- A panel of French judges has indicted French cement company Lafarge with crimes including financing terror groups, aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and putting the lives of its employees at risk in order to keep its Syrian plant running, according to The New York Times. Lafarge, part of LafargeHolcim, operates cement, aggregate and concrete businesses around the world and employs 7,000 in the U.S. alone, as part of its U.S. business, which spans locations in 43 states.
- The French panel said LaFarge paid at least $5 million to armed terror groups like the Islamic State so that employees could move safely to and from Lafarge's Syrian cement facility, to resolve occasional kidnappings after 2011 when the protests that eventually ignited a civil war began, and to have access to necessary raw materials. Some Lafarge employees said local management threatened to fire them or slash their pay if they complained about the unsafe conditions. The authorities are also investigating Lafarge's relationships with third parties who allegedly negotiated and paid terror groups on the company's behalf.
- Lafarge's 2015 merger with Switzerland-based building materials and aggregates company Holcim occured after the supposed crimes took place. LafargeHolcim denied the allegations and said the employees charged with wrongdoing in the complaint are no longer with the company.
Lafarge hit a bump in its U.S. operations when, in 2008, attention turned to the amount of mercury Lafarge and other cement plant operators were pumping into the environment in Seattle, New York and other locations. At its facility in Ravenna, New York, the company embarked on a $300 million modernization program at the 50-year-old plant. As part of the rebuilding, the company replaced two 600-foot kilns with a more efficient 200-foot German rotary kiln that produces less pollution.
The project, as well as a $170 million upgrade initiative at 13 other U.S. facilities, was part of a deal the company struck with federal and state agencies in 2010 to reduce pollution at its plants. Also part of the agreement was that Lafarge pay $5 million in fines and regularly report project progress to the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the EPA, cement production is the third largest industrial source of pollution and is responsible for the emission of more than 500,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide annually. All three substances can adversely impact respiratory health.
The government has made agreements for pollution reduction with other manufacturers including Cemex, Lone Star Industries and Holcim.