Displaying items by tag: Lafarge
France: The French government has confirmed that it is investigating Lafarge over alleged illegal activities in Syria following European Union (EU) sanctions that were imposed in 2012. The Paris prosecutor's office said that a probe was opened in October 2016 after the French Ministry of Economy and Finance filed a complaint against the cement producer, according to the Associated Press. LafargeHolcim, the company formed from a merger between Lafarge and Holcim in 2015, said that it was, “in the process of establishing the facts concerning our activities in Syria.”
A group led by the non-government organisation (NGO) Sherpa filed a complaint in Paris against Lafarge for allegedly ‘financing terrorism’ in November 2016. The complaint accused it of maintaining commercial relations with the Islamic State group in Syria in 2013 and 2014 so it could continue operating a cement plant in the country.
At the time, Lafarge denied ‘financing so-called terrorist groups.’ The company said it had launched a ‘thorough and independent investigation’ into the allegations to determine whether its internal code of conduct had been properly followed and if procedures needed to be adapted. It said it would implement ‘any remediation measures required.’
Sherpa and European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights take legal action against Lafarge over operations in Syria16 November 2016
France: Sherpa and the ECCHR (European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights), as well as 11 complainants who are former Syrian employees of Lafarge, are taking legal action against Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) for its actions in Syria. The non-government organisations have accused the cement producer of conducting business with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a terrorist group, via its Jalabiya cement plant.
“The Lafarge case highlights once again how multinationals doing business in conflict zones can directly fuel armed conflicts and contribute to grave human rights violations committed therein. Companies like Lafarge must be held accountable,” said Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director at ECCHR.
Sherpa and the ECCHR have accused LCS of entering into arrangements with ISIS in order to maintain production, by paying for passes issued by the jihadist organisation and buying raw materials necessary for cement production such as oil and pozzolana in areas under ISIS’s control. They have also accused Lafarge of reckless endangerment given that the plant continued to operate in the conflict zone. LCS repatriated its expatriate staff in 2012 but it kept its Syrian employees working at the site. Subsequently, when the plant was attacked, Sherpa and the ECCHR say that the local employees were forced to escape on their own.
One fascinating statistic stands out in a study on how the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pays its bills: cement represented 4% of its revenue in 2015 or around US$100m. The Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT) came up with this figure as part of its analysis on how the group finances itself. Its data was based on available information such as local sources, internal ISIS documents and reports from governments and institutions.
What’s more, the previous year in 2014, CAT estimated that ISIS brought in US$300m from cement sales. The difference in revenue between 2015 and 2014 came about from the group losing control of territory. In late 2014 it controlled four cement plants: the Lafarge Al-Jalabiya plant in Ayn al-Arabin, the Al-Raqqah Guris Cement plant and Fallujah, Kubaisa and Al-Qa’im plants in Iraq. Altogether it had a cement production capacity of 7.5Mt/yr, a higher capacity than 62% of the cement producing nations that are recognised formally by the United Nations. Briefly it had production parity with countries like Angola, Uzbekistan and Kuwait.
However the loss of the Al-Jalabiya and Kubaisa plants has stifled this revenue stream. At its peak ISIS couldn’t have been selling cement for more than something like US$40/t (capacity / revenue) if the plants were operating at full capacity. Yet it’s much more likely that the plants were chronically under-utilised and prices significantly higher in the heat, dust and confusion of a militant group attempting to form a state in a warzone.
Global Cement Weekly has covered previously the furore that erupted when French media accused Lafarge of cutting deals with ISIS to keep its Jalabiya cement plant during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War. At the time of the revelations in June 2016 LafargeHolcim said that its first priority was the safety and security of its employees at the plant before it eventually closed it, although it did not deny accusations directly.
Since then the plant’s former security manager Jacob Waerness has popped up in an interview with Bloomberg in connection with a book he wrote about the affair. According to Waerness, Lafarge stayed in the country for too long before the plant was finally seized by ISIS in September 2014.
