The GVL plantation covering places sacred to the Blogbo people.
A major palm oil firm has desecrated religious sites and
polluted water supplies in Liberia, in the latest in a series of rights
violations, according to the NGO Global Witness.
In an expose released on Wednesday, Global Witness presented
evidence that Golden Veroleum (GVL) has 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 previously published allegations that Liberians had
been beaten, threatened and arrested for opposing the plantation, and that it
had accelerated its expansion at the height of Liberia’s Ebola outbreak.
“Our investigations show that Golden Veroleum is at it again in Liberia – intimidating communities through the threat of force. This time the company has also destroyed what’s most sacred to the people who have traditionally owned this land – a place they go to worship,” said Jonathan Gant, of Global Witness, in a press release.
“Without laws and penalties to
keep agricultural companies in check they will continue to get away with
trampling over the rights and traditions of landowners across Liberia.”
Golden Veroleum has acquired rights to convert 220,000 hectares of land into plantations.
In 2012 the NGO Forest Peoples Programme
(FPP) lodged a complaint with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
against the company on the grounds communities had lost land, water sources and
crops had been destroyed, it had failed to implemented a process of free, prior
and informed consent, and there were “associated allegations of intimidation,
arrests and harassment directed at community leaders”.
A subsequent report by The Forest Trust, which was
contracted by Golden Veroleum to investigate the allegations, largely confirmed
community concerns. A summary of the case published by FPP in 2013
concluded that” GVL’s actions to date undermine the very purpose of […]
Liberia’s environment laws and related international law”.
The case remains within the RSPO complaints process.
recently available minutes of meetings of the Complaints Panel note
that it “stressed the need to reach a balanced decision to address all the
issues leading to an amicable solution to multiple issues”.
GVL is believed to be majority-owned by the Southeast Asian
palm oil giant Golden Agri Resources, which has committed to a policy of “zero
deforestation”, as well as a commitment to respecting the rights of indigenous
and other rural communities.
Global Witness’s report states that in the past year “GVL
has converted the forest, savannah, and land owned by the Blogbo people into
rows of oil palm trees”. A key religious site has been “transformed from forest
into a muddy construction site on which a large palm oil processing mill is
Today the Guardian released a film on the same case (see
below), that is unconnected to the Global Witness report.
The film features David Rothschild, Managing Director of
GVL. He says: “I think what does happen is that large-scale business coming
into Africa is automatically labelled in certain quarters as being negative and
there to exploit, rather than to actually do something positive.
“We feel that we’re trying to do a bit of both.”