The Lafarge/Syria case remains a milestone in the fight against impunity for companies doing business in war and conflict regions. After four years of litigation, the Paris Court of Appeal upheld the charges against the cement group for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in May 2022. In doing so, the court enforces the decision of the French Supreme Court of September 2021.
The proceedings against Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria are the result of a criminal complaint filed in November 2016 by eleven Syrian former employees together with ECCHR and Sherpa.
The complaint accused Lafarge of making arrangements with IS and several other armed groups in order to keep its Jalabiya cement factory plant open and running between 2012 and 2014 in northeastern Syria. The judicial inquiry has since then determined that the financial value of these arrangements amounted to at least 13 million euros.
Lafarge allegedly purchased commodities, such as oil and pozzolan, from IS and paid them fees in exchange for permits. By allegedly providing funding to IS, not only did Lafarge seriously endanger the lives of its employees, but it could also be found to be complicit in crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic State in Syria.
When operating in conflict regions, transnational corporations may fuel armed conflicts and contribute to grave human rights violations.
Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Syria, an extensive war economy has developed in which nearly all conflict parties are involved. This includes trade in weapons, raw materials, and other goods of interest to conflict parties, states, and corporations.
The escalation of violence prompted several transnational corporations, such as Total, to leave the area. Whether in the context of armed conflicts or elsewhere, major corporate actors, such as Lafarge, must ensure that their activities neither fuel war economies, nor contribute to the commission of serious human rights violations.