Alleged human rights abuses at Cameroon rubber plantation pile pressure on Sudcam

Thursday, November 28th, 2019

Despite 2018 pledges to improve its sustainability credentials, Halcyon Agri-owned Sudcam development in Cameroon continues to leave locals short-changed, new Greenpeace report finds.

Sudcam is facing renewed scrutiny after a Greenpeace Africa report detailed fresh allegations of human rights abuses and the flouting of indigenous rights at its rubber plantation in Cameroon.

Owned by UK firm Corrie MacColl, a subsidiary of rubber processing giant Halycon Agri, Sudcam has faced repeated allegations of corruption, environmental malpractice and sidestepping community rights since 2011 when it started clearing forest in the West African country.

It is estimated that between 2011 and December 2018, Sudcam – shorthand for Sud Cameroun-Hévéa – destroyed over 10,000 hectares of land in southern Cameroon to make way for its rubber plantation.

The deal struck by Sudcam and Paul Biya’s government in 2011 was itself highly contentious.

It is alleged that Sudcam received favourable tax exemptions to develop the site, were given free rein to clear forest without informing affected villages or compensating them for land and that its concession threatens the nearby Dja Faunal Reserve, a UNSECO World Heritage site.

In November 2018 Halcyon Agri announced several initiatives, including a “Sustainable Natural Rubber Supply Chain Policy” and the creation of a “sustainability council” to counter several damning NGO reports that year exposing malign matters at the Sudcam operation.

Yet Greenpeace’s new briefing argues local rights continue to be marginalised.

“Our brief exposes a hard truth: the hollow promises of development from a multinational and local elites are a disaster for Indigenous People,” said Dr. Victorine Che Thöner, Greenpeace Africa’s forest campaign leader.

“Forest-trashing Sudcam is responsible for forced displacements and the destruction of dwellings, sacred areas and graveyards.”

The briefing, which follows on from Greenpeace’s Ruinous Rubber and Earthsight’s The Coming Storm releases in 2018, includes testimony from some of the 30 local communities impacted by Sudcam’s development.

“I don’t see their usefulness since their arrival in 2012,” a Baka community member told Greenpeace. “Other than bringing some food and drinks for the children, just this little gesture, I don’t see that Sudcam has been useful at all.”

Halcyon Agri agreed to suspend forest clearing in December 2018 and while Greenpeace analysis said no further deforestation has occurred since, local access to the forest remains greatly restricted.

Lands once utilised for farming and livelihoods and as burial grounds are largely off-limits to villagers, while forest camps used for hunting are now destroyed. The development has also left families reliant on agriculture for income now unable to send their children to school.

The Sudcam development in South Cameroon has caused widespread deforestation. Credit: Greenpeace.

The briefing, which was based on field visits in July 2019, claims that government and Sudcam have failed to provide “just and fair compensation for the land and resources” to communities.

One of only two locals known to Greenpeace to have been compensated received a solitary payment of 800,000 CFA francs (€1,200) for his cocoa farm of little under one hectare. In contract, a cocoa crop of one hectare can generate profits over €15,000 during its lifetime.

“The land grab was facilitated by… discrimination and marginalization of indigenous peoples and lack of recognition of customary land and land use rights in Cameroon,” the report said.

The briefing called on Sudcam to initiate compensation payments to locals, restore the forest it has destroyed, and seek free and prior consent from locals for future work. In addition, the Cameroon government are urged to introduce a moratorium on new projects “which would negatively affect indigenous peoples” and reform laws to better protect communities from developments.

No response from Halcyon Agri or the Cameroon government was included in the briefing.

However, in a separate statement issued four days before release of the Greenpeace briefing, Corrie MacColl announced that US NGO Mighty Earth and Cameroon civil society group Community Forests Platform had signed on to its Cameroon Sustainability Council and the CEO of Halcyon Agri said that the firm was committed to supporting local communities.