The problem for Lafarge, as other multinational companies left the warzone, was that the US$680m plant had only been operational since late 2010 before hostilities broke out in 2011. Essentially, it tried to wait out the conflict and then got left behind. Pertinent to the start of this column, Waerness says that as the more extreme groups took control of the surrounding area he was offered and declined a meeting with the IS finance chief in Raqqa in the summer of 2013. However else one might describe IS, it was and clearly is well aware of the revenue to be gained from functioning cement plants.
LafargeHolcim has since started an internal review into the reported allegations under the auspices of its Finance & Audit Committee. In September 2016 the Iranian-backed Fars News Agency was reporting that US special forces were using the Jalabiya plant as a base. If and when peace comes to the region it will be intriguing to find out what condition the plant is in. Until then, LafargeHolcim will have to wait and take the loss on its investment.
Iraq: LafargeHolcim's subsidiary in Iraq has signed an agreement with the General Company for Land Transport to transport 0.5Mt/yr of cement in 2016. If successful the deal could be extended for five years, according to local press. The contract is the largest in the General Company for Land Transport's history.
Back in 2001 a UK government advisor gained infamy for trying to use the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 to bury bad news. This week’s column is trying hard NOT to be about the UK vote to leave the European Union (for more on that try our editorial director’s column in the latest issue of Global Cement Magazine). They’ll be plenty of time for that later on when the repercussions for the cement and construction industries sink in. However, it has inadvertently buried some bad news coverage for LafargeHolcim.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported on 21 June 2016 that Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary paid money to Islamic State (IS) militants in order to keep its Jalabiya cement plant in operation in 2013 and 2014. The paper said that the plant was kept in operation until September 2014 as the result of ‘agreements with local armed groups, including the Islamic State.’ It added, that Lafarge ‘indirectly financed the jihadist organisation.’
LafargeHolcim issued a statement on the story on same day. However, it didn’t deny the accusations. It stated that the company, as Lafarge, was under control of the plant in Jalabiya between 2010 and September 2014 and that the safety of its employees had always been its first priority. Part of the statement read, “Once the conflict reached the area of the plant, the first priority for Lafarge was the safety and security of the employees, while planning for the eventual closure of the plant. In September 2014, Lafarge stopped operating the Jalabiya plant. After that, all employees were evacuated, put on paid leave and were no longer allowed to access the plant. In December 2015, given the evolution of the situation in Syria, the decision was taken to terminate all employee contracts and, where possible, transfer employees to other parts of the group.”
The company may yet face prosecution for the dealings if it is found to have financed any terrorist organisation. Emmanuel Daoud, a specialist in international law quoted by various media sources, speculated that the outcome of any potential investigation might depend on whether the company was protecting its staff or protecting its profits. Additional complications also arise from the subsequent merger of France’s Lafarge and Switzerland Holcim to form LafargeHolcim.
It should be remembered though that cement plants and their staff are often very real targets in regional conflicts. They can also be held under switching jurisdictions. We reported that a Lafarge Syria plant near Aleppo was attacked and set on fire in 2014. Before the site was abandoned to protect the staff the site was first under the auspices of the Syrian army and then the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party. Paying ‘taxes’ to the loosing side in a civil war might well be interpreted as funding terrorists in the aftermath.
A similar story resolved itself this week with the news that seven quarry workers kidnapped in Nigeria were released. Unfortunately there was one death and injuries sustained in the ambush that trapped them. Sy van Dyk, the chief executive of Macmahon, the company involved, refused to comment to local press on whether his company had paid a ransom to release the workers.
