MARGIBI COUNTY – Communities in Margibi and Bong Counties, represented by Green Advocates International (GAI) and three of its local partners, filed a complaint with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), against the operations of the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in Margibi County (Liberia).
CAO is the independent watchdog and accountability mechanism for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), of the World Bank Group.
The complaint relates to a series of gross human rights abuses perpetrated against the indigenous people in SRC’s concession areas, ranging from: land grab and forced eviction, lack of free prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples (FPIC), destruction of their ancestral graves and sacred sites, economic displacement and loss of livelihood, the pollution of their waters, poor employment conditions, and labor rights violations by the company, limited access to schools and health facilities. The company has been engaged in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), reprisals, threats and intimidation, including non-compliance with national and international laws, as well as non-compliance with IFC’s Performance Standards.
The indigenous people of Gleagba, Bloomu, Old Dokai, New Dokai, Bondolon, Massaquoi, Martin Village, Dedee-ta 1, Dedee-ta 2, Kuwah-ta, Jorkporlorsue, Gorbor, Kolledarpolon, Monkey-tail, Ansa-ta, Lango, Garjay, Kolongalai, Sayue-ta, Tarteeta, Varmue, and Pennoh, have known no peace since SRC was granted concession rights by the Liberian Government in 1959.
Green Advocates International-Liberia and three local partners – Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP), and the Yeagbamah National Congress for Human Rights (YNCHR), have all been working to bring some relief and justice to the affected communities through the CAO process.
On behalf of the affected communities, we express appreciation for the assessment mission to Liberia, which took place in October 2019 to get firsthand information from the people on the scale of the violations contained in the complaint.
The people are really delighted in the first instance, that their complaint met the eligibility requirements, which prompted the CAO to come to Liberia to conduct an independent assessment of the issues raised against SRC. Prior to the arrival of the CAO team an advance team from the Environmental, Social and Corporate Department of the IFC visited Liberia in early September 2019 and met with SRC, Green Advocates and its partner organizations that filed the complaint as well as some of the complainants from the local communities.
The Complainants and their ancestors have inhabited the concession area long before the Company was awarded the concession in 1959, and their occupancy dates far before pre-independence Liberia in 1847.
Narrating their ordeal to the assessment team, the people lamented that since the concession was awarded, SRC has largely been engaged in the forceful eviction and seizure of their land without their free prior and informed consent in most cases. This has had negative impacts on the religious, cultural, natural resources, and social and economic livelihood of the people.
Between 2008 and 2014, the Company embarked upon a violent expansion of the plantation, having received a $10 million USD loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC); they went on bulldozing some towns, took land forcefully, and in some cases destroyed the people’s crops with no compensation.
These inhumane actions are even against the terms of the loan from the IFC. But the IFC failed to ensure that its clients abide by and adhere to its performance standards, which are a set of social and environmental protection standards.
The SRC denied the charges during the investigative mission to Liberia by CAO. The Company argued that all the legal procedure for obtaining the concession area were followed, but fell short of producing the legal papers, claiming that the original Land Commission records were destroyed during the Liberian Civil Wars. What a joke!
Despite all the deliberate acts and violations against them, the affected communities were still willing to engage in a dispute-resolution process under the auspices of the Assessment team, but the Company opted otherwise. The CAO indicated in its Assessment Report of March 2020, that “although the Company indicated a willingness to engage with the impacted communities, the Company decided not to engage in a CAO led dispute resolution process.”
Without giving any details, the investigative report reveals that SRC accused the Assessment team of bias, for which it rejected their mediation. This means that the matter has been referred to the Compliance (audit) Function, in keeping with CAO’s Operational Guidelines.
The communities and their representatives are bemused by the allegation of partiality against the CAO team, when in fact, it was the International Finance Corporation (IFC) that awarded the loan that facilitated the expansion of Salala’s Rubber Corporation’s concession area. It is this same IFC that commissioned the CAO assessment mission.
In June 2008, IFC committed a $10 million USD Loan to SRC to finance the Company’s rehabilitation and optimization program. The Assessment report quotes the IFC as saying, “the Project was intended to complement SRC’s management plans to rehabilitate and expand the plantation, which had been neglected during the civil war.”
For Green Advocates and the supporting organizations, this is strange and an attempt by the Company to buy time. How could the Assessment team be bias in favor of the affected communities? It is baffling that a client of the IFC, the Salala Rubber Corporation is alleging foul play in an investigation led by a group working for the very IFC to look into claims of corporate misconduct by SRC against the poor people.
GAI and partners find it difficult to excuse the IFC of complicity in the abuses against our clients, (the 22 communities) since it is the IFC that provided money to SRC without monitoring its performance standards.
Green Advocates Lead Campaigner and Legal Counsel, Alfred Brownell has declared that, “the affected communities are upbeat about the evidence of wanton abuses perpetrated against them by SRC and are prepared to go at any length to get the Company to pay for the damages, but they also are prepared to exhaust all the dispute resolution mechanisms available.”
As we are writing this statement meanwhile, SRC’s parent Company, Socfin shareholders met in their general assembly on 25 May 2020 to distribute more than 30 million euros in dividends among themselves, while violence rages on in various SOCFIN plantations across the globe. The excesses of this European agriculture conglomerate are well documented and terrifying.
GAI is one of eight human rights organizations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Ghana, backed by several international organizations that signed an open letter to the board members and shareholders demanding justice and safety for workers on Socfin’s rubber/oil palm plantations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The letter dated 29th April 2020, among other things, notes that “Communities and villages in Africa are already vulnerable with the Covid-19 outbreak. Placing employees on unpaid leave or forcing them to work in current conditions without respecting the necessary measures, risking their lives and those of their family members and communities is not acceptable. We understand that during lockdown your operations and revenues are suffering, but we are convinced that it is within the financial capabilities of the Socfin group to pay full salaries to their employees during the Covid-19 outbreak.”
Historically, the Salala Rubber Corporation in Liberia (SRC) was established by a merger in July 2007 between a standalone rubber processing factory called Weala Rubber Company and a standalone rubber plantation formerly called Salala Rubber Corporation. The plantation was setup in 1959 by the Weala Rubber Company and was acquired by the Socfin Group in 2007, after the civil war in Liberia. SRC is owned and managed by the Socfin Group.