Paris Boycotts LafargeHolcim in Protest Over Trump's Mexico Wall

  • City council won’t work with Lafarge over next few years
  • French capital cites wall, Syrian payments to justify decision

LafargeHolcim Ltd. has come under fire from the city of Paris for its willingness to supply material for the wall that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to build along the Mexican border.

The French capital’s governing council voted on Tuesday to stop working with the world’s biggest cement maker for as long as the company won’t respect the city’s ethical standards, a spokeswoman said by phone on Wednesday. It will start by ending a longstanding arrangement to take sand from LafargeHolcim for artificial beaches along the river Seine. The city had already decided it would replace sand with grass and plants this year, yet agreed to shun the cement maker anyway.

In addition to unhappiness about the wall, the vote was also prompted by revelations that Lafarge paid money to armed groups in Syria before the French company’s 2015 merger with Holcim, the spokeswoman said. The decision was first reported by Agence France-Presse news agency.

LafargeHolcim had been providing the sand free of charge to the city since 2002 as part of sponsorship activities, a spokeswoman for the Jona, Switzerland-based company said. It was the only ongoing partnership the city had with LafargeHolcim, according to the city’s spokeswoman. The decision applies to the city’s direct partnerships with LafargeHolcim and not to construction companies that work with the city of Paris.

The Paris vote adds to evidence that work on the wall, which has yet to be started, could come at a political cost for some companies. Mexican cement giant Cemex SAB won’t participate, even though it has plants on both sides of the border. French builder Vinci SA, which has offices across the U.S., said it wouldn’t get involved for fear of alienating employees who disagree with the plan.

Social Responsibility

The issue took a political turn in France after the government urged companies to have a sense of social responsibility regarding the wall project, one of Trump’s signature campaign pledges. Emmanuel Macron, frontrunner for the French presidency, warned LafargeHolcim to steer clear, while union leaders have also deemed the wall undemocratic.

LafargeHolcim Chief Executive Officer Eric Olsen sees the U.S. market driving profit in the next few years, he said earlier this month, adding that the company was ready to participate in Trump’s planned investment on infrastructure.

The cement maker responded to what’s called a presolicitation notice regarding the wall that was posted on the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities website last month. The LafargeHolcim spokeswoman said that the notice didn’t necessarily mean it would supply material for the wall. So far, no one has contacted the company about the project and LafargeHolcim hasn’t reached out to them, she said.

Bruno Julliard, one of the Paris deputy mayors, said the company’s willingness to participate in the wall construction was an “aggravating circumstance” that compounded the decision to pay armed groups in Syria, AFP reported. 

Regarding Syria, the LafargeHolcim spokeswoman reiterated a March 2 statement that past payments by the company to keep a plant open amid a civil war were unacceptable and against its code of conduct. LafargeHolcim has carried out an internal probe that uncovered evidence of payments but “could not establish with certainty the ultimate recipients” of the funds, the company said.

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