French court upholds crimes against humanity in Syria charge against Lafarge
Lafarge, now part of the Holcim group, stands accused of paying up to US$13 million to several armed groups in Syria, including the so-called Islamic State (IS), between 2012 and 2014 to keep its factory running during Syria's civil war.
The court had previously confirmed charges against the multinational of financing terrorism and violating an EU embargo.
The court's confirmation of the complicity in crimes against the charge is a historical precedent, as Lafarge is the first company in the world ever to face such a charge.
"Businesses that fuel or profit from armed conflicts can no longer claim that their activities are neutral," Cannelle Lavite, co-director of the business and human rights program at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), said.
The Supreme Court, however, struck down the charge against Lafarge of endangering the lives of its former Syrian employees, as it argued that safety protections provided by French labour law did not apply to Syrian employees.
Syrian workers of the cement firm allegedly were exposed to grievous harm, including death, injury and kidnapping. Sixty former employees are plaintiffs in the court case against LaFarge.
The court's dropping of the charge of endangering the lives of its former Syrian employees was a "blow to the victims," Anna Kiefer, the advocacy and litigation officer of French NGO SHERPA, which fights for economic accountability and filed the complaint against LaFarge, told The New Arab.
"That charge was the main basis for the employees if the case is sent to trial, to obtain compensation. It is just such a disappointing decision for them," Kiefer said.
A former employee of Lafarge and a plaintiff in the case, Mohammad, said that he would continue to demand "the justice we deserve."
"Lafarge put me and my colleagues' lives at risk simply for their own profits. Companies should not be able to use their power to be free from liability," Mohammad said.
The investigative judge overseeing the case against Lafarge can still confirm charges against the firm that could provide compensation to victims. The plaintiffs also brought forth charges that the firm engaged in forced labour practices and provided working conditions incompatible with human dignity.
The court case against Lafarge in France is still being investigated. The next step in the case will see the investigative judge decide whether or not to refer charges to a public prosecutor and go to trial.
Lafarge previously pled guilty in a US court to creating a revenue-sharing agreement with IS and was forced to pay a US$778 million settlement.