposition to the corporate, mentioned the investigation has solely clouded Socfin’s involvement in socially and environmentally damaging practices.
“This is why we preserve that Socfin ought to immediately face the affected communities as a substitute of going via intermediaries, like EF,” Colee mentioned. He added that regardless that EF discovered the vast majority of allegations to be credible, the character of its relationship with Socfin means it’s biased and never genuinely concerned with pushing for actual change.
Emmanuel Elong, president of Synaparcam, a Cameroonian group defending the rights of communities, welcomed the report’s affirmation of most of the allegations raised by his group. However, referring to considerations raised by Synaparcam and affected neighborhood members about EF’s conduct previous to the investigation in April, he mentioned the investigators may have finished extra: “If Earthworm had pushed its investigation somewhat additional by questioning individuals who weren’t chosen by the normal chiefs, the results of the investigation must be completely optimistic in all of the factors of the investigation,” he mentioned.
One of the communities’ fundamental criticisms has been the continual certification of Socfin’s plantations by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) through the years. “The report clearly reveals that the Socapalm Dibombari plantation doesn’t deserve RSPO certification. In the approaching days we are going to produce the report of our parallel investigation which will likely be against that of Earthworm and Socfin will be capable to have a transparent thought of the claims of the communities.”
EF mentioned it’s going to quickly transfer forward with the second part of the investigation, which incorporates different Socfin operations in Liberia and Cameroon, in addition to plantations in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Cambodia.
In a press release responding to EF’s experiences, Socfin mentioned it was already working to handle issues which were recognized, however acknowledged that it wanted to do extra. The firm restated its earlier dedication to publish motion plans and mentioned it could work with communities and native NGOs and announce progress on a quarterly foundation.
Banner picture: A local people member who works at an oil palm plantation in Liberia pushing a cart of the harvest. Image by Maja Hitij for Mongabay.
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