ReAct | 31 October 2014
Land grabbing : Bolloré makes promises, local communities expect actions!
On Friday 24 October 2014, the Bolloré company and the Transnational Alliance of Local Communities of the plantations controlled by the group held a negotiation session during which several commitments were made to resolve the local land conflicts.
For the first time, a company accused of land grabbing activities has accepted to take part in an international meeting with representatives of the affected local communities. On Friday 24 October 2014, the Bolloré company received representatives of the Transnational Alliance of Local Communities of the Socfin-Bolloré Plantations at the Meridien Hotel in Paris. Following a heated session, Marie Annick Darmaillac, Deputy Secretary-General of the Bolloré Group, agreed to several measures to resolve the conflicts unleashed by the land investment strategy of Socfin, a Luxembourg-based company in which Bolloré is the majority shareholder.
Socfin's absence from the meeting, despite its assurances that it would participate, raised doubts about the intentions of the French company, which always claimed to be merely “facilitating dialogue” between the parties.
The area under cultivation belonging to Socfin's African subsidiaries increased from 87 303 to 108 465 ha between 2011 and 2014 – an expansion of 24%. This is creating important conflicts among the neighbouring communities. Thousands of villagers have been evicted from their land in Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Cambodia, Ivory Coast and Liberia. In 2013, local residents created a Transnational Alliance of Local Communities supported by the French NGO ReAct. In Paris, representatives denounced the conditions in which the lands were acquired as well as Socfin's subsidiaries' non-respect of past agreements: “Public authorities have been bribed. People who did not want to sell off their land were threatened. Those, like me, who protested were imprisoned,” explained Shiaka Musa Sama, representing the local communities of Malen, in Sierra Leone. “But we, who were treated like criminals, are now considered legitimate interlocutors.”
« We were treated like criminals, and we are now considered legitimate interlocutors »
The Bolloré Group accepted the Alliance’s demand for an independent evaluation to assess the land conflicts. However, the company said it must secure the agreement of Socfin's directors to confirm this. The same holds for the Alliance’s demand for a timetable on when lands would be given back and when compensations would be made, as set out in a past agreement. Bolloré nonetheless committed to initiate local negotiations in each country and agreed to hold another international meeting in 2015 to validate and account for how the points of agreement are being implemented on the ground. ||amp||#160;
“The fact that Bolloré has recognised some of the principles and agreements infringed upon by Socfin is a first step for us,” welcomes Shiaka Musa Sama. “They now need to come back to us with Socfin’s answers within one month. If we have no answers once this deadline is reached, we will organise new protests and demonstrations in the plantations of the five countries belonging to the Alliance (…) The dialogue initiated with Bolloré is encouraging, but we now expect concrete actions.”