Firestone Operations Threatened over ‘Violations’

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For Selling Hevea Wood, Furniture; Growing Coffee, Cocoa

(PICTURES IN CHATROOM)

Firestone Liberia, the oldest and largest rubber plantation company in the country, has been criticized by members of the House of Representatives for being in blatant violations of the 92-year-old Concession Agreement, by selling hevea rubber wood, furniture and growing coffee and cocoa.

The Lawmakers said the venturing of Bridge Firestone Liberia into selling hevea rubber woods and furniture and growing coffee and cocoa  does not only make them to be in violation but is undermining Liberians who engage in similar businesses and the Liberianization Policy.

Members of the House of Representatives made the statement yesterday – Thursday, June 28, during the 41st day sitting when the Management of Firestone Liberia appeared to address itself to the observations and findings  by the House’s Joint Committee on Agriculture and Labor as well as Lawmakers from Margibi and Montserrado Counties.

The Plenary of the House of Representatives recently endorsed the report submitted by its Joint committee on Agriculture and Labor, recommending that Firestone Liberia be invited to answer to some inquiries as it relates to her operation in the country, of bad labor practice, including underpaying of workers, no overtime for workers and poor living conditions of workers.

The Joint Committee also accused the Management of Firestone of lack of electricity, sanitary latrines and deplorable housing conditions.

In response, the Managing Director of Bridge Firestone, Mr. Edmundo Garcia admitted producing rubber wood and selling furniture, but said they were “trials” to encourage Liberians to engage in rubber wood furniture. He also admitted that the management is involved in growing cocoa and coffee, but was also a trial and part of the amended documents of Firestone which is before the Legislature to engage in crop diversity.

“If the amendment is not passed by the Legislature, we will stop it,” Mr. Garcia said.

He however rejected allegations of bad labor practices and providing poor living conditions to employees of the company.

Garcia described most of the issues raised in the report of the House committee on Agriculture and Labor as inaccurate and a misunderstanding of the facts.

The committee on Agriculture accused the company of bad labor practices, poor living conditions, over-time, lack of safe drinking water and electricity, among others.

Responding to the concerns, Mr. Garcia said the company is paying employees at between US$8.30 and US$12.82 per day, excluding over-time and is providing safe drinking water.

He said the employees, as per the Collective Bargain Agreement, are tapping 548 to 648 trees per day, contrary to the committee report of 750 to 1,000 per day.

On the issue of electricity, the MD of Firestone insisted that the company was providing electricity to the workers but admitted their inability to supply all camps on the plantation as the company generator is producing four megawatts.

He admitted having employees as contractors for periods ranging between one to four years, but has started employing some of them and is working to employ the others.

Following the explanation of the managing director of the Firestone Plantations Company, the plenary voted to present copy of the report to the management for a comprehensive response within two weeks and also mandated the Management of Firestone to improve on issues where they have gone wrong.

20 COMMENTS

  1. What ?
    “Responding to the concerns, Mr. Garcia said the company is paying employees at between US$8.30 and US$12.82 per hour, excluding over-time and is providing safe drinking water.”

    If this is true and applies to tappers as well , why are our “rubber tappers” so ungreatful to the great Firestone who pay them “Western Salaries”(Rhethorical)?

    I see why tappers are now driving SUVs, no wonder (Ironic).

    “In response, the Managing Director of Bridge Firestone, Mr. Edmundo Garcia admitted producing rubber wood and selling furniture, but said they were “trials” to encourage Liberians to engage in rubber wood furniture.”

    Since when did our great Firestone become a role model for Liberian wooodwork businesses?
    Lord have mercy!

    • Responding to the concerns, Mr. Garcia said the company is paying employees at between US$8.30 and US$12.82 per day, excluding over-time.

  2. I believe that the response was that tappers are on average paid $8.30 a day and on the high side $12.82 a day. Liberia’s minimum wage is $5.50 a day. Firestone’s concession agreement grants the right to produce and sell rubber wood products, an investment of $10 million that the company committed to in the agreement. Unfortunately our corrupted law makers don’t read and are only interested in harrassing companies for cold water rather than finding ways to work with companies to improve Liberia’s free falling economic sector. Today’s exchange rate is 153 to 1. Pro poor means stay poor. God help Liberia.

