Belgian agro-industrial company Siat has been accused by Ivorian, Nigerian and Ghanaian communities of stealing land and violating human rights.
The Investment Company for Tropical Agriculture (Siat), which has its headquarters in Zaventem, is one of the five big companies that control 75% of the palm oil plantations in Africa.
Siat’s investments in West Africa directly supply the international rubber and palm oil sectors. Currently, the group owns 46,100 hectares of oil palm plantations and 24,000 hectares of rubber plantations.
But part of those plantations might be on stolen land, as Belgian and African NGOs say that the extension of Siat’s plantations in Africa was done without observing the rights of local communities.
- Belgium's King Philippe returns rare mask to DR Congo
- 'Deepest regrets,' but no apology: King Philippe acknowledges colonial cruelties
The exact grievances differ in each country but the African delegation notes several commonalities between the situations in Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana.
These include disputes over the land rights of local communities, the acquisition of land without the consent of the populations who claim ownership, environmental degradation and harm to biodiversity through intensive agriculture, and the disruption of livelihoods and threat to food sovereignty.
Complaints against Siat are particularly serious in Côte d’Ivoire. Local spokesperson Sinan Ouattara alleges that “Villagers were beaten and imprisoned.” The villages of Famienkro are currently locked in a dispute with the state and an Ivorian subsidiary of Siat regarding ten thousand hectares of appropriated land.
Villagers claim that land was "torn from the hands of local populations and illegally registered in the hands of the State at the request of Siat".
In 2015, a court case ruled in favour of the Ivorian government (and thereby Siat) but local representatives demand the return of their land and compensation for the violence.
“Our own state and police force is repressing us,” says Nahounou Daleba of the Ivorian NGO Young Volunteers for the Environment. “But the company that profits from the violence is Belgian. For us, this is a savage colonisation of our lands.”
According to the NGOs, Siat failed to carry out a prior assessment of the environmental and social impact of its rubber plantation projects, despite being required by Ivorian law.
In response to the accusations, Siat’s representatives hit back at local opposition to company activities in Côte d'Ivoire, Belga News Agency reports. However, the Belgian company was not immediately available to comment.