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16 Jan 2024

Sherpa & European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)

Lafarge in Syria: French Supreme Court issues decisive ruling on charges faced by the multinational

Today, the French Supreme Court confirmed the charge of complicity in crimes against humanity against French cement manufacturer Lafarge (now part of Holcim group). However, the court dropped the charge of endangering the lives of its former Syrian employees. Our organisations regret the setback regarding access to justice for the former Syrian employees.

Between 2012 and 2014, Lafarge allegedly paid up to 13 million euros to several armed groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, to keep its cement factory running in the midst of the Syrian civil war and its atrocities. Lafarge kept the Syrian employees on duty on the premises despite the highly dangerous environment, repeated kidnappings, and risks to their lives.

These decisions are part of an ongoing criminal investigation that follows a complaint filed seven years ago by ECCHR, Sherpa and 11 former Syrian employees which led to the opening of a judicial inquiry. Today’s decision follows Lafarge’s appeal against the 18 May 2022 ruling by the Court of Appeal’s Investigating Chamber, which upheld the charges against Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity and endangering the lives of others...

The court rejected Lafarge’s arguments and confirmed the jurisdiction of French courts over international crimes committed abroad by economic actors and upheld the charge of complicity in crimes against humanity.

Lafarge is the first company, in its legal entity, in the world to ever face such a charge...

While the criminal investigation revealed that Syrian workers – dozens of whom are plaintiffs in this case – may have been exposed to hazardous risks, including death, injury and kidnapping, the court dropped the charge against the company for endangering their lives, ruling that the safety protections provided by French labour law did not apply to Syrian employees...

An appalling decision for our associations and the Syrian employees who have been fighting for justice for over 7 years. By narrowly interpreting the rules of conflict of laws, this ruling constitutes an obstacle to access to justice for the workers of multinationals...