Bio Bud Label certifies palm oil plantation


Silva Lieberherr works for Bread for all
as a specialist for agriculture and land rights

No “Bio Bud” label for corporate agriculture!

The Swiss organic label “Bio Bud” is meant to be awarded according to clear guidelines: it stands for organic production, sustainability – but also for fairness. And it enjoys a high level of trust among consumers.

The organization awarding this label, “Bio Suisse”, constantly expands the range of products. These days, not only products cultivated in Switzerland are awarded the “Bio Bud” label, but also controversial products like palm oil from organic cultivation in Asia or Africa. One of these certified palm oil plantations is “Agripalma” on the African islands of São Tomé and Principe. Agripalma is operated by the Luxembourg-based Socfin Group.

Severe accusations

Socfin has its roots in the times of the colonial regime of Belgian King Leopold II in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company currently operates rubber and palm oil plantations in ten countries in Africa and Asia.

In 2019, Bread for All published a report on evictions and human rights violations on Socfin’s rubber plantations in Liberia. We have been working closely with the local organization Green Advocates that supports affected people around these plantations. In Cameroon, RADD, a partner organization of Bread for All, offers support to women who live in areas surrounding industrial plantations, including Socfin plantations. For many of these women, sexual violence is a terrible, but common reality of their daily lives on the plantation.

Unfortunately, we are not the only ones presenting these accusations. For years, civil society groups in numerous other countries, including Liberia and Cameroon, have been voicing massive criticism against Socfin. There have also been reports on Socfin plantations in Sierra Leone, concerning land grabbing and the criminalization of human rights defenders. Further, Socfin and one of its major shareholders, the Bolloré Group, are currently the subject of lawsuits in France concerning land rights in Cambodia and alleged non-compliance with agreements in Cameroon. And this is just to name a few examples. The grievances of the local people in all of these different countries are the same: the accusations all revolve around irregularities in the process of land allocation, poor working and living conditions on the plantations, violence against human rights defenders and women, and a lack of involvement of affected people. (read more)

And now, in the case of the “Bio Bud”-certified Agripalma plantation, a cursory search accentuates the suspicion that the plantation is not compliant with the “Bio Suisse” guidelines – in terms of clearing of rainforests, the violation of land rights and the lack of involvement of small farmers. Bread for all is currently investigating these allegations.

The “Bio Bud” must stand for more

Confronted with such accusations, the corporation often reacts harshly. Socfin and the Bolloré Group regularly take legal action against their critics. Over the last ten years, they have pressed charges of defamation against NGOs and journalists nearly thirty times. And when those affected raise their voices, the company goes to great lengths to keep them quiet. In Liberia, for example, plantation management tried to divide local resistance, while in the meantime refusing to engage in an process of conflict resolution (further information: here and here).

The multinational corporation represents an agriculture that originates from the colonial era and still benefits from these structures. It is an agriculture that exploits the global South as a producer of raw materials, generating profits for its shareholders, while violating the rights and needs of the local population.

It is therefore a scandal that “Bio Suisse” provides an opportunity for greenwashing a company like Socfin. This way of doing business stands in direct contrast to efforts to achieve a more sustainable agriculture, worldwide.

The “Bio Bud” label must stand for more than the mere compliance with narrow ecological criteria. Especially since this is also specified in the Bio Suisse guidelines: The “Bio Bud” stands for sustainability and fairness – to promote a better agriculture that respects the environment and the people. If it does not do that, it renders itself useless.