The SOCAPALM plantations have been a source of massive socio-ecological problems and resistance. The plantations (then state-run) were established in 1968 on confiscated land customarily belonging to Bagyeli and Bantu populations. In 2000, the plantations were privatized and they belong today to the Luxembourgian holding Socfin which is linked to the Bolloré group, a massive French conglomerate led by Vincent Bolloré. The Bolloré group is one of the key players of 'Françafrique'.
The expansion/intensification of the plantations has continued since its privatization, at the cost of the adjacent ecosystems on which local populations depend. For instance, the agrochemicals used in the monocultures and the residues of its Kienké processing plant have massively polluted nearby rivers. The local populations’ traditional way of life has become difficult – especially for the Bagyeli – and no satisfactory alternative has been put in place. The SOCAPALM brings its workfoce from other parts of Cameroon and places them in camps located in the plantation. The conditions of life and work are bad. Hundreds of subcontracted workers work 6 days a week and sometimes from 6am to 6pm, without social security coverage and without adequate protection, for about 1.6 euro per day (2010). In this context, strikes and protests have multiplied. A large number of SOCAPALM vigilantes have been hired to prevent local villagers from entering the plantations. This situation led to a serious clash between vigilantes and villagers in 2003 (during which legs and arms were sliced with machetes). In retaliation, the army came to support the guards and randomly grabbed villagers and detained them for two weeks.
In January 2018, GRAIN announced: "We will not be silenced by Bolloré's SLAPP lawsuits! This Thursday 25 January, a lawsuit was opened against three newspapers (Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point) and two NGOs (Sherpa and ReAct), who are accused of defamation by the Luxembourgian holding Socfin and its Cameroonian subsidiary Socapalm, for articles reporting on the mobilisation of villagers and farmers in West Africa who live near farms managed by these two companies. These companies have strong links to the Bolloré group, and Vincent Bolloré himself serves on their board of directors.
The lawsuit marks a new step in the judiciary proceedings launched by Bolloré and its partners against the media, non-governmental organisations and journalists who brought up what was going on behind the scenes regarding its economic and commercial activity in Africa, its links with the Luxembourgian holding Socfin, and the consequences of the large-scale land acquisitions.Since 2009, no less than 20 defamation lawsuits have been launched by Bolloré or Socfin in France and elsewhere against articles, audio-visual reports, reports by NGOs, and even a book: France Inter, France Culture, France Info, France 2, Bastamag, Libération, Mediapart, L’Obs, Le Point, Rue 89, Greenpeace, React, Sherpa, etc. More than 40 journalists, lawyers, photographers, NGO leaders and media directors have been targeted by Bolloré and its partners."
The wave of lawsuits ("slapp suits") started in 2009 when, following the broadcast on France Inter of a program presenting a critical perspective on the SOCAPALM, the Bolloré group launched a lawsuit against Radio France and journalist Benoît Collombat who reported on several sectors of activity of the Bolloré group in Cameroon. The SOCAPALM component was finally not considered defamatory by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris. The latest lawsuit was open in January 2018 against three newspapers (Mediapart, L’Observateur and Le Point) and two NGOs (Sherpa and ReAct) for articles reporting on the mobilization of villagers and farmers who live near farms managed by the SOCAPALM. The verdict has not been published yet in August 2018 but Vincent Bolloré, in the meantime, has himself been prosecuted (as of April 2018) by French justice for a corruption case concerning his port activities in Africa. He is liable to be sentenced to ten years in prison.