It’s been eight months since the Socfin Group announced we are working together to implement their Responsible Management Policy. Here’s an update of the progress we have made since then.
Since January 2019, The Forest Trust (TFT) has become Earthworm Foundation.
Socfin has published a dashboard sharing the locations of all its concessions. This includes rubber and palm oil traceability data, including plantation locations and details of concession boundaries. Visitors to the dashboard can also use it to review Socfin’s commitments, its roadmap of activities, progress against these, and see its grievance management process.
Action on the ground
Of the eleven countries Socfin’s operations cover in Africa and South-East Asia, we have focused firstly on Cameroon and Ghana. This is because the Socfin Group considered key to deploy important resources towards these two countries which have priorities they wanted to tackle as soon as possible. So we have worked closely with Socfin’s general managers on the ground to make progress on environmental and social considerations. We have carried out a mix of 14 site assessments, follow-up visits and strategic meetings to achieve progress around three key objectives set out in Socfin’s policy:
Responsible development of operations
Socfin has in Cameroon: one refinery, seven palm oil mills, one rubber plant and six plantations, oil palm and rubber tree, representing a lot of workers, including long-term and temporary staff. TFT and Socfin have completed a HR review to establish needs, and Socfin is committed to improve its current human resource management system to achieve more effectiveness.
To help improve workers’ living conditions in Cameroon, Socfin has planned new accommodation blocks for workers. 2017 has seen this new housing facilities under construction in a number of camps. TFT has supported Socapalm’s field team to carry out an inventory to ensure workers are in their rightful place, as issues with squatters in the old blocks had led to overcrowding.
TFT has joined Socapalm’s management in engaging with Cameroon’s Ministry of State Property and Land Tenure, local authorities and NGOs to clarify concession boundaries and help communities gain ownership of the land handed back by Socfin to government. Building relationships with Socfin’s plantation managers has been key to implementing our work, including understanding concession boundaries together.
Balancing development and conservation, Socfin made a commitment to protect High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HCV) land within its concessions. To support this, we are rolling out a training programme for Socfin’s key staff. This is provided through TFT’s Centre of Social Excellence, an education initiative building skills and capacity in responsible land management. Training addresses HCS and HCV concepts and implementation methodology (12 people), as well as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for helping build awareness around community land rights (8 people). These trainings will continue in 2018.
In Ghana, Socfin has acquired a concession which contains a high amount of HCS areas. Adjoining this concession a significant piece of land has been classified as Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA) as it contains important flora and fauna biodiversity. Despite its environmental importance, the area is under threat from illegal logging, poaching and mining. In order to identify a solution to protect the GSBA and the HCS areas under Socfin’s responsibility TFT has carried out an HCS desktop stratification over PSG’s concession and its landscape and we are working, in partnership with local communities and relevant government bodies, to find appropriate conservation strategies.
TFT Regional Head for Africa, Gerome Tokpa, says: “We hope the work we are doing in Cameroon and Ghana with Socfin demonstrates to the industry that implementing ambitious policies is feasible, even where contexts can be challenging.”
Socfin’s dashboard represents a new level of transparency for the company. We have collected and reviewed the status of all Socfin’s palm oil subsidiary operations, with details on concession land cover, studies carried out, land title, expansion plans and traceability data. Information for each palm oil site is published, while rubber traceability data collection is still in progress.
Meetings and discussions with NGO and community stakeholders have been launched at international and local levels to share Socfin’s commitment and plan, as well as listen to stakeholder views.
Socfin has committed to reporting against its implementation plan and updating its dashboard every six months.
Pierre Bois d’Enghien, Head of Sustainability at Socfin, says, “Our transparency dashboard has given us a platform for sharing information, leading to a more constructive dialogue with our stakeholders. This tool also allows us to demonstrate that we consider any complaint seriously. Our customers and suppliers appreciate this transparency”.
Optimisation of grievance management system
The Socfin Group’s grievance management procedure has been reviewed and aligned to global standards. Socfin has published a new grievance management system on its dashboard. All grievances formally logged are reported on the dashboard, along with progress made to resolve them.
2018 will see a crucial phase of our collaboration as we continue to build on progress made in Cameroon and Ghana and adapt lessons learnt to help all Socfin subsidiaries engage on their sustainability journey under their Responsible Management Policy.