13 October 2015

Liberia: GVL Donates to Educational Efforts in Liberia

Golden Veroleum Liberia has donated 100,000 USD to the Ministry of Agriculture as its annual scholarship contribution to deserving Liberian agricultural students.

The presentation was made Friday, October. 9, 2015 at the MOA Headquarters, bringing the total 600,000 USD since 2010.

More than 1,400 individual scholarship packages have been distributed to student through the Ministry of Agriculture, in co-operation with five leading Liberian institutions of higher learning, including Tubman University, the University of Liberia, Cuttington University, the Booker Washington Institute and the United Methodist University.

"This donation today demonstrates GVL's commitment towards the improvement of Liberia's human resource capacity and an investment in human capital," said Jean Hannah-Thompson, GVL senior manager career and education programs.

In addition to the scholarship program the company has constructed an elementary school at it Sinoe County farm site, which currently educates approximately 650 school-aged local community children.

Additionally, the company has partnered with various organizations to include NGO's Building Markets and International Education Liberia to provide community radio training to local radio staff and to provide computer and mathematic workshops to area elementary and high school students.

"What we are trying to do is play a part in the rebuilding of our society," said GVL Spokesperson, Stephen Binda. "These contributions toward Liberia's educational uplift will not only do that, but will also contribute directly toward building a professional management cadre, which is not a short process. We are looking long-term to make this happen."

Recently the company was vindicated of wrongdoing by its international governing body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil of what was determined to be unsubstantiated claims.

In the RSPO report long-standing claims of illegality of the GVL concession agreement were addressed, along with other issues. According to RSPO, the concession the Liberian Legislature passed agreement and it allowed GVL to operate in a manner that is in conformity with the RSPO Principles & Criteria.

The Panel also, indicated its awareness of the relocation clause contained within the concession agreement. However, the Panel also cited that this relocation clause should be considered with GVL's own 'no relocation policy' contained in each of its memorandums of agreement with local communities. Therefore, the Panel's opinion was that the existing policy underlines GVL's commitment to avoid any arbitrary relocation.

With regard to advocacy claims that the company failed to institute the Free Prior Informed Consent process. The Panel found that there were in fact a socialization programs in place, including the sharing of the concession agreement (including the public posting of the agreement on the GVL website), that joint mapping was carried out with affected communities, memorandums of understanding had been signed with communities, that local government officials had also witnessed MOU signings. All of which had been included in GVL's standing operating procedures and indicating a systematic FPIC process.

The Panel additionally found that in Butaw, the High Conservation Value areas that were damaged during the initial clearing prior to the 2013 RSPO stop work order (which is still in effect), had since been rectified based on the TFT report of February 2013.

With regard to the claim of inadequate compensation and Community Development Fund, the Panel found that crop compensation payments had been fixed by the Ministry of Agriculture and that the compensation rates had since been modified in March 2013.

The Panel also indicated that CDF meetings and decisions should be made public, to ensure transparency of the whole management and administration of the fund to guarantee that they are for the benefit of the local communities. Recently GVL posted approximately 37,000 USD into the Butaw Community Development Fund as part of this process.

Additional claims against the company were also addressed in the RSPO report. Including employment, harassment and intimidation, hiring of former combatants, claim of mining activities and flawed environmental protections.

The Panel noted that GVL additionally has a policy in place to ensure the hiring of local staff, which is also included in it concession agreement and that the company also has in place policies to educate and train Liberians for key positions in the company.

According to Binda, "Liberians, including, Administration, Compliance, Environmental, Human Resources, Legal, Logistics and Procurement currently run several GVL departments, and that the number was expected to grow substantially." Binda further went on to state that as of the time of the report less than 1 percent of the company is comprised of foreigners, highlighting to company's commitment to building a homegrown Liberian workforce.

"Clearly this is an indication that GVL is far and away well advanced in its own Liberianization efforts and with the continued efforts to educate Liberians that workforce will one day be in charge of running the company."

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