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72,000 People Call On the United Nations to End Business With the Bolloré Group

February 14, 2022
SOCFIN protest in Malen

Image: Protest against SOCFIN in Pujehun District, Malen Chiefdom, Sierra Leone.

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February 14, 2022, 12:00 AM PT

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  • In a petition delivered today to the World Food Programme (WFP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), and UNICEF, 72,000 people call on the United Nations to end business with the Bolloré Group.

  • The Bolloré Group is a major logistics supplier of the United Nations whereas it is involved in land grabbing and human rights abuses through its SOCFIN subsidiary and has been charged with corruption for the allocation of port concessions in Africa by a French court.

  • Doing business with the group is a violation of United Nations’ criteria for the eligibility of suppliers, the United Nations Supplier Code of Conduct, and the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

  • The petition organized by Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) and the Oakland Institute comes after a similar call made in May 2021 by 40 civil society organizations from 16 countries was ignored by the United Nations.

Oakland, CA — Today, the Oakland Institute and Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) delivered a petition with 72,000 signatories calling on UN organizations to end business with the French Bolloré Group.

The Bolloré Group is a major supplier to the United Nations, which pays it over US$50 million 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. The World Food Programme (WFP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), and UNICEF, represent some 95 percent of this amount.

The Bolloré Group is involved in rubber and oil palm plantations through its 39.4 percent shareholdings of SOCFIN, 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 communities have denounced land grabbing and environmental destruction by the company and have repeatedly been subjected to violence, intimidation, arrests, and severe distress as a result of their opposition.

The 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 related to corruption charges in Togo dropped.

“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, the eligibility criteria for United Nations Suppliers, as well as the agreement signed with the Group under the United Nations Global Compact,” said Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute.

“While UN organizations such as the UNDP, WFP and UNICEF work to fight poverty and hunger, they have shown a striking lack of due diligence when choosing contractors such as the French Bolloré Group. Many wonderful people work in these well respected organizations — but doing business with the group can in the end only hurt the reputation of the UN, while companies like Bolloré’s subsidiary SOCFIN hurt people in Africa and Asia,” said Marianne Klute, chairwoman of Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue).

The Oakland Institute report Doing Business With the Bolloré Group details the wrongdoings of the group in a number of countries and provides an analysis of the different violations of UN principles and criteria.

The petition was initiated by Rainforest Rescue and the Oakland Institute after a similar call made in May 2021 by 40 civil society organizations from 16 countries was ignored by the United Nations. Members of several of the organizations who have signed this call have been victims of judicial harassment and intimidation for resisting land grabbing in their country,” said Frederic Mousseau . “With this petition, 72,000 people from around the world stand in solidarity with the victims of these wrongdoings and echo the call to the UN organizations to immediately end business relationships with the group,” Mousseau continued.

Vincent Bolloré is expected to retire on February 17, 2022 and to give to one of his sons the control of the group. Bolloré has also announced talks with Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) for the sale of its African logistics branch. “This transmission of power of the familial dynasty and the current negotiations don’t change a thing about the blatant violations of the UN principles and code of conduct that have been going on for years,” Mousseau said. “UN organizations with mandates to provide development aid and food assistance can’t continue to do business with a group responsible for such suffering and wrongdoings,” he concluded.

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