ReAct Transnational conducts global campaigns to build the kind of counter-power needed to defend the rights and interests of the many against the power of the few, the giant multinationals of agro-industry. We base these campaigns around the rightful anger and the just, documented demands of the people who suffer directly from the deadly practices of agro-industry.
ReAct Transnational’s first and foremost mission is to help them organize. Our first goal is to give them the capacity for the collective action that creates power and gives them “clout” to negotiate, the next is build ties and effective coordination between other local and national grassroots organizations. We help develop transnational coalitions of these grassroots organizations and their international alli es through publishing investigative documentation of their abuses and by directly confronting and questioning agro-industry management, their clients and investors:
Organizing the landless to fight monoculture palm oil and rubber plantations
Communities in Africa and Asia are organizing against the land grabs of the Socfin-Bolloré Group.
The monoculture of palm oil and rubber trees in large-scale plantations poisons the ecosystem, while it leads to numerous abuses of human rights. Many such plantations are found in Asia, but also in South America and Africa. These are part of a large-scale, worldwide expansion of agro-industrial activities by multinational companies.
Multinational palm oil and rubber conglomerates are acquiring leases of several hundred to several thousand hectares via long-term agreements of 59 or 99 years. These contracts are most often negotiated at the highest level of government with little or no local input, and do not take into account the environmental and socio-economic realities of the land in question.
The Luxembourg-based holding company Socfin is one of many multinationals that have acquired or established controversial agro-industrial plantations. It currently operates on approximately 400,000 hectares of owned and leased oil palm and rubber plantations in ten countries, via a labyrinth of holding companies and subsidiaries in various countries in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri is the principle owner. But with 39% of Socfin’s capital, the Bolloré Group is Socfin's largest investor.
The Socfin group has been criticized by several NGOs for aggressive tax optimization practices. Their report document how Socfin transfers profits from African and Asian production to tax havens in the EU and Switzerland.
Les riverain·es impacté·es s’organisent en éco-syndicats
In many parts of Africa, residents impacted by Socfin malfeasance have organized themselves locally and internationally to demand justice. In Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cambodia, they have set up eco-unions. These organizations all call for: ● Recognition by Socfin & subsidiaries ● Socfin’s withdrawal from portions of the annexed lands ● Effective compensation along with economic and social development measures ● Commitment to environmental protection measures
For more than ten years, ReAct Transnational has supported the development of such eco-unions. Our organizers have worked with exasperated residents to help them structure and strengthen their organizations and develop strategies for challenging mis-management. As an example, ReAct Transnational organizers have provided training for elected leaders in negotiation techniques, in non-violent direct action, in coalition building and other capacity-building techniques.
With telp of ReAct’s support, a number of these eco-unions such as Synaparcam, MALOA, LACDISTFAC, Kwamuneh, BIPA, have won impressively over the years:
● LACDISTFAC won payment of part of the crops destroyed by the LAC (Liberian Agricultural Company) to 133 farm families ($54,800); ● SYNAPCAM won construction and repair of wells in several villages, the delivery of drinking water tanks during a period of river pollution in the village of Lendi as well as development of land for a marketplace and the extension of the power line in Mbambou and Dikola in Cameroon; ● BIPA won recognition of 142ha of sacred forest and community land in Busra, Cambodia and a financial contribution for religious ceremonies; ● Kwamuneh won construction of latrines and hand pumps in some villages on the Salala Rubber Company plantation in Liberia; ● MALOA in Sierra Leone won passage of a more protective law for community and women's land rights, and was able to impose imits on the expansion of plantations without prior consultation with communities.
