An investigation by the world’s leading palm oil certification body has confirmed that a litany of social abuses have been committed by a major plantation firm in Liberia.
The investigation by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), published in February, found that Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) had coerced communities into giving their “consent” to its project.
The body confirmed an allegation that heavily-armed riot police were present when communities were asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the company. 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.
A complaint was lodged against GVL, a subsidiary of the giant Sinar Mas group, in 2012 by villagers whose land and forests were threatened by its 220,000 hectare license. The complaint alleged that GVL had failed to comply with RSPO rules, which are intended to ensure palm oil is produced “sustainably”, by forcibly evicting people from their lands and beginning land clearing before completing a series of measures the scheme requires in new developments.
Since the complaint was first lodged the picture has grown worse. Last October the NGO Global Witness published evidence that GVL had bulldozed religious sites and paid police armed with assault rifles to protect its interests. It highlights the latter factor as particularly egregious and dangerous, in a fragile state recovering from civil war.
Global Witness had previously published allegations that Liberians had been beaten, threatened and arrested for taking a stand against GVL, and that it accelerated its expansion at the height of Liberia’s Ebola outbreak.
In response to the findings of its own investigation, the RSPO Complaints Panel has instructed GVL to “initiate a facilitated consultation” and negotiation with the affected communities, to cease coercing them and to re-start participatory mapping. The RSPO has also instructed GVL to issue stop-work orders over some areas of the license.