Salala Rubber Corporation’s woe deepens; parent’s company blacklisted for ‘land grab’ in Liberia

Liberian Observer | 28 September 2023

Liberia: Salala Rubber Corporation’s Woe Deepens; Parent’s Company Blacklisted for ‘Land Grab’ In Liberia

Article by Alloycious David

Local communities near Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in Margibi County are seemingly winning a case of ‘land grab’ and ‘gross human rights violations’ brought against SRC; as its parent company, Bollore Group has been blacklisted by Switzerland’s largest public pension funds.

Bollore Group headquartered in Paris, France manages a portfolio of shareholders of more than 16.1 billion euros at December 31, 2022.

It owns shareholdings in the communication sector through Vivendi, as well as in Universal Music Group and Socfin Group, which owns and manages SRC, Liberia’s second-largest rubber plantation.

SRC has cultivated an area of over 4,400 hectares, amidst credible and consistent claims of sexual harassment, land grabs, unfair recruitment practices, forceful eviction of villages, and intimidation, arrest, and illegal detention of local community members and human rights campaigners.

The Swiss Association for Responsible Investments (SVVK), Switzerland’s largest public pension fund has placed Bollore on its blacklist thanks to ‘Bread for All’, a Swiss-based development organization, and its Liberian counterparts, Green Advocates International (GAI) and the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) for persistently representing the legal interests of poor communities affected by the multi-billion dollar firm.

The Association for Responsible Investments ​​blacklist mostly includes Indian and Chinese companies that engage in arms trafficking or are suspected of being involved in illegal nuclear weapons programs.

Now, for the first time, a large French company is being targeted by the associations, which includes many large Swiss pension funds.  

The SVVK has asked its members to no longer invest in the shares of the Bolloré conglomerate listed on the Paris Stock Exchange and to sell existing investments.

The SVVK sets the sustainable investment guidelines for Switzerland's largest pension funds.

Its members include the pension funds of federal civil servants (CHF 39 billion under management), employees of the Canton of Zurich (CHF 36 billion), and the compulsory Swiss retirement fund, the AVS (CHF 37 billion).

SVVK, which manages investments of CHF 100 billion, has also decided to exclude shares in the French group Bolloré.

The exclusion, according to the group is justified by potential human rights violations in Liberia, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone.
Tina Goethe, Bread for All’s Co-Head of Policy and Advisory Services Department, said: “The reason for the recommendation is for potential human rights violations by the Bolloré subsidiary Socfin in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia”.

Socfin operates palm oil and rubber plantations in many other countries in Africa and Asia and has two Swiss-based subsidiaries that provide services and market the plantations' products.

Socfin’s subsidiary SRC bulldozed villages near its concession area in 2010 to expand its  rubber plantation, amidst intimidation and arrest of local people and rights campaigners.

Affected communities hold customary land rights to their ancestral lands.

SRC’s management faces sexual harassment and unfair recruitment practices claims.

GAI, ARD, and Bread for All cataloged the abuses in a report released in 2019. The three institutions are making frantic efforts both locally and internationally for residents to get redress.    

International environmental consultancy, the Earthworm Foundation corroborated the citizens’ claims in a recent report.

Following of investigation conducted in April and May 2023, the group said in a report released last month after visits to plantations in Liberia and Cameroon, the Earthworm Foundation consultancy has confirmed many allegations against Belgian tropical plantation operator Socfin.

Earthworm Foundation disclosed that it found credible claims of sexual harassment, land disputes, and unfair recruitment practices at both of the sites they visited.
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