● The limitation of plantation extensions without prior consultation of the population
Injustices endured by local communities
Socfin boasts on its website that it is “a major player in the economic development of these regions, meeting basic societal needs while ensuring the preservation of the environment”. However, the situations described by the people living on or near the plantations tell a quite different story. Here is some of what grassroots organizations have documented with ReAct Transnational support: ● Inaccessible land and forests are depriving citizens of their livelihoods: the planted areas within Socfin annexations have increased over 35%, from 140,424 hectares to 193,588 hectares between 2010 and 2021. These expansions have caused serious conflicts with the inhabitants; ● The forced displacement of entire villages, without the free, prior and informed consent of the people affected; ● The destruction of sacred lands and cemeteries despite repeated appeals from the communities; ● Insufficient compensation for taken land, in many cases promised compensation has never been paid, or partially. ● Failure by Socfin to respect obligations to provide public services. Water, electrification, schools, dispensaries, road maintenance are only partially carried out and then only on a few plantations. ● The precariousness of plantation jobs: temporary work for derisory wages and lack of protective equipment; ● Private militias create obstacles to freedom of movement, under the pretext of protecting the plantations against theft and other damage. ● Harassment and sexual aggression of women at work or who cross the plantations to their own fields. ● Significant air, soil and water pollution due to the massive dumping of pesticides and other chemicals used in the production of nuts and latex. The issue of access to drinking water is particularly acute for the population who do not have access to alternative sources.
Creation of a Transnational Alliance of mobilized local residents
In order gain the power needed to force concessions, these “eco-unions” then united to form the Transnational Alliance of Socfin Bolloré Plantation residents & farmers. They began with coordinated actions in 2013. ReAct Transnational still participates in the coordination of this alliance and its inclusion in a broader coalition of national and international NGOs mobilized against the abuses of agribusiness multinationals. The Alliance succeeded in pushing the Bolloré Group to open negotiations between 2014 and 2016. Bolloré then unilaterally decided to withdraw from this process, arguing that its position as a non-majority shareholder did not allow it to impose on the Socfin Group the changes requested by the Alliance's representatives. While local mobilizations were facing an unprecedented repressive policy on the part of the Socfin Group's subsidiaries, including the arrests of local activists in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. Alliance member organizations then launched a campaign, leading to simultaneous support actions in several countries, a mobilization of civil society in both countries and considerable press coverage in Africa and Europe. These actions led to the rapid release of the imprisoned activists in both countries.
Increased pressure on Socfin and on the Bolloré Group, including significant media coverage of abuses, led Socfin to draft a "responsible management policy" in December 2016. These commitments offer new levers local residents can use to confront Socfin when its commitments are not kept, and to advance demands that Socfin Group has yet failed to uphold in their commitments. In 2019, ReAct Transnational published a report that outlines where these commitments stand:
The work of Alliance members, ReAct Transnational and their allies has also helped to feature Socfin as a symbol of the ecocidal practices of agribusiness, which, despite touting environmental and social values, consistently tramples on people's rights and opposes environmental protection. The Alliance has been a major participant in the civil society coalition that is pushing for the adoption by the European Union of a strong law against deforestation and for the international and regional regulation of agrobusiness multinationals.
Today, the Transnational Alliance of Socfin-Bolloré Plantation Residents, its member organizations and ReAct Transnational remain mobilized to challenge the Socfin and Bolloré groups and bring the concrete demands of the residents to the international level.
Sugarcane monoculture threatens human and environmental health in Africa
Multinational Castel threatens human and environmental health in Africa
The African brewing market is one of the most dynamic and concentrated in the world: while 40 brewing industries share 90% of the world's beer production, an oligopoly of four European brewers share 90% of the beer market in Africa, estimated at 13 billion dollars in 2018: Belgium's AB Inbev, France's Castel, the Netherlands' Heineken and the UK's Diageo.
The Castel Group is the second-largest beverage producer in African markets. ReAct Transnational’s inquiry into Castel lasted over a year. Through documentary research and extensive field investigations in Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire, ReAct Transnational’s report shows how Pierre Castel, 96 years old and still CEO, has built a veritable beverage empire at the expense of workers, local residents and the continent's health and natural resources. Known as the "African from Bordeaux", he is the tenth richest man in France with an estimated capital of 1.3 billion euros. Castel reaps 80% to 90% of this fortune from the sale of beer and soft drinks in Africa, where he owns a hundred subsidiaries and benefits from a near-monopoly in some fifteen countries.
