In April, 2023, Earthworm began an in-depth field investigation of grievances raised by NGOs and communities against the Socfin Group’s operations. We have completed the first phase of our work, which concerned the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in Liberia and Socapalm-Dibombari in Cameroon.
Reports summarising our findings can be downloaded below.
At SRC, we investigated nine topics. Of these, we found evidence supporting the allegations in five key areas: recruitment and hiring practices, sexual harassment, crop compensation during plantation expansion, protection of and access to sacred sites and old towns, and access to safe drinking water in communities. We found the allegations concerning threats, harassment, and intimidation by SRC staff to be partially founded. We did not find evidence that SRC limits access to education or health care for the community, nor that it pollutes water sources.
At SOCAPALM - Dibombari, we investigated seven topics. Of these, we found evidence supporting the allegations regarding the land retrocession process, gender-based harassment/sexual violence, occupation of sacred sites, and access to safe drinking water in communities. We found the allegation that SOCAPALM - Dibombari pollutes water sources to be partially founded. We did not find evidence that the plantation limits access to its schools or health centres.
The Socfin Group is a member of Earthworm Foundation, and we are concerned by these findings.
The company must act immediately on certain issues, especially concerning sexual harassment. It must invest further resources in engagement with local communities, NGOs, and civil society organisations. This includes sharing more information with all community members, expanding channels for raising grievances, and building more continuous, trusted lines of communication. Finally, while the Socfin Group has strong policies and operating procedures agreed upon by the corporate leadership, they must do more to ensure these are fully socialised and implemented throughout their plantation operations.
We have presented the results of our investigation to the management of the Socfin Group, and expect that they will publish action plans to address our findings. We expect to help them implement these action plans at SRC and SOCAPALM in the coming months. We will also soon begin Phase Two of our investigative work, which will include other Socfin operations in Liberia and Cameroon, as well as plantations in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia.
We appreciate the willingness of the local communities, as well as many NGOs and civil society organisations, to engage with us during this investigation. Whilst there are certain actors who are dissatisfied with the Socfin subsidiaries investigated, our impression is that the majority of affected people and communities recognise that Socfin has made improvements in recent years, and believe that harmony can be achieved if their key concerns are listened to and addressed, and if a long-term constructive relationship can be established. During the investigations, many community members emphasised to Earthworm's teams the importance of the Socfin subsidiaries in terms of providing job opportunities as well as schools and medical facilities.
At Earthworm, we have witnessed the commitment of Socfin's leadership to fully implementing its Responsible Management Policy, and we remain confident that the company will seriously address our findings. We will continue to report progress against that goal.