Tunisia: Rural community denounce Sotacib cement plant pollution, citing adverse impacts to health and livelihoods; company responds

In a statement published on January 18th 2020, Tunisian NGO, Forum for Socio Economic Rights (FTDES) documented a protest led by local residents of Fej Rouissat, Kairouan,on January 14th2020 against the activities of a cement plant, Sotacib.

Sotacib cement plant is partly owned by Spanish group Cementos Molins. Located 180 km from Tunis in rural locality of Fej Rouisset, the company was etasblished in 2008 and has been operational since 2012 with an average of 5,000 tonnes of on-site daily production.

The residing community alleges that Sotacib cement factory has been polluting the environment, to the detriment of local residents’ health and livelihoods. The factory is located near residential areas and agricultural fields causing sound and environmental nuisance for the local population as well as soil degradation.  FTDES reports that since January 14th, the local community has protested against the toxic gas emissions of the factory plant which are causing the degradation of agricultural activities particularly olive harvesting, as well as health damages, particularly derived from the use of petroleum coke in the cycle of production.

In a joint field visit conducted onsite, FTDES and BHRRC have further documented several concerns from the community concerning their wellbeing since Sotacib commenced operations: 

  • Exposure to petroleum coke is reported to have accentuated health issues in the locality. Protesting inhabitants reported increased incidence of respiratory and chronic diseases like asthma
  • Residents have noted a degradation of the soil and the flora, to the detriment of livelihoods. Many have reported a thin production of olives in the past years as well as poisoning of livestock. A resident has alerted that it has no longer been possible for him to produce honey due to the difficulty of beekeeping
  • Inhabitants are concerned about the intensity of the mine explosions as they have witnessed ceiling cracking in their houses since the beginning of the company’s activities

In the statement of FTDES, the NGO calls for a refined impartial investigation into the human rights impacts of Sotacib cement plant particularly concerning the health and the livelihood of the inhabitants of Fej Rousset. 

Echoeing the voice of the protesting residents, FTDES recalled the state obligations to protect human rights, particularly the right to dignified work, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and reminded of state responsbilities to ensure that investment projects and the activities of the Sotacib serve the benefit and the overall wellbeing of the Fej Rouissat community. 

 The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reached out to Sotacib for a response to the received allegations. Below is a summary of Sotacib’s response. 

  • Sotacib has a strict policy to always observe local safety and environmental requirements 
  • The use of petroleum coke is a widespread activity in Tunisia for which the company has obtained the legal authorization from the Tunisian national environmental protection agency and complies with international standards
  • The company has conducted several investments in the community and remains open to dialogue and further improvements 

 The company’s full response may be found in the link below.

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Article
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Author: Fatma Zaghouani, La Presse

Cimenterie de fej rouisset (Kairouan) : Est-ce la fin des problèmes ?, 14 Janvier 2020

....De fait, les effets polluants des explosifs utilisés dans la cimenterie ont forcé plusieurs villageois à quitter Fej Rouisset à cause de l’impact négatif de cette usine sur la faune et la flore ainsi que sur leurs habitations endommagées par les produits toxiques...De fait, les effets polluants des explosifs utilisés dans la cimenterie ont forcé plusieurs villageois à quitter Fej Rouisset à cause de l’impact négatif de cette usine sur la faune et la flore ainsi que sur leurs habitations endommagées par les produits toxiques..Les effets polluants des explosifs utilisés dans la cimenterie ont forcé plusieurs villageois à quitter Fej Rouisset.

 

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Company response
31 January 2020

Sotacib responds to the allegations

The full response of Sotacib may be found below.  The response is only available in English.

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Author: FTDES

ين ضياع الحق في بيئة سليمة ومتوازنة وانعكاساتها على صحة المواطن وحياته ورزقه وبين شح الماء الصالح للشراب وغياب التنمية والتشغيل وتصدع ّالمنازل وتشقق جدرانها، يعيش أهالي فج الرويسات وضعية وصفها أحد المحتجّين بقوله”احنا المواطنين اللي متنا”.. هو يتحدث عن أولئك الذين أجبرتهم ظروفهم الاجتماعية على البقاء في المنطقة والتشبث بمنازلهم الآيلة للسقوط لأن لا خيار آخر لديهم ولأن كثيرون هم من اختاروا الرحيل حين استحالت الحياة فيها.

بعد انتصاب مصنع الاسمنت SOTACIB في 2008 – 2009 بالقرب من التجمعات السكنية والحقول الزراعية وبعد سنوات قليلة من انطلاق أشغاله بدأت الأضرار الناجمة عن نشاط المصنع تتجلى وتتفاقم واحتجاجات الأهالي تتصاعد، أضرار تتمثل في الغازات السامة المنبعثة من المصنع الملوثة للبيئة والمضرة بصحة المواطن وبالأراضي الفلاحية المجاورة وأشجار الزيتون خاصة وان المؤسسة تستعمل في تصنيع منتوجها مادة “فحم الكوك” المعروفة بأضرارها على البيئة والمحيط وصحة الإنسان.

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