Eric Olsen (Lafarge)

LafargeHolcim chief executive falls on sword in wake of Syria investigation

25 April 2017 | By Joe Quirke 2 Comments

Eric Olsen, the chief executive of the world's largest cement company, will leave his post two years after taking up the role and overseeing the merger of Lafarge and Holcim.

The resignation comes in the wake of an internal investigation into the firm’s involvement in Syria, that concluded that “company personnel had engaged in dealings with armed groups and sanctioned parties”. These took place at the firm’s Jalabiya plant during 2013 until the plant was evacuated in September 2014.

The review said that measures taken to ensure safe operations at the plant in northern Syria were “unacceptable, and significant errors of judgement were made” and that “selected members of group management were aware of circumstances”.

Those in charge of Lafarge’s Jalabiya plant had paid protection money to local militant groups to keep the factory open “without regard to the identity of the groups involved”.

In November 2016 two human rights groups filed a legal complaint in Paris against the company, saying they had funded Islamic State.

The factory opened in 2010 and $680m was invested in the project over its three-year lifespan. It made a loss while in operation.

LafargeHolcim will now search for a new chief executive; chairman Beat Hess will take the role in the interim.

Hess said: “Although I appreciate that those responsible for the Syrian operations appear to have acted in a manner they believed was in the best interests of the company and its employees, there can be no compromise when it comes to compliance rules and adherence to the standards set out in the company’s code of conduct, no matter what the operational challenges are.”

Olsen said: “My decision is driven by my conviction that it will contribute to addressing strong tensions that have recently arisen around the Syria case.

“While I was absolutely not involved in, nor even aware of, any wrongdoing I believe my departure will contribute to bringing back serenity to a company that has been exposed for months on this case.”

Image: Eric Olsen (Lafarge)