“SOCFIN shareholders: stop land grabbing!” Citizens demand that SOCFIN respect the rights of local communities
On Wednesday 1 June at 10:00 CET, citizens and representatives of Belgian, French and Luxembourgish organisations are calling out to the shareholders of SOCFIN, a Belgian-Luxembourgish group, during their annual meeting. They have carried out a protest action in solidarity with communities in Africa and Asia affected by the agroindustrial company’s land grabs. After several attempts to reach out to the company’s management, the groups and citizens are now calling on the company’s shareholders to respect the fundamental rights, including land rights, of the local communities. Similar actions have also been held by the communities in several of the group’s plantations.
SOCFIN is a multinational agro-industrial group specialised in the production of oil palm and rubber. SOCFIN is controlled by the Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri (50.2% of shares) and the Frenchman Vincent Bolloré (39% of shares). The group is composed of numerous financial and operational companies in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland which manage plantations in ten African and Asian countries. Taking advantage of the rise in commodity prices after the global food crisis of 2007-2008, SOCFIN has a led a strategy of aggressively expanding its farm operations these last years. Between 2009 and 2016, SOCFIN’s planted area has grown by more than 40%, from 129,638 ha to 185,324 ha. Globally SOCFIN controls around 400,000 ha.
This expansionist strategy amounts to land grabbing, which is impacting the livelihoods of local communities in ways that have been widely documented and denounced by both local and international organisations. In several cases, land conflicts have led to protest actions which have been violently repressed by security forces. Several local leaders have been arrested and indicted, as happened last February in Sierra Leone when six leaders of MALOA, the local landholders’ association, were thrown in jail for 5-6 months charged with “consipiracy” and “destruction of oil palm plants”. These accusations were formally rejected by the community representatives.
In order to deal with these abuses, the local communities have been organising at the national and international levels. In 2013, an “International alliance of communities around the SOCFIN/Bolloré plantations” was created. On several occasions, the Alliance has stood up for the rights of the communities and presented their demands to the SOCFIN/Bolloré group in order to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflicts—without success up to now. Instead of agreeing to dialogue constructively, SOCFIN officials have said that “the reference to any social conflict is a fantasy” and that they are “exasperated by the actions of NGOs telling lie after lie about us, just to attract funds”. The company has displayed the same attitude by refusing to cooperate with the French and Belgian National Contact Points of the OECD who have been investigating the group’s lack of compliance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Twice in 2015, representatives of SOCFIN have refused to appear before the Belgian National Contact Point, who has deplored the situation in an official communiqué.
In this context, citizens and organisations present at SOCFIN’s annual meeting reaffirm their solidarity with the local communities and demand that shareholders pressure the company’s leadership to respect the rights of local communities and find a long-lasting solution to the social conflicts.
Citizens and organisations are also calling on governments to take responsibility. They demand that States, both those where the investors are headquartered and those where investments take place, put an end to land grabbing, respect the rights of communities and implement the land governance guidelines (FAO 2012).
Information about the action:
Hôtel Parc Belair starting at 9:30 CET. Citizens and representatives of NGOs will perform skits depicting SOCFIN’s land grabs and present their demands to the shareholders.
FR: Stéphane Desgain, +32 475 76 90 61
NL: Thierry Kesteloot, +32-2-501.67.55
FR/EN: Eloïse Maulet, +33 627 01 05 36
Thierry Defense, + 352 49 09 96
- Meng Landwirtschaft, collective of 22 Luxembourgish organisations
- GRAIN (in support)
- FIAN Belgium
- SOS Faim
- Entraide & Fraternité
- Mouvement d’Action Paysanne (MAP)
- Aide au développement Gembloux (ADG)
 For an overview of available reports (in French), visit: http://projet-react.org/v2/plantations-socfinbollore/
 See the communiqué here:http://economie.fgov.be/fr/binaries/Communiqu%C3%A9%20Socapalm-Socfin-Socfinaf_tcm326-274097.pdf. In a later communication in February, the NCP mentioned that SOCFIN seems to be finally ready to dialogue, but no meeting has yet taken place.