72,643 signatures delivered to UN over Africa deals with Bolloré

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

Feb 11, 2022

It was a wake-up call for three UN agencies: On Monday, Rainforest Rescue and the Oakland Institute delivered a petition with 72,643 signatures to the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program and UNICEF. In it they call for an end to business with the Bolloré Group, which is mired in corruption, and in land grabs through a subsidiary.

The Bolloré Group is a major service provider to the United Nations. UN contracts earn the Group $50 million each year for logistics and other services.

Serious allegations revolve around Socfin, a company in which the Bolloré Group holds a 39 percent 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 dropped.

"While UN agencies such as UNDP, WFP and UNICEF are committed to fighting poverty and hunger, they show a striking lack of due diligence when choosing business partners such as the French Bolloré Group," says Rainforest Rescue Co-Chair Marianne Klute: "Many wonderful people work in these respected organizations – but doing business with the Group ultimately harms the UN's reputation, while companies such as Bolloré subsidiary Socfin harm people in Africa and Asia."

"Given this documented history of accusations of human rights violations, illegal practices, and corruption, for the United Nations services, agencies, and programs to do business with the Bolloré Group appears as 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," says Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute.

The petition follows a similar call in May 2021 by 40 civil society organizations from 16 countries that was ignored by the United Nations.

"Members of several organizations that have signed this appeal have been victims of harassment and intimidation for opposing land grabs in their country," said Mousseau. "With this petition, more than 70,000 people from around the world stand in solidarity with the victims of this injustice and join in calling on UN agencies to immediately end business relations with the Group."

Vincent Bolloré is expected to retire on February 17, 2022, and hand over control of the Group to the next generation of his family. Bolloré has also announced talks with Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) on the sale of its African logistics division. "This transfer of power from the family dynasty and the current negotiations do not change the blatant violations of the UN principles and code of conduct that have persisted for years," Mousseau said.

Read the full text of the petition letter here.