28 May 2019

Liberia: What More Does Firestone Want From Liberia?

opinion

What more does Firestone want from Liberia after exacting more than several pounds of flesh from the backs of the Liberian people for nearly a century is the question lingering on the minds of the public since it emerged that the Liberian Senate has betrayed the interests of the Liberian people by granting the Firestone Plantations Company exclusive rights over rubber production in Liberia meaning in effect, that Liberians are automatically shut off from meaningful participation in this sector of our economy.

And this is the issue carried in the story in its May 27th edition headlined, "Firestone Eyes Exclusive Rights for Rubber Production in Liberia" that has drawn the attention of the Daily Observer. According to the story written by Legislative Correspondent Burgess Carter, the deal to amend the Firestone Agreement was reached after the visit of a high-level delegation of Firestone executives paid a visit to Liberia where they met with President Weah at his office in Monrovia.

Interestingly, while the Firestone executives were meeting with President Weah, the Senate was at the same time approving amendments to the Firestone agreement granting the company exclusive rights over rubber production in Liberia including the export of rubber products from Liberia. This new amendment is worse than a complete sellout and it should be vigorously opposed by the Liberian people in order to resist what amounts to deepened and worsened conditions of slavery at the hands of Firestone which has exploited the Liberian people for so long with nothing to show for it.

It is important to underscore here that Firestone has accomplices in this game of exploitation and are benefitting immensely from riding on the backs of the Liberian people. One individual often accused of such is Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman whose law firm, Sherman and Sherman, has for a long-time represented the legal interests of Firestone and who now, according to sources, is chief lobbyist for Firestone and is chiefly responsible for keeping this as a hush-hush affair away from discussions in Senate plenary.

What this new amendment means is that Liberians in their own country shall not have the right to export rubber products or even produce rubber products because of the Almighty Firestone that funded and supported a warring faction in the civil conflict to maintain the production of rubber while paying starvation wages to its workers, in addition to compelling a surrender of portion of their wages to the warring faction.

Many Liberian farmers can recall how Firestone fleeced them in the 1980s under a dubious farm rehabilitation scheme which sought to have farmers reopen their farms with loans (mostly in kind) provided by Firestone but under terms that gave Firestone the unilateral right, in case of default, to take over management of the respective farm and run it until the loan was liquidated. And the prices at which the rubber would be bought by Firestone was all fixed by this rubber giant.

But no sooner after the scheme became operational, the price of rubber fell drastically leaving farmers in debt with no means to pay, meaning a takeover of their farms by Firestone through an appointed surrogate, the "Nimba Rubber Brokers". Hundreds of farmers in the rubber belt had heir fortunes ruined by Firestone and who was Firestone's lawyer at the time? He was and still remains their lawyer-Varney Sherman.

Further to this, it can be recalled that in June 2018, the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Agriculture and Labor found Firestone to be in violation of its concession agreement by unilaterally growing other crops that included coffee and cocoa and selling rubber(hevea) wood products on the Liberian market. Its manager (Firestone's) Edmundo Garcia while admitting their action was illegal responded with a lame excuse that theirs was intended to encourage Liberian farmers to engage in rubber wood production and cash crop diversity.

It is not known what has become of the case although it is suspected that the matter has been settled through financial inducements as has often been the case in the past, particularly during the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Additionally, it can be recalled that citizens of Owensgrove and outlying areas had accused Firestone of polluting their drinking water sources. They had complained that the Vah Creek from which residents of Karnyah's town fetched their drinking water has been polluted to the extent that the creek has turned black and emits an offensive odor.

Also affected, according to residents of Mazoe Town, is the Ni Pu Wein Creek from where they fetched drinking water and which has also turned black and viscous and is emitting offensive odors.

More to that in the 2005 case Flomo vs Firestone accusing Firestone of involvement in child labor practices was dismissed by a US court because according to the court, the plaintiffs, for unexplained reasons, could not obtain service on Firestone, Liberia. However the Court held that the Plaintiffs, a group of Liberian children, could however state a cause of action under international law by alleging that:

a subsidiary of the Firestone Natural Rubber Company (FNRC) named Firestone Liberia, formerly called Firestone Plantations Company, was "encouraging and even requiring [Plaintiffs' guardians] to put their children to work" on the Liberian rubber plantation where the guardians were employees and;

that the work that the Plaintiffs were being forced to do was so hazardous, oppressive, and injurious to their moral development as to constitute a prohibited "worst form" of child labor under ILO Convention 182, an international convention ratified by both the United States and Liberia (among many other countries).

The rubber giant however filed a motion for summary judgment mainly on grounds that "international law does impose liability on foreign corporations as such Plaintiffs had no cause of probable action against FNRC. And so, Firestone got off the hook that time but may not always succeed in doing so. But Firestone should be warned that there will be more of such law suits in the future because Liberians will no longer accept to remain chattels under Firestone's peonage.

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