World Rainforest Movement

Sierra Leone: Socfin´s oil palm plantations violating human rights

On 1st of December 2012, aggrieved landowners from 36 villages in Malen Chiefdom, affected by large-scale oil palm plantations of the Socfin company, sent a letter through their local association (MALOA) to the Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone, denunciating human rights abuses such as ongoing harassment, molestation and intimidation. They declare in the letter that “…we will no longer allow the Socfin Agricultural Company personnel and or their machines to enter upon or operate on our land.” They oppose the land deal the company made with the Paramount Chief and Chiefdom authorities.

Socfin Agricultural Company S.L. Limited (SAC) is a subsidiary of the Belgium company, Socfin. SAC leased over 6,500 hectares for oil palm and rubber plantations in Malen chiefdom, Pujehun District, for more than 50 years with a possible extension of 21 years. The compensation of US$ 5 per acre is only half going to the land owners, while women are not compensated at all. Only unskilled employment is offered against a very low payment of 10,000 Leones (about US 2.30) per day. Expansion of the plantations for another 5,500 ha under similar conditions is in progress.

Research of local NGOs confirm the complaints of the communities and add that communities neither were consulted, nor gave their consent to the plantations, and that communities lost farmland. The local authorities are aware of the situation, including of a complaint of communities that Socfin employees destructed their tree-crop plantations. In spite of several initiatives of the authorities to address the situation, the communities´ grievances have not been solved.

The communities end their letter saying “It is in this regard that we are humbly requesting for your timely intervention so as to forestall any further eventuality. We are now desperate and can no longer tolerate the operations of the Socfin Company on our family land.”

Green Scenery and other NGOs in Sierra Leone that are working on large scale investments in agriculture are calling for a moratorium on land deals, a review of signed lease agreements and Memorandum of Understandings and binding regulations. Up to date more than 20% of the arable land in Sierra Leone is leased or is about to be acquired by large scale foreign investors.

Main shareholder of Socfin is the French Bolloré group, a key player in oil palm and other business, present in many African countries and, for example, known for its abusive practices in Cameroon.

Sent by Joseph Rahall (jorahall@yahoo.com).The letter and resolution of MALOA can be accessed at http://www.greenscenery.org/ . For more information see also http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/OI_brief_socfin_agricultural_company.pdf. On Bolloré in Cameroon, see http://www.wrm.org.uy/bulletin/155/Bollore.html