Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI), a civil society group involved with publishing reports about forest use in Liberia, has published its 2018 report implicating Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) of human rights and policy violations in south-eastern Liberia where this oil palm company is operating.
GVL, whose management up to press time on July 3, 2018 could not respond to the inquiries from the Daily Observer concerning on the report, began operation in 2010 in Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties following a concession agreement between it and the Liberian Government.
The agricultural concession agreement allows GVL to cover 350,000 hectares of land with oil palm plantation; something that could provide employment opportunities for locals and provide compensation for community dwellers who are also stakeholders of the land.
Although government is the chief custodian of land in Liberia, community dwellers under the statute have land right that makes it imperative for them to be a part of the process leading to concession.
However, the operation of GVL in the south-east has not been rosy especially between the company and the community dwellers; thereby drawing attention to emerging conflict arising over failure to meet with commitment in the agreement and unauthorized land grab.
In SDI’s 2018 report launched on July 2 under the theme, “High Risk in the Rainforest,” GVL is alleged to have cleared and planted some 15,000 hectares of land; which consists of a mosaic landscape of forests, fallows and farmland.
According to SDI, GVL has not yet established any of the 40,000 hectares of out-grower plantations it is supposed to deliver.
The report indicates that in Kpanyan District, Sinoe County, GVL has cleared or fragmented at least 380 hectares of “High Carbon Stock” forest patches since 2015. This fragmented land is said to have 268 hectares where high priority patches are for conservation.
Furthermore, the report said since March 2017, GVL has allegedly cleared some 320 hectares of “High Conservation Value” areas, including chimpanzee habitat identified by the company through its own biodiversity assessments.
The report further alleges that GVL has continued to damage stream, waterways, wetlands and buffer zones, and failed to provide compensation stipulated in the concession agreement for previous damage to community water sources.
“GVL has consistently violated human rights through failure to implement adequate free, prior and informed consent procedures, destruction of sacred sites and ongoing development of disputed land, as affirmed by a February 2018 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Complaints Panel decision,” SDI alleges.
The RSPO Complaint Panel according to SDI has reaffirmed a previous stop-work order for the controversial Butaw area and ordered GVL to cease all land development, including construction of a mill on the disputed lands of the Blogbo community, but the report said GVL has allegedly rejected the RSPO Complaints Panel findings and appealed the decision and continued operation by clearing land and constructing a mill in disputed areas.
In terms of land acquisition, the SDI report said GVL’s process of getting land violates Liberia’s Community Rights Law and Land Rights Policy, as they disregard communities’ land and natural resource rights.
Also, the 65-year concession agreement contravenes Liberia’s Public Lands Law, which states that no such lease shall exceed 50 years. Additionally, the concession agreement allows the company to withhold tax payments for 65 years; which also violates the Liberian tax code.
GVL’s primary investor is Singapore-listed palm oil company Golden Agri-Resources (GAR)-one of the world’s largest palm oil companies. GAR established GVL through a series of investment vehicles in order to expand its palm oil plantations from Indonesia into West Africa while shielding itself from liability for the risks of the endeavor (SDI, 2018).
Randall Kaybee, communications officer for GVL, told the Daily Observer that he is not clothed with the authority to respond to the SDI report, but promised to forward our inquiry to the relevant authority at GVL for comment. Follow-up calls and text messages sent to Mr. Kaybee up to press time went unanswered.