Liberian palm oil company 'destroyed dense rainforests and violated rights'

| 24th July 2018
A testimony from two Jacksonville farmers displaced by GVL

Voices from Liberia, community testimonies collected by Friends of the Earth

Since 2015, palm oil company Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) has destroyed at least several hundred hectares of forests that are the vital habitat for chimpanzees and other endemic species, and are the primary source of livelihoods for communities in rural Sinoe County, Liberia, writes PATRICK DAVIS

Stakeholders in these rogue companies need to recognise the risks and the wrongdoing and use their leverage to pull the brakes on GVL’s destruction.

The major palm oil company Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) and its primary investor Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) stand accused of environmental and human rights abuses in a new report from Friends of the Earth US, Sustainable Development Institute, and Milieudefensie

The report, entitled High Risk in the Rainforest: Golden Agri-Resources and Golden Veroleum’s Palm Oil Project in Liberia, states that ongoing operations identified through recently conducted GPS mapping are in direct violation of both GVL’s and GAR’s sustainability policies.

The also breach the “No Deforestation” policies of many of GAR’s largest customers, which include Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and PZ Cussons, according to the report. The report specifically calls on GAR’s shareholders to address the risks inherent in their investments in the palm oil sector.

Forested land

Jeff Conant, senior international forests program manager with Friends of the Earth US, said: “GVL’s forest destruction and its disregard for human rights poses serious material and reputational risks for both investors and commercial palm oil buyers.

“Stakeholders in these rogue companies need to recognize the risks and the wrongdoing and use their leverage to pull the brakes on GVL’s destruction.”

The report cites numerous testimonies from local residents finding that GVL continues to violate communities’ land rights, following a pattern of abuse that has been documented since the company began operations in 2012.

These findings echo a February 2018 decision by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) affirming that GVL has failed to implement adequate free, prior, and informed consent procedures and has sown conflict by destroying sacred sites and using coercion and intimidation to maintain its operations in disputed areas.

The RSPO has ordered GVL to cease operations in multiple locations, but GVL has rejected the RSPO’s findings and continues to clear forested land and build facilities in areas of conflict.

Communities’ rights

“The Liberian experience with palm oil companies like GVL reinforces the need for secure land rights to ensure that investment benefits local communities. Otherwise, companies like GVL will continue destroying the forests Liberians depend on for their livelihoods,” says James Otto, campaigner with the Sustainable Development Institute.

GVL is owned by a private equity firm controlled largely by the Indonesian billionaire Franky Widjaja, CEO of GAR.

While the Widjaja family controls the majority of shares in GAR, minority investors include the U.S. firms BlackRock, Vanguard, Dimensional Fund Advisors, TIAA, and CalPERS and the Dutch firm Robeco. Citibank, Rabobank and several Asian banks also have financial ties to the company.

In 2017, GAR became the first palm oil company listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, despite civil society concerns about the company’s unsustainable practices.

The new revelations about GVL’s ongoing violations come as Liberia’s Legislature is considering passage of a historic Land Rights Act that would recognise communities’ rights to own and manage their lands, following the recent election of President George Weah.

The report is accompanied by photos and testimonies and is available in a full-length version and an abridged version with key findings.

This Author

Patrick Davis is press officer at Friends of the Earth US.

A new investigation by Friends of the Earth has revealed that a palm oil company in Liberia continues to drive deforestation, habitat destruction, and human rights violations in some of the most dense rainforests in West Africa.

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