Present in Africa since the mid-1980s, the Bolloré company has grown into an empire established in 46 countries on the continent, investing in various fields such as railway and transportation of goods; and agricultural plantations. Headed by the French industrialist Vincent Bolloré, this company is among the most powerful in France.

For more than ten years, international NGOs and Cameroonian citizens have been denouncing alleged human rights and environmental violations by the palm oil company Socapalm, pointing to the responsibility of the Bolloré group. The company is owned by the Belgian-Luxembourg company Socfin, which is 38.7 percent owned by the French group.

In 2010, four NGOs, including the French organization Sherpa, launched an initial action against the Bolloré group by filing an appeal with the French National Contact Point (NCP, an organization that defends the OECD’s principles of good corporate conduct). This action led, in 2013, to a mediation between the NGOs and the Bolloré group, during which an action plan for “the improvement of living and working conditions of plantation employees and local populations”[1] for Socapalm negotiated by Sherpa and the Bolloré Group. Its implementation was to be spread over two to three years. This action plan was to be monitored by an independent body that would take into account the involvement of local partners. In March 2014, the parties, the Bolloré Group and the Sherpa association, validated the selection of this organization.[2]  But in December 2014, the Bolloré Group reported difficulties in the implementation of the action plan by the Socfin Group, the majority shareholder of Socapalm and a business relationship of the Bolloré Group.[3]

In a press release dated May 18, 2016, the French NCP gave a half-hearted assessment of the referral and recalled in an annex the stages of the case since 2010. It noted that the Bolloré group had used its influence vis-à-vis its business relations but that on the formal level the action plan for Socapalm had not yet been implemented. He noted that the center of gravity for the implementation of the action plan had shifted from the Bolloré group to the Socfin group. Finally, it noted that the Socfin Group had accepted the good offices of the Belgian NCP, which made it possible to open a new phase of the referral so that the Socfin Group and the complainants could begin the dialogue under the leadership of the Belgian NCP, in continuity with the previous decisions and in coordination with the French NCP. From then on, the leadership of the referral was transferred to the Belgian NCP competent to interact with the Socfin Group.

The Belgian NCP offered its good offices to the Socfin Group and Sherpa in 2016 and 2017 and conducted mediation between the parties. It coordinated its action with the French and Luxembourg NCPs. The Belgian NCP issued a final statement on June 15, 2017, in which it noted the disagreement between the parties. It made recommendations and undertook to follow up on them. In a follow-up statement on November 26, 2018, the Belgian NCP noted that “In general, there is still a lot of criticism and the Cameroonian situation still seems delicate. In 2019 several organizations have initiated legal proceedings in France regarding Socapalm’s action plan and that a specific circumstance citing this referral has been filed with the Dutch NCP.

In September 2021, a new episode began with a lawsuit filed in France by 145 Cameroonians against the Bolloré group, which is accused of failing to respect human and environmental rights on its palm oil plantations. The complainants, who live in the vicinity of the plantations, demanded that the Bolloré group provide documents to establish its links with the Cameroonian palm oil company Socapalm, which they accuse of violating their rights. The aim of this procedure was to establish the responsibility of the French group and to obtain compensation. On January 7, 2022, the Nanterre court ruled in favor of the Bolloré group, rejecting the complainants’ claim.

Since 2010, the situation of these communities living near the Socapalm-Socfin-Bolloré plantations have not stopped crying out to be heard and that is why an action plan was put in place to try to provide answers to their questions. This decision of the court surely shatters their hope. But despite this setback, the procedure, which aims to establish the responsibility of the French group and to obtain compensation, continues.


Odile Ntakirutimana