New SLAPP of the agro-industrial group SOCFIN

From 2 to 5 December, 4 NGOs and 7 of their employees were called to appear before an investigating judge in Luxembourg following a defamation lawsuit initiated by the agro-industrial multinational SOCFIN.

SOCFIN is an agro-industrial group specialising in the cultivation of oil palm and rubber. The group is controlled by the Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri (54.2% of the shares) and by the Frenchman Vincent Bolloré (39% of the shares). For several years, SOCFIN has been expanding its plantations in several African and Asian countries. In total, the multinational controls more than 400,000 ha of land (which is more than 1.5 times the territory of Luxembourg) and its plantations increased from 129,658 to 194,300 ha between 2009 and 2018.

This expansion is detrimental to small farmers and is often accompanied by violations of the rights of local communities, land conflicts, risk of deforestation, pollution, poor working conditions, as well as criminalization of human rights defenders, among others. 

These impacts have been documented in numerous NGO reports and articles by the press,  but also by UN bodies. In an attempt to silence criticism, the SOCFIN and Bolloré groups have regularly taken legal action. Over the past ten years, nearly thirty defamation proceedings have been launched against NGOs and journalists. The systematism of these procedures demonstrates a real strategy of SLAPPs*. Although almost never successful, these procedures aim to intimidate NGOs and journalists, silence them and make them financially vulnerable.

New complaints of calumny, insults and violation of privacy are brought by the SOCFIN group and Hubert Fabri. They concern a report by the human rights NGO FIAN Belgium on Sierra Leone, as well as a series of press releases from the NGOs (11.11.11, CNCD-11.11.11, FIAN Belgium, SOS Faim Belgium and SOS Faim Luxembourg) and an awareness-raising campaign conducted during the SOCFIN General Assembly in Luxembourg in May 2019. This action, carried out in a totally peaceful manner, aimed to raise public awareness of the situation in the affected communities and to challenge the company's leaders.

In parallel to these proceedings, NGOs were informed that a defamation case has also been launched by SOCFIN in Sierra Leone against a human rights defender from the NGO Green Scenery.

The NGOs prosecuted denounce attempts of intimidation, especially since the NGO’s employees are targeted. 

NGO lawyers Jacques Englebert (Belgium) and Pierre Hurt (G.-D. of Luxembourg) also deplore these practices and insist:

"The NGOs under attack play an essential role as defenders of fundamental rights. They are "watchdogs of democracy" and their expressions therefore benefit from special protection, in particular under the European Convention on Human Rights. Their freedom of expression must be protected at all costs. Indeed, it constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the essential conditions for its progress and the development”.

The NGOs concerned strongly contest SOCFIN's accusations and claim to have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the facts reported in the reports and press releases published are accurate and in the public interest. They state that they are determined to continue to defend the rights of the affected local communities and are in line with the campaign initiated in France under the slogan #OnNeSeTairaPas.

For press enquiries please contact:
In Belgium:
[FR] Florence Kroff - FIAN Belgium: +32 475 84 56 24 / florence@fian.be
NL] Hanne Flachet - FIAN Belgium: +32 484 96 04 30 / hanne@fian.be
In Luxembourg:
[FR] Marine Lefebvre, SOS Faim Luxembourg: +352 49 09 09 96 26 - mlef@sosfaim.org


*Definition of "SLAPPs":
The SLAPP can be defined as a legal action aimed at hindering political participation and activism. Most often, it is a civil defamation suit brought against an individual or organization that has taken sides on a public issue. The concept also includes threats of prosecution, because the success of such an operation does not seem so much from a victory in court as from the process itself, aimed at intimidating the defendant (the one under attack