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25 Feb 2021

Front Page Africa Online

Liberia: Panel finds palm oil giant violated land and cultural rights of local communities

‘Independent complaints panel finds Golden Veroleum liable of destroying Liberia’s forests’ 17 February 2021

Monrovia, Amsterdam, Washington D.C. – The High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), an agribusiness industry sustainability body, has confirmed longstanding allegations that Golden Veroleum Liberia, the Liberian investee of palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources, committed widespread deforestation over a thousand hectares of forest, including endangered species habitat and important wetlands. In a comprehensive report published this month, the company was also found to have violated the land and cultural rights of local communities, including the right to free prior and informed consent and social requirements on basic needs and grievance and remedy.

Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a venture controlled by the Singapore-listed conglomerate Golden Agri Resources (GAR), the world’s second largest palm oil company, was subject to grievances filed in July 2018 by Friends of the Earth groups from Liberia (Sustainable Development Institute), the Netherlands (Milieudefensie) and the United States (FoE US). The grievance was filed after field research in a sample of GVL’s palm oil plantations revealed that forests had been cleared. The plantation is situated on lands customarily owned by local communities that include endangered chimpanzee and pygmy hippopotamus habitats and one of the last strongholds of the threatened Upper Guinean Rainforest. The HCSA is a voluntary standard that agribusiness companies use to assess their impacts on forests. The HCSA is used by sustainability certification bodies such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The recent findings on GAR/GVL are the result of the first external complaint concluded by the HCSA Executive Committee under its grievance mechanism.

…The companies must deliver a time-bound action plan within three months to comply with the HCSA members code of conduct. GVL should halt plantation development until all conflicts with local communities are resolved and new forest, biodiversity and land assessments are validated. The findings also require the companies to conduct a human rights assessment and adopt a “Zero Retaliation” policy to guard against further human rights violations against local workers and communities. In 2018 the Liberian legislature passed the landmark Land Rights Act which recognizes the customary land rights of communities to own, manage, and govern their traditional lands and forests… Jeff Conant from Friends of the Earth US adds that “GAR does business with a long list of consumer brands, including Procter & Gamble, Pepsico, Nestle, General Mills, Mondelez and others; and receives investment from, among others, BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. Each of these entities holds a share of responsibility and can no longer turn a blind eye to a decade of destruction by GAR’s project in Liberia.”