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Global rules for corporations would stop the land grabs in Sierra Leone

Guest blog by FIAN Belgium

A new report by the human rights organization FIAN Belgium documents the impact of the activities of the Belgian-Luxembourgish company SOCFIN on the communities in Malen, southern Sierra Leone. The report is clear: affected communities who have lost access to and control over their land have been exposed to serious human rights violations and abuses since the arrival of the company in 2011.

The report reveals that ever since SOCFIN acquired more than 18,000 hectares of land for an industrial palm oil plantation, the local people have suffered. The fundamental rights of local communities – including the right to land, food, education, water and a healthy environment – have been compromised. The company also stands accused of engaging in activities that have damaged the rights of workers, women and the elderly as well as of serious violations of the right to peaceful assembly and physical integrity. The report also unveils attempts to criminalise human rights defenders and points to serious allegations of corruption.

SOCFIN’s ‘investment’ has also cost lives. On January 21st, following a skirmish between community members and the authorities protecting the assets of SOCFIN, two people were shot dead. Shortly after, police and military raids were carried out in the surrounding villages in which people were beaten, houses were vandalised and properties were looted. Hundreds of people fled their homes.

The SOCFIN group is owned by Belgian businessman, Hubert Fabri, and the French group Bolloré, which has developed a business empire in many parts of Africa. The company’s headquarters are in Luxembourg. As is the case for SOCFIN, the companies that abuse human rights are often controlled from outside the country where the harm takes place. The complex and opaque structures of multinationals make it impossible for the affected people to access justice, hold companies to account and obtain remediation.

The abuses that took place in Sierra Leone demonstrate clearly why we need a binding treaty on business and human rights. It will make it possible to ensure the protection of human rights and establish legal liability for corporations in case of human rights abuses. A strong UN treaty would also guarantee access to justice for affected people in both the country where the abuses occur and the country where the company is based.

It is time we move on from voluntary initiatives to binding regulations to guarantee rights for people and rules for corporations.

If you agree, please support our petition to ensure corporations are truly held to account.