A historical pillar of French investment in Africa, Pierre Castel is also one of its most influential: when asked about his relations with African heads of state, he confessed: "Africa is my whole life (...) I know them all, that helps". Our report points to accusations of "complicity in crimes against humanity" and "complicity in war crimes" for having fueled the civil war in the Central African Republic, following his logistical and financial support for more than six years to an armed militia guilty of mass killings, rapes, kidnappings, acts of torture and the recruitment of child soldiers.
ReAct Transnational's investigation draws up damning disclosures on this discreet industrialist, supported in a 100-page report documenting precisely how Castel has systematically used his position of power to increase job insecurity for works, practice land grabbing, to overconsume and pollute limited water supplies, to spray chemicals that are extremely dangerous to human health and biodiversity and, finally, to increase alcohol sales to teenagers with aggressive marketing strategies.
To protect their health and their environment, residents organize themselves in eco-union
In Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire, social conflicts between local residents and Castel group's sugar subsidiaries have multiplied in recent years. In Côte d'Ivoire, blockades took place in 2013 and 2017; in Cameroon, similar actions and massive demonstrations involving several hundred local residents were repeated in 2005, 2012 and 2021.
Citizens’ associations and NGOs here in France joined forces refer the matter to a national review for the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (NCP), which in 2022 found there had been "a violation of the rights of local communities" respecting their "rights to a healthy environment, health, food, water, decent work, and fair and just compensation".
Determined to commit to more social and environmental justice, the organized residents of Cameroon are demanding that the sugar subsidiary:
Put an end to the technique of clear-burning sugar cane fields
Compensate local residents for the damages caused
Improve the hiring and the quality of employment of local residents
Put an end to chemical spraying, especially aerial spraying, which contaminates food crops, water, soil, air and health
Stop deforestation to expand sugar cane plantations
Daily life struggles next to sugar Castel’s sugar plantations
Castel’s strategy for higher profits is market control. By acquiring the entire beverage value chain to raise prices and lower costs by avoiding imported raw materials. Castel entered the African agribusiness market in 2011 by acquiring one of its key players in central and west African sugar, corn and other cereals, the SOMDIAA Group. With this acquisition Castel will exploit ever-larger agricultural areas to supply its beers and soft drinks.
In Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire, Castel has expanded to 40,000 hectares of land in sugarcane monoculture, with grave social and environmental consequences for local residents. A disruption of the local socio-political order and a weakening of the traditional norms and values that prevailed until then; widespread deforestation and the disappearance of certain species of shrubs ; massive loss of biodiversity and food crops due to the spraying of extremely dangerous chemicals such as atrazine, a lethal chemical banned in the European Union.
"I know that in the long run we will die slowly. It is certain that life expectancy in our communities has decreased significantly,"
Abdou Aloo, President of the River Watch Committees, Cameroon.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has officially informed the Government of Cameroon that Castel group's sugar subsidiary is refusing the planned compensation to local residents for the acquisition of their land. This loss of income is all the more serious because they face difficulty finding alternative economic activities to compensate for the loss of their food crops. When employed by Castel they are usually in precarious and very low-paying jobs. Data from 2010 shows that Castel employs fewer than 4% of former farmers whose land the company has taken.
For pesticide-free fruit orchards
Industrial fruit production poisons the living
Nearly a third of the fruit produced in Europe is contaminated by dangerous pesticides. A contamination that has exploded over the past decade: +53% on average between 2011 and 2019, while some fruits have alarming rates, such as kiwis - +397% - or apples - +117%.
These two crops are at the heart of the business model of the market leader, the French multinational Vergers du Sud. In France, this multinational operates more than 1,250 hectares of industrial orchards: with orchards roughly ten times larger than the French average. 70% of its production is exported to privileged markets such as the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates or Qatar.
