Tell the UN: no more contracts with the Bolloré Group!

Protest against Okomu Oil Palm Oil in Nigeria Protest against Okomu Oil Palm Oil, Nigeria (© Okpamakhin Initiative)

While the United Nations works to fight poverty and hunger, UN organizations such as the UNDP, WFP and Unicef show a striking lack of due diligence when choosing contractors such as the French Bolloré Group. Bolloré's subsidiary Socfin is accused of corruption and land grabbing. Tell the UN to drop its contracts with the Bolloré Group.

Call to action

To: World Food Programme (WFP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF

“UN organizations must cancel their contracts with the Bolloré Group. Bolloré's subsidiary Socfin is accused of land grabbing and environmental destruction.”

Read letter

Serious allegations revolve around Socfin, a company in which the Bolloré Group holds a 39% stake. Socfin, which operates rubber and palm oil plantations in ten countries in Africa and Asia, has an unsavory reputation: local people report land grabbing and other ruthless methods wherever its subsidiaries are active. When the Nigerian village Ijaw-Gbene was burnt to the ground in May 2020, eyewitnesses identified the security force of the Socfin subsidiary Okomu Oil Palm Plantation Plc and army personnel as the attackers. 

Furthermore, the Bolloré Group has been accused of corruption and illegal practices in a number of deals allowing it to secure port concessions in Africa, according to the Oakland Institute report "Doing business with the Bolloré Group". On February 23, 2021, the Group agreed to pay a fine of €12 million to have legal proceedings related to corruption charges surrounding the Lomé port concession dropped.

Despite the allegations, the Bolloré Group remains a major supplier to the United Nations, which pays the Group over $50 million every year for logistics and other services, according to the Oakland Institute. The World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF are among the UN agencies that seem to value the Group as a partner.  On May 24, 2021, 40 organizations from 16 countries called on the UN to end its business relationships with the Bolloré Group and its subsidiaries. The UN has not responded to this, nor to the most recent letter sent by the Oakland Institute on November 11.

It appears that only public pressure can convince the UN to do the right thing and drop its contracts with the Bolloré Group.

Back­ground

Publicly traded, the Bolloré Group is majority controlled by the Bolloré family. The Chairman of the Board is Cyrille Bolloré, and his father Vincent Bolloré is one of the directors of the Socfin Group.

In October 2021 several media outlets reported that the Bolloré Group may be planning to end its logistics activities in Africa. This has not been confirmed by the company, however. Doubts are also warranted since the company's website and the 2020 annual report emphasize the importance of the division.

The Bolloré Group also owns significant shares in the Vivendi media group (27 percent). According to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Vincent Bolloré is thus promoting the far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour.

Socfin and Bolloré have sued critics from European and African organizations, the media, journalists and village officials in several cases. Socfin refutes the criticism.

Letter

To: World Food Programme (WFP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Bolloré Group is a major supplier to the United Nations, which pays it over 50 million USD every year for logistics and other services. Between 2015 and 2019, various United Nations entities signed over 200 contracts with the Group for a value of over a quarter billion dollars. Your three institutions represent some 95 percent of this amount.

We call on your institutions to end their business relationships with the Bolloré Group and its subsidiaries for the following reasons:

- The Bolloré Group is involved in rubber and oil palm plantations through its 39.4 percent shareholdings of the SOCFIN Group, which controls close to 400,000 hectares of concessions for plantations in Asia and Africa. In Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Cambodia, local people have reported ruthless methods like land grabbing wherever its subsidiaries are active. Local communities have repeatedly been subject to violence, intimidation, arrests, and severe distress.

- The Bolloré Group has been accused of corruption and illegal practices in a number of deals allowing it to secure port concessions in Africa. On February 23, 2021, The Group agreed to pay a settlement of 12 million euros to have legal proceedings against them related to corruption charges in Togo dropped.

All documentation and references for the above are available in the Oakland Institute report "Doing Business With the Bolloré Group".

Given its documented history of accusations of human rights violations, illegal practices and corruption, for the United Nations’ agencies and programs to do business with the Bolloré Group appears to be a blatant violation of the United Nations Supplier Code of Conduct, the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the agreement signed with the Group under the United Nations Global Compact.

We therefore call on your institutions to immediately cease all business relationships with the Bolloré Group and its subsidiaries.

Yours faithfully,

Footnotes

Socfin Group

Socfin stands for Société Financière des Caoutchoucs.

The group operates plantations for rubber and palm oil in Africa and Asia.

https://www.socfin.com/sites/default/files/2021-10/2021.06.30%20-%20Socfinaf%20-%20Consolidated%20financial%20statements_0_1.pdf


Bolloré Group

The French Bolloré Group was founded in 1822 and is one of the 500 largest companies in the world.

According to the 2020 annual report, revenue was 24 billion euros and net income was 1,563 billion euros, with 26 billion euros in equity.

The Group employs 79,000 people in 130 countries and is active in the fields of transport and logistics, media and communications, and electricity storage and systems. According to the 2020 annual report, the Group "has become one of the world’s ten biggest logistics operators and Africa’s largest transportation group".

https://www.bollore.com/bollo-content/uploads/2021/05/0506_2101198_bollore_ra_gb_mel.pdf


agreed to pay a fine of €12 million

When a company enters into a convention judiciaire d'intérêt public (CJIP, "judicial agreement in the public interest") in France, this does not mean that it accepts the allegations.

It is not an admission of guilt; the company is still presumed innocent. The aim is rather to get the allegations and a court case out of the way quickly and quietly.

Here is the CJIP of the Bolloré Group:

La CJIP de l’affaire Bolloré / Financière de l’Odet au Togo en version intégrale »

http://www.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/CJIP_bollore_20210902.pdf

These two points are particularly interesting:

(...)

  1. Le 12 décembre 2018, la société Bolloré SE était mise en examen des chefs de corruption d’agent public étranger, faits commis sur le territoire national et au Togo, entre 2009 et 2011, complicité d’abus de confiance commis au préjudice de la SNC SDV Afrique, faits commis sur le territoire national et au Togo, courant 2009 et 2010.
  2. Le 7 janvier 2021, la société Bolloré SE a déclaré reconnaître ces faits et accepter leur qualification pénale.

(…)

In principle, the Bolloré Group could face a fine of 6.2 billion euros:

  1. (…) Le montant maximal théorique de l’amende d’intérêt public est donc de 6 620 500 000 euros.

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