This all links to the wider issue of how multinational companies should deal with armed groups and de-facto governments in unstable areas. For example, the UK and US governments discourage paying ransoms to kidnappers because they say it encourages it as a business. Yet, other European nations notably paid to release their nationals during the earlier stages of the Syrian conflict and elsewhere. This in turn offers insight towards why Lafarge, a French multinational company, might have been more likely to negotiate with armed groups in Syria than say a British or American one. If an official investigation into Lafarge’s dealings follows then more details may emerge but there are no easy answers to these kinds of issues.
Syria: LafargeHolcim has dodged accusations by La Monde that Lafarge entered into deals with armed groups in Syria, including Islamic State (IS), to protect its business interests in the country. In a statement LafargeHolcim said that its first priority was the safety and security of its employees at its Jalabiyeh cement plant before it eventually closed the plant. It did not deny the accusations.
Le Monde reported it had seen letters sent by Lafarge managers in Syria revealing arrangements that Lafarge made with the jihadist group to continue production until 19 September 2014 and to arrange access for staff and supplies. The French newspaper also alleges that Lafarge bought licences from and paid taxes to IS middle-men and oil traders.
Lafarge operated the 3Mt/yr Jalabiyeh cement plant from 2010 to 2014. In September 2014, Lafarge stopped operating the plant. After that, all employees were evacuated, put on paid leave and were no longer allowed to access the plant. In December 2014 Lafarge decided to terminate all employee contracts, and where possible, transfer employees to other parts of the group.
Europe: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that a Greek law that requests employers to receive approval by the Labour ministry before making bulk redundancies is incompatible with European Union law. The judgement was made in relation to the layoff of a group of workers at the Halkida cement plant when Lafarge purchased the plant from AGET Heracles in 2013, according to the Athens News Agency. The Labour ministry blocked the request, citing conditions in the labour market, the financial situation of the company and the interest of the national economy. Lafarge then appealed to the Council of State, which then referred the case to the ECJ.
Europe: The European Court of Justice has annulled a request for information by the European Commission into several cement producers in a cartel probe. The judgement could restrict the competition watchdog's investigative powers, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.
The commission opened an antitrust investigation in late 2010 looking at the activities of Cemex, Holcim, Lafarge, HeidelbergCement and others. Originally the cement companies were suspected by the commission of colluding with rivals to fix prices and share markets in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. However, the investigation was closed in mid-2015 due to insufficient evidence. Since then the cement producers have challenged the commission’s right to ask for the level of detail they requested. The ruling overturns a 2014 decision by the EU's General Court, which said the commission questionnaires were justified.
Mexico: Mexican construction group Elementia has paid the final US$45m instalment for the acquisition of a 47% stake in Mexican cement producer Cementos Fortaleza from Switzerland's LafargeHolcim.
Cementos Fortaleza was formed as a joint venture in 2013 by Elementia and Lafarge, prior to its merger with Holcim. In 2014, Lafarge agreed to sell its interest in the venture for a total of US$225m. As part of the deal, Elementia was required to pay 80% of the purchase price, or US$180m, in December 2014 and the remaining 20% in December 2015.
Canada: Tony Levstik returned to Lafarge to pull the plug on the oldest piece of equipment at the Lafarge cement plant in Exshaw, Alberta, Canada. He was the first operator of the kiln when it was installed in 1975. He said that shutting it down was a lot easier than starting it up.
Kiln 6 is replacing kiln 4 as part of Lafarge's plant expansion project. The new technology will help to control dust and has fewer emissions. It will be approximately 30% cleaner with sulphur dioxide emissions, 75% cleaner with nitrous oxide emissions and have 25% less greenhouse gas emissions caused by combustion. The new kiln will also have better filter technology to help improve dust control. Kiln 4 used the gravel bed filter technology, which was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, but kiln 6 will have a state of the art bag house to collect dust.
"You can't make cement without using a lot of energy and these kilns that we're putting in are a lot more energy efficient, so we won't use as much fossil fuel, as much power to run the new plant," said Lafarge Plant Manager Jim Bachmann. "For a lot of reasons this is an exciting day." Kiln 6 will be operational in 2016.