Bolloré: Land Grabbing and Human Rights Violations at African Oil Palm Plantations

Bolloré is a French investment and industrial holding group headquartered in Puteaux, France. Bolloré’s subsidiaries manage large-scale oil palm plantations throughout African countries like Ivory Coast (21,900 ha), Nigeria (15,600 ha), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5,000 ha).[1] The company’s agricultural ventures are widely criticized for deforestation, land grabbing, chemical pollution, poor working conditions, degrading the social and economic conditions of local and indigenous populations, industry monopolization, and media intimidation. [2][3][4]

In 2006, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) investigated human rights violations among the country’s rubber plantations. Among those investigated was the Liberian Agriculture Company (LAC, 13,600 ha), owned by SOCFIN Agricultural Company, a (40%) Bolloré subsidiary.[5] The investigation uncovered instances of child labor, forced evictions of peasant farmers within the plantation’s expansion area, trade union suppression (and an overall lack of collective bargaining), arbitrary dismissals, a lack of protection from carcinogenic substances,and the use of paramilitary forces for security purposes.[6] The LAC dismissed these allegations, claiming they were exaggerated.[7]

SOCFIN-KCD (12,000 ha) began clearing fields and forests in Cambodia in December 2008. Hundreds of peasant farmers from the indigenous Bunong group protested after SOCFIN failed to compensate them fairly for the loss of their traditional lands.[8]

Since the World Bank-led privatization of Cameroon’s state owned companies in 2000, Bolloré has taken control of several rubber and palm oil plantations, (e.g. SOCAPALM and SAFACAM). The takeover has led to the forced evictions of local indigenous communities like the Bagyeli. The group’s day-today activities have become increasingly difficult due to the plantation’s annual expansion rate of 1000 ha per year (until 2013).[9] The expansions have reduced the group’s access to ancestral lands and vital resources. SOCAPALM offers limited job opportunities with abysmal living and working conditions.[10] The vast majority of Cameroon SOCAPALM employees do not receive social security benefits and work for less than 2 Euros per day – self-proclaimed “SOCAPALM slaves.” [11] Open dialogue initiatives by the company are allegedly only used to discourage protests and/or to maintain village stability.[12] 

In December 2010, several NGOs (Sherpa, CED, FOCARFE and MISEREOR) challenged the Bolloré Group by filing an OECD complaint against SOCAPALM. The report claims that the firm has negatively impacted the traditional livelihoods of local communities and plantation workers in Cameroon. On June 3, 2013, the French National Contact Point released a statement acknowledging that, “all four companies […] violated OECD guidelines,” and recommended that SOCAPALM and the other companies involved resolve these violations.[13]

SOCFIN(12,000 ha) is criticized in Sierra Leone for exploitative practices associated with large-scale land acquisitions.[14] Landowners were reportedly coerced into giving their land to the company without adequate compensation. Large-scale plantations now control about 17% of the arable land in Sierra Leone.[15]

Currently, an umbrella organization, ReAct, is helping workers from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Liberia to lobby for a direct bargaining process with the European directors of SOCFIN and Bolloré.[16]

During Bollore’s June 2013 shareholder meeting in Paris, African farmers delivered a letter of complaint to Bolloré asserting their concerns related to the company’s controversial practices in their countries.[17]

 [1] Frederic Mousseau (2012): Understanding land investment deals in Africa. Socfin land investment in Sierra Leone, Land Deal Brief, Oakland: The Oakland Institute, p. 7, accessed 02.09.2013

[2] Global Research News (2013): Africa Land Grabs. Farmers in several African countries stand up against Bolloré, 5 June, accessed 02.09.2013

[3] Gontralpacific (2012): Conflit. Bolloré conteste une décision du gouvernement et refuse de payer une amende de 25 millions de FCFA, 21 September, accessed 02.09.2013

[4] Rue 89 (2013): Rue89 et Bastamag mis en examen sur plainte du groupe Bolloré, 1 August, accessed 02.09.2013;

World Rainforest Movement: Le groupe français Bolloré tente d’intimider les médias qui s’intéressent aux pratiques abusives dans ses plantations camerounaises, accessed 02.09.2013

[5] UN Mission in Liberia (2006): Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into the Future, accessed 02.09.2013

[6] See Supra note 1, p. 9.

[7] Socfin (2006): UNMIL’s Report on Human Rights at Liberia Agricultural Company “LAC”. LAC’s Version, accessed 02.09.2013

[8] International Federation for Human Rights (2011): Cambodia Land Cleared for Rubber Rights Bulldozed. The impact of rubber plantations by Socfin-KCD on indigenous communities in Bousra, Mondulkiri, FIDH Report, 574a, p.7, accessed 02.09.2013;

Woxx (2011): Menschenrechtsverletzung via Luxemburg, 11 March, accessed 02.09.2013

[9] Marc Debels (2001): Le march des corps gras alimentaires, accessed 02.09.2013

[10] World Rainforest Movement (2010): “French economic group Bolloré attempts to intimidate journalists who expose abusive practices on its plantations in Cameroon”, WRM Bulletin, 155, accessed 02.09.2013

[11] Oakland Institute (2012): Press Release. A New Report Exposes French Tycoon’s Land Grab in Sierra Leone, 2 April, accessed 02.09.2013

[12] ReAct (2010): Case Study. Conflict between Socapalm and the residents of oil-palm plantations in Cameroon, p. 2-3, accessed 02.09.2013

[13] OECD Watch (2013): Issue. Environmental and labour violations at SOCAPALM in Cameroon, accessed 02.09.2013

[14] Green Scenery (2011): The Socfin Land Deal Missing Out On Best Practices. Report on Fact finding Mission to Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District, Sierra Leone, 13 May, accessed 02.09.2013;

Frederic Mousseau (2012): See supra note 1

[15] See supra note 11. 

[16] ReAct (2013): Alliance of Bolloré agribusiness residents and workers in Africa, accessed 02.09.2013;

Farmlandgrab.org (2013): West African farmers stand up against Bolloré, 5 June, accessed 02.09.2013

[17] Synaparcam, SoGB residents committee, Concern Union Citizen, and MALOA (2013): Letter to Vincent Bolloré, accessed 02.09.2013;

ReAct (2013): Lettre des riverains des plantations contrôlées par la Socfin, elle-même détenue majoritairement par le groupe Bolloré au président de ce dernier, accessed 02.09.2013

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