Global Witness Indicts GV-Liberia of Illegal Practices

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Environmental watchdog Global Witness has called on the Liberian Government to investigate ‘acts of violence’ against communities that palm oil giant Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) is allegedly committing and to enact laws to protect citizens and regulate all plantation companies operating in the country.
A Global Witness press release said the Liberian Government must also enact a law recognizing rural community ownership of their lands and regulate the country’s agriculture sector to bring an end to the impunity enjoyed by plantation companies.
It said there is a need for an urgent reform, claiming that Liberians are reported to have been beaten, threatened, and arrested for taking a stand against GVL as the company sweeps across the southeast of the country.
Global Witness said between August and October 2014, when the Ebola outbreak was at its peak, GVL used the opportunity created by the crisis to sign Memorandas of Understanding covering 134 km2 of community land. Prior to the outbreak the company had signed MOUs covering 166 km2.
“Between April and December 2014, GVL used bulldozers to expand its plantation over 54 km2.
In the three years prior to this, GVL had only cleared a total of 58 km2.
GVL has stated that its activities in 2014 were part of its long-term plan,” Global Witness said.
It noted further that “It is unacceptable to view the well-being of tens of thousands of people as inferior to an investment contract.
“Development is not development if it involves robbing the country’s poorest citizens of their land. If Liberians are to benefit from palm oil they must be free to choose for or against it, and have the information and support they need to negotiate on their own terms.”
Global Witness said the Liberian government should stop GVL from expanding onto new land and set a precedent for the other foreign companies poised to cash in on Liberia’s vast natural wealth.
“Liberia is rolling out the red carpet to a company that has swindled communities, forcibly grabbed land and chain-sawed its way through rainforests in Asia,” Global Witness claimed in its release.
It noted GVL’s first foray into Africa, at the peak of the continent’s deadliest Ebola epidemic where it has manipulated villagers into signing away the lands they depend on.
“This will affect at least five generations of families who will likely never see their land returned to them,” Global Witness said.
It said GVL has bought the rights to convert 2,600 km2 of southeast Liberia into an oil palm estate – an area the size of London and Barcelona combined.
“Its contract is valid for up to 98 years, affecting some 41,000 people. This is the first time its parent company GAR has expanded outside its home country Indonesia, where it has an appalling track record for human rights abuses, land grabbing, and environmental devastation,” Global Witness claimed.
However, at a press conference yesterday at a local hotel in Monrovia, GVL Head of Corporate Communications, Virgil Magee, who said he had not read the Global Witness report, told journalists that the company is involved with 28 communities in the areas of its operations.
Magee said to a reporter’s question that GVL’s contract in Liberia is for 65 years, with possible extension for an additional 35years.
Though not directly answering to issues raised by Global Witness, Magee said close to 4,000 Liberians are presently employed with GVL with a target of 5,000.
He said the recent destruction at its Butaw facilities following violent demonstrations by angry youths, is estimated at U$1m.
He said that contrary to unverified reports, GVL has been involved with 80 companies during the Ebola epidemic, and provided awareness to residents in both Sinoe and Grand Kru counties, since awareness information from Monrovia did not reach them.
He also said contrary to reports, the company’s expansion activities are not done in isolation but on the invitation and with the participation of the communities.
He said GVL is in the process of establishing the first palm oil mill in Tarjuwon, Grand Kru County and another will be built in Sinoe County.
Further in its press release “Global Witness claims it has found evidence that some GVL staffers are reportedly not employed by the company directly, but instead are being subcontracted. It is unclear if such subcontractors will get the same benefits as employees.
“GVL has stated that it may employ some subcontractors but is not aware of any such arrangements,” the release said.
GVL’s parent company, GAR, Global Witness shareholder listings, Standard Chartered, holds US$710 million in GAR stock, the release said.

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