  3. If some employees are are being paid US$12.00 per hour by Firestone in Liberia, it’s all good. Also, it’s not a nefarious idea for Firestone to engage in other kinds of business on the parcel of land that is being leased to them by the Liberian government. The sense it makes is that the Liberian employees of Firestone are being paid well. All that needs to be done by the Liberian legislators is to work out a deal with Firestone and re-negotiate Firestone’s new business venture. That’s it.
    The Liberian legislators must be reminded that the country of Liberia does not deal in coins. The practice of not dealing in coins is ridiculous. It’s the worst of a practice I have seen in my life time. To make matters worse, the Liberian dollar is floating in thin air. The only salvation for the Liberian dollar to stop being meaningless is by way of the legislators’ quick action. That is if they like the Liberian dollar.

  4. “LIBERIA PAST AND THE BIG RUBBER MUSCLE”
    I concord with Mr. Sam Kollie in one aspect. In that, if Firestone concession agreement allows Firestone to produce and sell rubber wood products, it is the company right. However; the Liberian government must revisit those concession agreements that was written almost a century ago. Agreements are meant to be amended to fit the status quo. Especially so when those agreements do not serve the interest of the people.

    It is understood that Firestone came to Liberia in 1926, and became exporting latex in 1942 and coagulated rubber products in 1946. For almost a century, our people have been paid for collecting and storing latex. In my entire life, this is the first time ever for Liberian law makers to summon a head of a major giant company to clarify it business and Production guideline as stated in it agreement. The influence of Firestone is glaringly felt within the length and birth of Liberia. Firestone is operating on 1 million acres of land in Liberia, Firestone gives her employee rice every month at a discount price. About 200,000 Liberians, or more, depend on Firestone’s discount rice. Any attempt to cut off this supply, have dangerous political consequences as some of our older citizens saw on April 14,1979.

    When a company is as big as Firestone is, and influential, can flex it muscles to politically arm twist national decision. The Liberian government shouldn’t allow Firestone to step out of its bound. Firestone should operate within the terms and framework in the confine of it agreement. for those of you in the US, Exon-Mobile, AT and T, Toyota etc…..are called, every now and then, on capital hill, to answer to the US Senate.

    Our law makers should desist from the practice of accepting ‘COLD WATER’, and been complacent with decisions that are not in the interest of the people. Liberians cannot expect investors to uphold the dignity and interest of their fellow citizens, if they who are entrusted to enforce legislation to uphold their citizens’ interest are looking the other way.

    Once again, we sell our rubber, gold, diamond, iron ore, take loan and import rice, technocrats, doctors etc…paid them in HIGH CURRENCY. How about, we building equipped institutions to train our man power.

    once upon a time, we had six iron ore companies plus Firestone. The relics of the six iron ore companies are mingles of ghost steel structures, depleted rail way lines, uninhabited towns, ghostly open pits. If we had invested in science and technology, we would be better today. We wouldn’t be calling the Chinese to come and built our roads and airports, seaports etc.

    From: University of Sydney, Camperdown Science bld. NSW

  5. Good comments. However, my only concern is with the statement made by the MD of Firestone “If the amendment is not passed by the Legislature, we will stop it,” Mr. Garcia said.

    Now, pretty tell me why they shouldn’t be stopped? I think they should be stopped and when the amendment is passed, they can resume operation. However, my two cent advise is for the House to study this amendment as to its short and long term effect on the Liberianisation Policy. Or can the Lawmakers force Firestone to partner locally with a Liberian manufacturer and create a subsidiary on a 40/60 basis investment? This really needs to be investigated further for the benefit of Liberia.

    Another issue I don’t understand is why Firestone is not truly adding value to the latex? and why govt is not making the demands for that? I am just curious because the corrupt Ellen Johnson Sirleaf squandered that opportunity for pittance when she signed the amended agreement – she was the darling of big business at the detriment of the Liberian state.

    • Look, we need commercial-scale cocoa farming in Liberia to really make an impact on the economy. The majority of Liberian farmers can only do small-scale farming. They don’t have the capacity to produce 50-100 metric tons of cocoa per year to say we have a cocoa industry. Let Firestone grow cocoa but the agreement has to have some value add, unlike the rubber mess.

  6. Firestone is just one company, last month it was Sime Darby before that it was Mittal, tomorrow it will be Golden Verelium. I can only pray that we can carry our own after we drive all investors away.

  7. Correction: 5th paragraph, line 5. How about we building equipped institutions, should be: how about we built, equipped institutions.

  8. What about the broken bridge between 15 gate and firestone, what are our lawmakers doing about it? This can not happened in other African countries. Let’s think Safty incase of evacuating.

  9. General Bah of Australia,
    By aligning yourself with Kollie’s perspective, you have cherry picked! Call me John Doe and I have stated our perspectives in a way that Kollie has done. In reality, Gbason corroborates my view. Example, in his comment, Gbason writes, “good comments”. The direct implication of Gbason’s comment is that all of us, including Kollie, have written similar responses.

