Feronia controls the Lokutu, Yaligimba and Boteka oil palm plantations in DRC covering 100,000 hectares.
A security guard employed by the Canadian palm oil giant
Feronia has reportedly been acquitted of killing a local environmental activist
in a shock court ruling in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Boketsu Ebuka was cleared of the
murder of Joël Imbangola Lunea on 4 February, according to RAIO-RDC, the organisation
Lunea worked for and long-time critics of Feronia’s operations in the country.
The local NGO have alleged that Lunea’s family and legal
counsel were not informed of the court’s decision in Mbandaka, Equator province
and were only made aware of the ruling on 11 February.
“RIAO-RDC is shocked and outraged by this sudden decision by
the court,” a statement by the NGO stated.
“The decision to acquit Mr. Ebuka shows that companies like
Feronia-PHC can act with complete impunity in the DRC. It must be overturned in
order to restore some semblance of rule of law, not to speak of justice, in the
Lunea was killed in July following an alleged dispute with the Feronia security guard.
The NGO said at the time that Lunea, who operated a small
boat service, was preparing to transport passengers across the river when the
Feronia employee accused him of transporting stolen palm oil from the Boteka
plantation, one of three Feronia sites in DRC.
Feronia has not made any public statement about the court
ruling reports but after Lunea’s death in July, a company spokesperson
told Earthsight: “The Company is deeply saddened to learn that one of its
employees is being sought by the police in relation to the death of Mr Joël
Imbangola Lunea on Sunday 21 July 2019. Police are treating Mr Lunea’s death as
“There are different versions of events being reported and we are attempting to gather the facts of what happened.
"A number of witnesses
have informed the Company that the disagreement which lead to the tragic
incident was of a personal nature but, with the incident occurring
approximately 18km from Feronia’s plantation, near the employee’s home
village, whilst he was on four weeks annual leave, establishing facts is
Knowledge of the court’s decision to reportedly drop charges
against Ebuka came on the same day that a petition was launched calling for the
release of five villagers arrested near a Feronia plantation.
Five villagers, and nine others who were later freed, were
arrested in September near Feronia’s Lokotu plantation. The firm controls the
Lokutu, Yaligimba and Boteka oil palm plantations, which together cover 100,000
The charges relate allegedly to an incident that occurred in
June 2019 when villagers from Yalifombo confronted Feronia’s management for
having improperly disposed of toxic waste. Shortly after, numerous villagers
reportedly became sick and several people died after developing unusually strong
After the incident, the company agreed to remove the waste
and comply with a social agreement that the two sides had first signed in
As part of the agreement, Feronia reportedly committed to
construct a school, health clinic and bore hole before planting oil palms on an
area of community land.
It was at a September event to inaugurate Feronia’s planting
programme that the villagers were arrested after reportedly questioning Feronia
officials on why their plans had not materialised.
The five villagers, which include the chief of Yalifombo
village, have been detained since September.
World Rainforest Movement, the non-profit which launched
claim the five were only informed of the charges against them at a January
court hearing. They are reportedly accused of “causing damages to Feronia’s
property and physical injury to a Feronia staff member.”
“There is no justification for their ongoing detention or
for the charges that have been brought against them,” WRM said. “This is
clearly a case of Feronia Inc abusing of its power to intimidate villagers who
dare challenge the company’s interests.”
It is the latest in a string of controversies to engulf the
palm oil giant’s operation in DRC. A November report by
Human Rights Watch alleged an array of employee and environment abuses against
A Dirty Investment found that Feronia and its Congolese
subsidiary, PHC, had exposed workers to dangerous pesticides, dumped untreated
industrial waste into waterways, and engaged in abusive employment practices
that result in extreme poverty wages.
The report also urged the Belgian BIO, British CDC Group,
German DEG, and Dutch FMO – four European development banks that have invested
$100 million in Feronia-PHC since 2013 – to improve their monitoring of Feronia’s
“These banks can play an important role promoting
development, but they are sabotaging their mission by failing to ensure that
the company they finance respects the rights of its workers and communities on
the plantations,” HRW said.
In December the banks said they
would take measures to address labour rights violations that result in
extremely low wages, ensure wage parity between men and women and address
villagers’ concerns around water contamination and health of laborers.