A subsidiary of the giant palm oil and paper conglomerate Sinar Mas has withdrawn from the RSPO, five months after it was rebuked by the certification scheme for coercing communities into giving “consent” to its operations in Liberia.
An investigation commissioned by the RSPO published in February revealed that heavily-armed riot police were present when communities were asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL).
Others had only signed an MoU with the company in order to lift legal charges they faced after riots broke out against GVL’s operations in 2015. Global Witness has published evidence that GVL had desecrated religious sites, and that Liberians had been beaten, threatened and arrested for taking a stand against the company, which accelerated its expansion at the height of Liberia’s Ebola outbreak.
The RSPO Complaints Panel instructed GVL to “initiate a facilitated consultation” and negotiation with the affected communities, to cease coercing them and to re-start participatory mapping. It also instructed GVL to issue stop-work orders over some areas of the license.
But on 20th July, GVL’s recently-appointed CEO, Patrice Lobet, announced instead that it would withdraw from the CEO “voluntarily”, to “allow us to do the necessary work in rebuilding community confidence, and trust in our sustainability efforts in a time and manner that best suits the working reality of Liberia”.
In a statement, he said that GVL could “best honour the spirit of the RSPO” by “refresh[ing] personnel and systems”.
GVL says it will develop an action plan to be implemented over 12 to 18 months, to implement Free, Prior and Informed Consent in affected communities, finalise MoUs with them, and carry out a “reassessment of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest areas”.
Last month, the Liberian NGO Sustainable Development Institute, which has been central to efforts to hold GVL to account, published an excoriating report on the company’s activities over the past eight years.
The report found that GVL’s land acquisition processes violate Liberia’s Community Rights Law and Land Rights Policy, as they disregard communities’ land and natural resource rights. It alleges that GVL’s 65-year concession agreement contravenes Liberia’s Public Lands Law, which states that no such lease shall exceed 50 years. Further, that GVL’s concession agreement allows the company to withhold tax payments for 65 years, in violation of Liberian tax code.