    Bah, don’t get me wrong. I am proud of you being in Australia and attending college. But, don’t ever try that in Liberia. Otherwise, I will get you on ELBC to pair you with Mr. Call me John Doe in a heated debate.
    Question:
    Are you pleased with Firestone’s business performance in Liberia?

    Defend your respective positions irrespective of whether you say yes or no.

  10. Mr. Best,
    I am proud of you! Will it be possible for me to supply the Liberian audience of Daily Observer with news brief from the US? I am sure that would add readership to your Newspaper.

    • F. Hney,
      I second the motion. My most distinguished salutations to his Dad , a truely dedicated pioneer in Liberia’s media history. In the face of unsurmountable odds in his media career home and abroad, the man stood with integrity and defended a product, keeping us informed right through the internet age. Gambia’s most read newspaper is a Liberian product, thanks to Mr. Best Sr. I hope Bai Best will take the legacy to another dimension in this internet age.

      My personal appeal to Bai:
      Could we get more content here on the fly? I am of the firm conviction that this might attract a lot of readers. I understand this is a business and ofcourse to keep it running (staff salary, variable and fixed costs, etc. etc ) cash is the key, and it is expected that the print/paper media pays for this in the form of
      print media purchase. To compensate for possible (probable) lost income due to reallocation of resources to the digital version of the media, you might consider commercials for Liberian and international businesses, Sponsored Digital Video Broadcast talkshows, etc,etc . It will also be of added value to include an online TV (Daily observer TV might be a good name—-> am not sure whether GOL/LTA will require licensing for online TV stations , technically speaking, it shouldn’t be defined as a terrestrial TV service ) on the site here . This could be in the form of daily embedded videos from a ” giant ” video media site, the likes of “youtube” ( am not sure what your server storage capability is but could be upgraded—> confidential info).
      And yes , like Mr. F. Hney stated, we will highly appreciate having some news from abroad. We want to see “Daily Observer” suceed!

  11. I am a Firestone History. My late father was paid 8 cents per day. In addition, he got two Tinaper’s Cans of fish plus 10 cups of rice at the end of each month on pay day. How far we have come?

  12. Any agreement that was written between Firestone and Liberian government in the past, has to be honored by any succeeding administration. If the government deems such agreement is no longer in the interest of the people, the Firestone management has to be called by law makers and amendment made. In my comment which I said , ” I concord with Mr. Sam Kollie”, It of my understanding that if past agreement with Firestone and the Liberian Government was made to give Firestone the right to used rubber wood for sale, or making furniture for sale, well, let the company continue to do so, until such agreement is revisited and rewritten.

    Firestone concession agreement was written in 1926, during the sitting administration of the 17th President of Liberia, Charles D.B. King. The late heir of Firestone, Raymond C. Firestone, chose Liberia, in my opinion, to establish his plantation because at the time, most African territories were under British or French rule. It was relatively easy to engage the ruling class of Liberia at that time, which were settlers from the Americas, than going to the French or British asking them for land to cultivate a rubber plantation.

    The law makers of the republic are the only one with the power that can address amendment to any agreement between the Republic and any one. That is my reason I agree with Mr. Sam Kollie. I m not saying even if it is wrong or does not serve the interest of the people, it shouldn’t be changed.

    On the whole, if Firestone is engaged in any fraudulent business practice, I don’t support it. Agreement that were signed almost a century ago, has to be revisited. Maybe some of those agreements have outlived it usefulness in the interest of the people. It shouldn’t be a one way street, let our people benefit. Sometimes, BIG RUBBER can flex it muscles, however; our law makers should be a watch dog to keep the lid tight.

    I m optimistic that if our law makers are working in the interest of our people, which in my opinion they are, concession agreements should not only benefit the investors, but also change and improve the livelihood of the people. Anything on the contrary, is not good for the people.

    To Mr. F. Hney, thanks for your question. I hope I clear the air. I regard you as a great thinker. I m preparing to come to Monrovia in November. Let’s us keep the line open.

  13. Messrs Call Me John Doe & Mamadu Bah,
    Very intrigued by your good responses. All I want for Liberia is the very best. Every Liberian, whether rooted or unrooted, is being counted on to contribute to the development process of our country.
    On any given day, I read as many comments as I possibly can. Bah, as you know, I wasn’t attacking you. Don’t ever think that! John Doe, let’s fight hard to revolutionize our country.
    The Daily Observer in my view, needs an international flavor. Of course I am not dictating what should or should not be done in order to improve Daily Observer’s readership. No no! It’s a suggestion!

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