Since 2017, French cement company formerly Lafarge, world leader in cement production, faces legal trouble for its human rights record. In December 2017, French judges indicted six former top-level managers, all French nationals, in connection with potential crimes relating to Lafarge’s activities in Syria. The indictments concern the financing of terrorism, violation of EU sanctions and endangering the lives of others.
This followed a criminal complaint against Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) filed by eleven Syrian former employees together with ECCHR and its French partner organization Sherpa in November 2016 in Paris.
The proceedings show that it is possible to hold companies accountable, if their actions contribute to grave human rights violations and fan the flames of war.
Jalabiya located between al-Raqqa and Manbij in the north of Syria in the years between 2012 and 2014. There is no doubt that IS was committing grave crimes against the civil population during that time.
ECCHR and Sherpa argue that Lafarge and LCS have acted as an accomplice to these crimes by financing IS in various ways with up to several million Euros. Lafarge is believed to have purchased commodities like oil and pozzolan from IS and to have paid fees for passes, up to millions of Euros.
The claimants further accuse Lafarge and LCS of negligently endangering their employees’ lives and having them work in conditions incompatible with human dignity. LCS withdrew its non-Syrian staff from its factory in Jalabiya. The Syrian employees continued to work there.
ECCHR’s and Sherpa’s information indicate that the French company failed in providing security for the Syrian staff. Although the violent conflicts close to the factory continuously intensified since 2012 there was no evacuation plan in place when IS attacked and took over the factory. The local staff was left to flee completely on their own.
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 that are profiting from the situation: from local firms to arms and defense companies in various countries to large transnational corporations as Lafarge.