On 28 June 2018, French judges made a landmark decision in the Lafarge/Syria case: the multinational company Lafarge (today: LafargeHolcim) was indicted on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, financing of a terrorist enterprise, and endangerment of people’s lives. This is a worldwide premiere for a parent company to be indicted for complicity in crimes against humanity, marking a decisive step forward in the fight against the impunity of multinationals operating in armed conflict zones.
The proceedings against Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria are the result of a criminal complaint filed in November 2016 by eleven former Syrian employees together with ECCHR and its French partner organization Sherpa.
The complaint accused Lafarge of having endangered their employees' lives and having them work in conditions incompatible with human dignity in order to maintain their Jalabiya's cement factory plant open and running between 2012 and 2014 in north-eastern Syria. ECCHR and Sherpa further alleged that Lafarge may have acted as an accomplice to crimes against humanity, partly because it financed the Islamic State (IS) in various ways. Lafarge is believed to have purchased commodities like oil and pozzolan from IS and to have paid fees for passes, and possibly sold them cement, thereby empowering IS to commit massive crimes at the time in Syria. The judicial inquiry has revealed that Lafarge may have paid up to 13 million euro to various armed groups in order to maintain its factory running. Already eight former Lafarge executives, including two former CEOs, have been charged with criminal offenses in this case.
By doing business in conflict regions, transnational corporations can contribute to violent escalations and grave human rights violations.
Since the beginning of the armed conflict an extensive war economy has evolved in Syria in which nearly all conflict parties are involved. This involves trade in weapons, raw materials and other goods of interest to conflict parties, states and corporations. There are many actors profiting from the situation: from local firms to arms and defense companies in various countries to large transnational corporations Lafarge and their subsidiaries.