Firestone has got it right for they have always played by the rules. They contrived the game and the rules and if you do not play by their rules, “just leave your own (fate) to God”. If you depend on Government to fight your case you will lose because Firestone will pay money to the big people and your case will not go anywhere so me, I say just leave your own to God”, said a long serving Firestone employee(name withheld) who spoke to the Daily Observer.
For the record, layoffs is nothing new in the annals of Firestone’s existence in Liberia which began since 1926, the date it commenced commercial rubber production in Liberia. As many Liberians can attest, Firestone’s domination of the rubber industry is unquestioned.
Price fixing has been part of Firestone practice and involvement with Liberian farmers especially small rubber farmers. An arbitrarily contrived “DRC” dry rubber content measure imposed by Firestone virtually takes away the true value of the rubber and farmers end up losing. The “DRC” is widely hated by small rubber farmers. This practice has had the effect of keeping production low because farmers find it increasingly difficult to pay their workers because of low and often fluctuating price of rubber on the international market.
Moreover, the passage of laws intended to basically protect Firestone’s monopolistic interests have always tended to place the interests of Firestone first rather than the interest of Liberia and Liberians. For example nobody, not even the Government of Liberia can dictate to whom Firestone sells rubber or to what purposes the rubber is applied.
But to the contrary, the government has passed laws including executive orders preventing Liberian rubber producers from exporting unprocessed rubber. This forces Liberian rubber farmers to sell their produce to Firestone. Bad labor practices including the payment of starvation wages, poor worker housing conditions, the polluting of fishing and drinking water sources for communities living along the banks of the Farmington River are all part of Firestone’s history of its relationship with its employees, local communities and small rubber farmers.
Most Firestone workers spoken to appear to be seized with apprehension, given the long years of service they have rendered, that their fate is sealed and, despite the huffing and puffing by Labor Ministry officials, at the end of the day, Firestone will have the last say and they will end up as ultimate losers.
Since Firestone insists the layoff measures are necessary to ensure that costs are reduced to maximize profitability, then why should not other overhead operational costs be also reduced as a first step before coming to layoffs, such as high salaries and benefits for expatriates?
If this government is indeed serious about calling Firestone to order, it should firstly begin by renegotiating the Firestone concession agreement. Further it should begin preparations to assume management of the plantation and its facilities when Firestone’s nearly one-century old agreement expires with the Government of Liberia in about 25 years.
This government should begin training engineers, rubber scientists, plant pathologists, botanists, agriculturalists, chemical engineers, rubber economists, etc., in preparation for the eventual takeover.
Management of the plantation could be outsourced in similar fashion as Bridgestone which actually owns the facilities but outsources management to Firestone. The millions of dollars accruing in profits could now accrue to the benefit of the long-suffering Liberian people.
But this will have to come at great sacrifice because it promises to be a painful transition. Firestone will not let go easily of such a profitable venture that has earned billions in profit since it came into existence nearly a century ago. Well before then, this government as well as succeeding governments will possibly encounter countless numbers of obstacles, hitches etc, and will even attempt buy-offs of government officials and if all fails, assassinations
— remember President Tolbert?
As pundits predict, the current stance adopted by this government towards Firestone constitutes nothing more than a tempest in a teapot because, in the final analysis, government officials will, more likely than not, capitulate either through bribery or through intimidation and Firestone will have its way.
But one thing which may be sure to follow is the build-up of popular anti-Firestone sentiment, some of which could find expression in lawsuits against Firestone in the US and other Western countries. Strikes and demonstrations which could ensue if Firestone persists would disrupt activities yes, but would not hurt Firestone as much as class action lawsuits in US jurisdictions according to sources.
After more than 14 years of senseless violence, Liberians have learned hard lessons about the futility of armed violence to settle or address social issues and problems. There must be other pathways to attaining justice rather than through the barrel of the gun.
In this regard, Liberians must draw upon all their strength, resilience and creative energies to explore and find new ways to combat and address issues of structural violence including the political and economic arrangements that promote and perpetuate dependency, chronic and deepening poverty.
For too long Firestone has kept its knee on the necks of the Liberian people. The latest layoffs being undertaken by Firestone should be understood within that context. So many “George Floyds” have died since the day Firestone placed a choke-hold on the neck of Liberia in 1926. If their operations are not profitable, why does Firestone keep extending its agreement with the Liberian government?
In effect, Liberia has been under a virtual trusteeship of Firestone since 1926 and it is now high time that its flag of trusteeship be taken down. Then and only then could Liberians actually boast of being an independent and sovereign nation.
The twenty-five year extension to the Firestone agreement signed by President Sirleaf is by no means forever. However bitter the pill may be, though, Liberians must for now endure and wait for the appropriate time.
“Dehkontee” in the Bassa language, literally means wait for your time. At that time, come hell or high water, Firestone’s trusteeship shall end.