This a significant milestone for the 145 Cameroonian plaintiffs in their legal action against Socapalm (Cameroonian Palmgroves Company) and its parent company, Socfin, with the involvement of the French conglomerate, Bolloré.
Leveraging the French law on the “duty of vigilance” of French multinational corporations, a French court in Nanterre ruled last Friday that Socfin must pay €140,000 to the plaintiffs. The company failed to timely provide the plaintiffs with all the documents they were required to submit, specifically the complete minutes of general meetings. These documents were intended to enable the plaintiffs to assess the influence of Bolloré as a shareholder in Socfin’s decisions.
Ultimately, the goal for the plaintiffs is to hold the French multinational corporation accountable. Did the Bolloré Group fail in its duty of vigilance or not? This obligation has been enshrined in French law since 2017. According to this legislation, parent companies must ensure that their direct or indirect subsidiaries, subcontractors, and suppliers respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, health, safety, and the environment.
The plaintiffs are residents near an oil palm plantation operated by Socapalm in the southern region of Cameroon. They denounce the violation of their right to access their lands and the pollution of the surrounding environment.
At the end of 2022, the Versailles Court of Appeal ordered Socapalm and Socfin (Financial Company of Rubber), in which Bolloré is a shareholder, to provide copies of the minutes of their general meetings. Socapalm complied, but Socfin did not fully comply.
In addition to the €140,000 awarded, the company domiciled in Luxembourg, will have to pay an additional €4,000 per day of delay if it fails to produce the documents. If it does not comply, Fiodor Rilov, the attorney representing the Cameroonian plaintiffs, promises to return to the Nanterre court in the coming weeks.