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Cameroon: MEPs report back from the ground

An ad hoc delegation of the European Parliament’s Development Committee recently visited Cameroon to look at forest management and assess EU involvement. They recommended that the EU continue its support for the stalled Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process, which remains a relevant lever to improve forest governance. Political dialogue at the highest level is required, involving all ministers related to forests, land, agriculture, finance and external relations, possibly guided by experts and a high-level facilitator.

To combat corruption and promote transparency in the forest sector, MEPs suggested including logging in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). They called on the EU to engage China – a key consumer country with little interest in the sustainability of the goods it imports – more actively. MEPs recommended that EU Member States enhance the implementation of the EU Timber Regulation by sharing information between their national competent authorities and imposing deterrent sanctions on importers of illegally harvested timber. They asked Member States, especially large importers of Cameroon’s timber such as Belgium, to  to provide the competent authority with enough funding and staff to be able to properly monitor companies’ due diligence compliance..

The delegation also visited SOCAPALM, a subsidiary of the European company SOCFIN and Cameroon’s leading palm oil producer. MEPs observed the effects of water polluted by SOCAPALM’s activities on the health of local communities and listened to concerns about the company’s failure to fulfil its social obligations, causing suffering for local communities. MEPs suggested that the EU debate the economic development model promoted in Cameroon, which relies heavily on agribusiness and increasingly drives deforestation.

In June 2017 the Belgian National Contact Point (NCP) of the OECD issued a communication about a complaint that was filled seven years ago against SOCFIN’s activities in Cameroon. SOCFIN is asked to improve its conduct, respect the OECD guidelines and apply due diligence rules; it invited all stakeholders to meet within one year to assess SOCFIN’s progress. However, NGOs who brought the complaint regret that the NPC failed to require SOCFIN to implement the action plan agreed with the plaintiffs in 2014.

Photograph - Indra Van gisbergen - communities in Dimbombari living near SOCAPALM plantation 2017