The Lafarge/Syria case remains a milestone in the fight against corporate impunity even though French courts revoked the indictment for complicity in crimes against humanity in November 2019. The Investigation Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals confirmed the charges against the multinational for deliberately endangering the lives of its Syrian subsidiary workers and for financing terrorism in relation to large amounts of money transfers allegedly made to the Islamic State. The judicial inquiry, in which eight former Lafarge executives are also indicted, remains open against the company on all charges.
ECCHR and its French partner organization Sherpa have appealed the decision on Lafarge’s alleged complicity in crimes against humanity. The French Supreme Court will then address fundamental questions of transnational corporations’ responsibility.
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 Sherpa.
The complaint accused Lafarge of having made arrangements with IS and several other armed groups in order to maintain its Jalabiya cement factory plant open and running between 2012 and 2014 in northeastern Syria. The judicial inquiry has since identified that these arrangements amounted to at least 13 million euros.
Lafarge allegedly purchased commodities such as oil and pozzolan from IS, and paid taxes to IS for the circulation of its employees and cement. By allegedly funding it, not only did Lafarge seriously endanger the lives of its employees and but it could also be found complicit in the crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic State in Syria.
By operating in conflict regions, transnational corporations can 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 involves trade in weapons, raw materials and other goods of interest to conflict parties, states and corporations.
The escalation of violence prompted several transnational corporations, like 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 the war economy nor contribute to the commission of serious human rights violations.