New Democrat (Monrovia)

1 March 2013

Liberia: Sime Darby's Slave Camp Is Another Face of Corporate Evil

column

A Malaysian company that came to Liberia in 2009 and acquired huge land space, promised to plant about 20,000 hectares to do Liberia proud by investing in oil palm and ease Liberia unemployment crisis is today embroiled in controversy and internecine conflict. Sime Darby located in some remote parts of Liberia has not committed itself to best practices and the western version of human rights scarcely exist with huge and alarming labor rights abuses of its workers. The hue and cries of workers from the action of Sime Darby of turning blind eye to the plight of its workers was the result of the labor conflict some two weeks ago.

A small, but noisy contingent of activists and prodding up advocacy groups including this writer insists that Sime Darby is a face of corporate evil incarnate. "Sime Darby exploits and abuse workers' rights", they insists. It has destroyed communities and wrecked the livelihood of our people. In combination, the Company is guilty of environmental crimes and crimes against humanity.

The question of whether mineral resources help or hurt developing countries which Liberia is not exempted - the "resource curse" - has been argued since the 1950s. Even companies that subscribe to the UN Global Compact are currently being investigated for human rights abuses.

For some people we have spoken with during our last visit on the plantation said, Sime Darby operations are not and will never be ethnical enough. The ill-treatment of workers has risen alarming. To them, the narrative of the poor people indicate that its very existence to some extends is illegitimate. They believe that Sime Darby sole objective is to exploit the downtrodden of our land, which its-ill-gotten wealth are inherently tainted.

The facts speaks for themselves that the tiny clinic on its compound has 3 nurses and 2 physician Assistants, no doctor and drugs. The clinic has an outdated ambulance that breaks down every other week. The school system leaves deep and grievous wound on our conscience- is just a mess and deplorable- very poor facilitates. The sad tale that stretched the truth, is one Mr. Fahnbulleh, a Liberian administrator is used and programmed as the Company's crusader and fervent advocate to think positively about Sime Darby and to defend the indefensible. Putting in place few minimal infrastructures such as roads, a modern hospital and some schools, is that so much to ask for in exchange for their rich soil filled land?

Company like Sime Darby, Golden Veroleum, Putu Iron Ore Company and many others got extremely rich exploiting poor people and labor, and their primary goal is to enrich themselves. Improving the lives of workers is not even on the radar. Local agriculture gets destroyed, local culture is degraded and the environment damaged or plundered.

What they exactly do-it justifies reaping the majority of the profits from poor African countries' natural resources by saying it provide jobs with its employees, and with the tacit connivance of the inevitable greedy and corrupt politicians and build a few hospital here and there. The Liberian Government officials operate at the whims and caprices of the untrustworthy transnational Corporations who manipulate operators of the Liberian state to their advantage. The governmental bodies whether in the Legislature or Executive also have conflicting responsibilities; it is difficult to define their roles. They are not independent, because there is also limit to how these transnational corporations can be regulated.

The fatuous and offending presumption is of course that the citizens of these countries are stupid and un-resourceful that they cannot set such corporation themselves.

Resource curse! Poverty, hunger, widened class gap between the miserably poor and powerfully rich.

But as George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the famous Irish playwright, essayist and socialist caution us, "If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience"!

The campaign that has started with Sime Darby will be sustained.

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