The Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) operating in Margibi County has rejected claims by villagers that it is involved with human rights abuses and land grabs the local villagers have claimed in recent times.
It may be recalled that villagers in the operational areas of SRC recently told journalists who toured villages surrounding the plantation that SRC was forcefully grabbing their land and refusing to employ them. They further indicated that some men hired by the company attacked rights advocates in villages around the plantation and threatened to harm them; a case that is currently in the Magisterial Court in Weala.
In its all caps letter statement issued on January 12, SRC said: “The company unequivocally and categorically rejects the allegations and terms them not only reckless, untrue, and unfounded, but intended to incite local residents, tarnish and bring into public disrepute its corporate image that it has established over the years since the commencement of its corporate existence as a subsidiary of the SOCFIN Group in Liberia due to the dissolution of Weala Rubber Company (WRC) corporate life, and a merger with Salala Rubber Corporation to create a single corporate entity in August 2007.”
SRC whose Management was contacted earlier for reaction to the allegations but refrained from commenting at the time also indicated in its statement of response that, “Since that time (2007), the company has operated in strict compliance with the terms, conditions, and provisions of its concession agreement granted by the Government of Liberia in addition to other guidelines as required and set by concerned government regulatory bodies from time to time.”
Villagers in the area hold the land firmly as their inherited properties from the days of their forefathers, but the government being the chief custodian of land in Liberia according to law gave a portion of the controversial land under a concession agreement to the company in 1959; an agreement that the residents at the time had on input in.
But as the company in recent times began expanding its plantation with resistance from the villagers, it added in its statement: “In the course of conducting its business operations in Liberia, the company continues to assist the government with its social-economic efforts by providing employment, education, and health care services not only for its workforce but also for residents from the surrounding local communities.”
The villagers during their interactions with journalist late December last year and at the Weala Magisterial Court early this January said the company does not allow their children to attend freely the company’s school or even provide healthcare services to them.
According to the statement, the company’s health center was the only one that remained opened and operated in District #5 of Margibi County throughout the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, rendering services to all including community members without discrimination.
“In addition to the above, the company is maintaining healthy relation with its surrounding communities with a functional grievance mechanism in place for challenging their grievances which are addressed through the company’s community liaison team,” the statement added.
In contrast to the villagers’ claims of malpractices and human rights abuse, the company said since 2013 it has undertaken various social projects as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative based on the expressed interest of the communities within and around the company’s rubber plantation, which are ongoing despite multitude of challenges in the rubber commodity sector.
The company said COVID-19 as a pandemic affecting the world has not left SRC untouched, and there exists nowadays the lack of demand for rubber thus resulting in drop in price of the commodity which also compelled the company to carry out redundancies leading to maintaining skeletal staff. It is however planning to commence operation in this 2021.
With widespread publications in print and online about the villagers’ demand for return of their land to them, SRC in its release called on the public, local and foreign business partners not to “Lend any credence to the publications, noting that it remains a dependable and valuable partner in the nation’s agricultural sector by providing employment opportunities and social-economic services to citizens.