This large-scale production is replicated in Spain, Morocco and Senegal, where the group owns some 1,500 additional hectares of industrial orchards. The group's strategy has always been based on industrial-scale production volume. In full expansion mode, the company usually buys up farms in difficulty, enlarges them and increases their production capacity: setting up monocultures, intensifying chemical farming, mechanizing farming, increasing packaging capacity tenfold, etc.
Vergers du Sud’s perpetually expanding holdings increase the environmental danger of these methods. And this is worsened still by an estimated 60% increase in the risk of late frost during the budding period due to climate change. Thus, Les Vergers du Sud deliberately and illegally burned 200 tons of a mixture of straw and diesel to protect their industrial orchards in the Tarn (81) from a late frost, intoxicating about a hundred people with carbon monoxide and sending some twenty of them to the hospital.
"I had incessant vomiting, so I went to the emergency room. My carbon level was at 6.6 when it should normally be less than 2. We're in mortal danger, really. It is necessary that they become aware of it, because if I slept two hours more, I would perhaps never wake up" Pierre, local resident of Ambres, in Occitanie region.
Towards a national and European eco-union movement
A similar organizational dynamic is underway in the French Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), where seepage and pollution from industrial farms has deprived a village of 300 people of drinking water. Aquifer water pollution there is seven times higher than normal, as a result of the decomposition of a pesticide classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR).
This pollution is detectable elsewhere in France, across Brittany, the Gironde, Charente-Maritimes, Isère, Limousin and elsewhere. In response, groups of local residents are organizing themselves to oppose agro industrial practices and some have obtained first victories: recognition of occupational illnesses linked to exposure to pesticides; setting up of a public inter-municipal water authority; negotiation of a departmental charter to improve the practices of an agro-industrial company; legal victories following the observation of illegal practices; active support from local elected officials following a long period of awareness-raising work; or even the conversion of orchards cultivated in conventional agriculture to organic farming.
These eco-unions of local residents, who are on the front lines of the destructive effects of chemical agriculture, are sure to grow, for industrial pesticide pollution of groundwater potentially concerns more than 12 million French people. There is an enormous stake in coordinating all of these eco-unions at the national and European scale, with a view to forcing action by the European Union. First to ban the registration of the most dangerous pesticides, and secondly to accelerate the end to marketing synthetic pesticides, to within five years. This citizen pressure is all the more necessary as the European Union has plans to reduce pesticide use only by 50% by 2030, as it adopts an indicator that favors the most industrially widespread but toxic pesticides, and so discriminates against products used in organic farming.
A local eco-union wins its first victories
In the aftermath of Vergers du Sud’s toxic burns in 2021 in the Tarn, more than 500 local residents demonstrated their anger at the company’s methods, that endanger health and the environment. In response, the company committed to stopping the extensions of the industrial orchards in the Tarn region.
Continued citizen mobilization on the occasion of World Air Quality Day in 2021 encouraged the Tarn prefecture to obtain confirmation that open burns against frost contravened article 163 of departmental sanitary regulations. This win from the Prefect’s decision will prohibit Les Vergers du Sud from having recourse to such practices again.
Organized via a citizen’s assembly, the eco-union of residents decided to prioritize the fight against chemical agriculture, from which the following four demands were made:
The transparency of the phytosanitary products used
The installation of equipment necessary to control spraying in high winds
The establishment of non-treatment schedules
The installation of anti-drift nets and hedges to protect the houses located near the industrial orchard
Judging that dialogue had reached an impasse, residents of the Tarn who were at the origin of this tripartite dialogue- decided to force a decision favorable to their demands. They organized a vigil of about fifty people at one of these meetings, and in the face of citizen and media pressure, the multinational and the City council finally decided to finance 14 interconnected anemometers to measure wind speed: an important victory, when it was previously impossible to prove that the company was applying pesticides in winds exceeding 19 km/h, a practice prohibited by French legislation.
Another advance to the credit of the local residents of the Tarn: the installation by the company of drift nets to protect the houses located near the industrial orchard over a distance of more than one kilometer, which also responds to one of the four demands formulated by the local residents.