LafargeHolcim, the Swiss-French cement company, on Thursday admitted “unacceptable” measures had been taken to keep its Syrian plant open, following allegations staff had dealt with armed groups during the country’s violent war.
The company said an internal investigation found evidence that Lafarge’s Syrian unit had paid third parties to work out arrangements with armed groups, including “sanctioned parties”, in order to maintain operations at the cement factory in 2013 and 2014. Last November a lawsuit was filed against Lafarge in France by human rights groups, which accused the company of having “business relations” with militant group Isis in Syria, and of financing terrorism in the country. The suit was lodged by Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, plus 11 people who were former employees of Lafarge in Syria. Violent conflict erupted around Lafarge’s Jalabiyeh plant in northern Syria in 2013, with armed factions — including terrorist groups tied to radical Islamist organisations — fighting Syrian army to control parts of the country’s border regions with Turkey. The fighting raised questions about the security of the Lafarge factory and the safety of employees, and the plant was evacuated in September 2014. LafargeHolcim said that while its investigation had uncovered payments to third parties in Syria, it could not determine “with certainty” who ultimately received the funds. “It appears from the investigation that the local company provided funds to third parties to work out arrangements with a number of these armed groups, including sanctioned parties, in order to maintain operations and ensure safe passage of employees and supplies to and from the plant . . .