“We are here to supply our customers’ needs,” Olsen told AFP in an interview. “We don’t have a political view on things.”
“We are the leader in cement, so we supply all our customers,” he added.
President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border – and his demand that Mexico pay for it – have sparked a diplomatic row the two countries, and led Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel a state visit to Washington in January.
However, Trump’s wall project has been valued at billions of dollars, and is a part of the larger infrastructure investment program he has called for. The US president has promised one trillion dollars to repair roads, bridges, tunnels and airports throughout the country.
LafargeHolcim hopes to be on the receiving end of this substantial government investment program. “There is going to be a significant increase in infrastructure spending,” according to Olsen, who added that his company is “very well positioned to serve that demand.”
French politicians react
Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Defence Minister, criticised the French-Swiss company on Thursday for its decision. “Lafarge says it’s ‘apolitical’. Very well, but I’d like to say that companies […] also have social and environmental responsibilities.”
He went on to say that Lafarge “should think carefully about its own interests: there are other clients who are going to be stupefied by this decision.”
The Defence Minister added that the construction of such a wall could worsen already tense diplomatic relations. “I met my Mexican counterpart […], and I can attest to the unease [this] has created in Mexico, it has profoundly troubled Mexico-US relations.”
Though Lafarge is a French-Swiss company, it has production sites throughout the US. Three of its sites operate in states along the US-Mexico border: Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
The group has also built plants in Maryland and Oklahoma, and plans to open new facilities in New York and Missouri, according to AFP.
In terms of how many jobs Lafarge could create if the project goes ahead, Olsen said he doesn't “have a specific number, but we will be creating jobs”.
Lafarge’s ‘unacceptable practices’ in Syria
Olsen’s interview comes one week after the company admitted it had paid armed groups in Syria to continue its local operations there.
In a statement, the company said it had “provided funds to third parties to work out arrangements,” with multiple Syrian armed groups, “in order to maintain operations and ensure safe passage of employees and supplies to and from the plant.”
The plant, some 150 kilometres from Aleppo, was ultimately closed in 2015.
“In hindsight, the measures required to continue operations at the plant were unacceptable,” the statement reads.
Lafarge’s dealings with Syrian armed groups was reported on by French centrist daily Le Monde last year. The report was followed up later that year by a lawsuit against the company, launched by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, as well as a formal legal complaint, filed by the French government.