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The French Supreme Court issued its judgment on criminal charges against French cement manufacturer Lafarge and confirmed charges of complicity in crimes against humanity. It rejected the inclusion of charges of endangerment of Syrian employees. As a decision of the highest court, this cannot be appealed. Now that charges have been confirmed, the investigation into Lafarge’s conduct can continue and a prosecutor can decide whether to pursue a court case.

Background

  • NGOs Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a complaint against Lafarge in 2016, alleging
    • payments to armed groups to sustain the factory’s operations,
    • the purchase of commodities from Islamic State (IS),
    • payment of taxes to IS for the circulation of employees and cement,
    • and the endangerment of employees by making them pass through checkpoints held by armed militants.
  • In November 2019, executives and the former CEO were charged with complicity in crimes against humanity and financing of terrorism.
  • In May 2022, the French Court of Appeal ruled that Lafarge could face charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, endangering the lives of others, financing terrorism and violating an embargo. Lafarge appealed this decision.

Ruling

  • On 16 January, the French Supreme Court issued its judgment on the criminal charges against French cement manufacturer Lafarge related to its activities in Syria between 2012 and 2014. 
  • The Court confirmed the charges of complicity in crimes against humanity, which had previously been confirmed by the French Court of Appeal in May 2022. This is the first time globally that a company will face this charge.
  • The Court rejected the inclusion of the charge of endangering the lives of workers employed by its Syrian subsidiary on the grounds that French labour law did not apply to the Syrian workers. The Court determined that the Plaintiffs had not shown a sufficient connection between the workers and Lafarge as the parent company to make the case that French labour law protections rather than Syrian labour law should be applied in this case.

Implications

  • As a decision of the highest court, neither party will be able to appeal this decision. As a next step, the investigation can continue within these parameters. It will then be up to a prosecutor to determine whether to pursue a court case against Lafarge.
  • The rejection of the charges of endangerment appears similar to recent decisions in the US under the Alien Tort Statute, whereby courts have dismissed cases for insufficient connection with US-based conduct, e.g. Nestle v Doe (see Legal Precedent Brief, August 2023). This is a significant limitation for litigation against French companies for their impacts abroad.
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