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.
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.