Dem. Rep. of Congo: Report raises concerns about land grabs, inadequate consultations & compensation by Feronia & Unilever

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Author: RIAO-RDC et GRAIN, World Rainforest Movement Bulletin

Les terres des plantations d’Unilever dans le bassin du Congo n’ont pas été restituées aux habitants. Elles ont été vendues à profit à une nouvelle série d’entreprises...Quelques-unes des plantations de palmiers à huile d’Unilever en République démocratique du Congo appartiennent à cette dernière catégorie...Unilever vendit en 2008 trois de ses plantations de palmiers à huile à la société Feronia...En octobre 2015, douze leaders des villages situés à l’intérieur de plusieurs concessions des provinces d’Équateur et Orientale où Feronia possède des réunirent à Kampala, en Ouganda, pour parler de leurs expériences et définir des actions communes afin de libérer leurs communautés de l’occupation et de l’exploitation qu’elles subissent depuis des générations. La réunion eut lieu à Kampala pour des raisons de sécurité...Feronia et son principal actionnaire, le fonds de développement britannique CDC, avaient publié des déclarations où ils affirmaient que l’entreprise était en train d’améliorer le niveau de vie des travailleurs et des communautés locales et...Les leaders communautaires...rejetèrent les allégations de Feronia et de la CDC...ce que les communautés veulent par-dessus tout, c’est qu’on leur rende leurs terres. Elles ont assez souffert et elles en ont eu assez des fausses promesses.

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15 September 2015

CDC Group response

Author: CDC Group (UK)

CDC exists to make a difference to people’s lives in some of the world’s poorest places by building businesses and creating jobs. Without CDC’s investment Feronia would not have survived and 3500 people would have lost their jobs, as well as the access to the schools, hospitals and infrastructure that the company provides to workers and the community. In the first 18 months of our investment we’ve met our top priorities of helping the company secure its immediate future and deliver improved pay and benefits for all of its workers. "We’re now focusing on helping the company use US$3.6m of our investment to deliver better environmental and social standards for workers and local people. This will include improved community engagement and environmental practices, upgraded community facilities, such as clean drinking water, and better workers’ housing and sanitation. As with many of the companies we support, we’re helping Feronia make improvements to the way it operates but this takes time"...CDC has been invested in Feronia for a little over 21 months – in that time we have provided the company with the capital to keep it afloat. This has helped preserve the jobs of 3500 direct employees and many thousands more who are dependent on Feronia’s contracts and supply chain. When we invest in a business we work with the management to ensure that they raise standards. We’re doing this with Feronia...CDC assesses all transactions that involve significant land acquisition, whether for food production or other uses, as high risk and applies IFC Performance Standards to each. CDC also puts in place environmental and social action plans and appropriate grievance mechanisms while continuing to actively assess this issue. 

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12 August 2015

Agro-colonialism in the Congo: European and US development finance bankrolls a new round of agro-colonialism in the DRC

Author: GRAIN & Réseau d’information et d’appui aux ONG nationales (RIAO-RDC)

The young priest Robert Bolenge* could not have imagined the poverty he would find when he arrived at his new post in Yaligimba...The district lies at the heart of vast oil palm plantations belonging to Feronia Inc.... "I had never witnessed such suffering before," says Bolenge. "I couldn't have imagined that someone could work so hard with a basket tied to his back, cutting down palm bunches all day, and only take home about $20 a month"...The other major DFI investor in Feronia is the UK government's CDC Group plc, formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation...Today, the AAF [African Agricultural Fund] and the CDC control over 70 percent of Feronia's shares...Feronia said it had "revolving 25-year leases" covering 101,455 ha...Yet community leaders...say that the only document that Feronia or Unilever have ever shown them as evidence of the company's rights to the 63,000 ha concession it claims is an old registration certificate that is riddled with errors and that does not confer any legal title."All they have is a falsified certificate of registration, signed by an incompetent surveyor," says the provincial deputy, Gaspard Bosenge-Akoko. "Can you imagine a company grabbing over 40,000 ha of land from these communities, depriving them of their agricultural activities, on the basis of this kind of flimsy document?"...They say the company has never consulted them about the use of their lands and has no right to be there. "We demand, first and foremost, the start of negotiations to reclaim our rights over the lands that have been illegally taken from us over the past 104 years...We want to be compensated, and only afterwards can we proceed to discussions over a memorandum of understanding for a new contract.", [they said]...Around 800 administrative staff lost their jobs when Unilever sold Marsavco and left the DRC. It also left owing these workers at least $24 million in unpaid wages. For the last 13 years they've been struggling to get that money from Unilever. The Supreme Court of the DRC ruled in their favour in 2007, but the money has yet to reach them.

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Company response
9 August 2015

Feronia response

Author: Feronia (DRC)

Feronia is making a huge difference to people’s lives in one of the world’s poorest places. Over 3500 people now have jobs in a region where there are no other employment opportunities. Not only are there jobs but Feronia provides access to schools, hospitals and infrastructure for our workers and the community. We’re...making improvements to the way we operate and to the conditions facing our people and the local community. Feronia’s management has a policy of transparency...Whilst we believe that’s over-arching intention in the work it does is well meaning, we simply do not recognise the criticisms arising from the report...If Feronia had not acquired this business and secured substantial international funding for the rehabilitation of the operation and its social infrastructure, there would be no employment, no medical facilities or professionals, no education, no hope. We are committed to building something that respects the community and our environment and allows people to not only survive but flourish...Since Feronia acquired PHC, shareholders have not taken any money out of the business and have continued to support us in our long-term commitment to improve the living and working environment of our employees and their communities and in our commitment to sustainable agriculture, environmental protection and community inclusion...Allegations of community harassment against Feronia are simply not true...The company has in place a comprehensive reporting system that advises an independent Environmental and Social Governance (“ESG”) committee of any incident of a social, environmental, health and safety or governance nature and these incidents are logged and investigated...Feronia...generally operates on land which is leased from the DRC government by way of over 80 fixed-term  ‘concessions’...Where issues relating to land are expressed by local communities, whether they are legally valid or not, Feronia endeavours to engage with those communities to assist in achieving a fair solution within the bounds of the country’s land laws...We have a massive positive impact on the quality of life of people. Feronia provides all medical care, including, hospitals, nursing staff, drugs and equipment, for its employees. People in local communities also have access to these facilities...Over 95% of PHC’s permanent workers are employed under a Collective Agreement..[that]...stipulates wage levels, hours of work...bonuses and additional benefits such as assistance towards school fees. Additionally, employees receive free healthcare for themselves and their families and...

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Company response
8 August 2015

Unilever response

Author: Unilever

Unilever would like to stress that it fully met all its obligations to employees of its former consumer goods business on the sale of Marsavco in 2002 in line with DRC labour law and including a compensation package of US $10 million paid at the time. Agreement with each individual affected was registered with the labour tribunal at the time in accordance with DRC legislation and there is no justification for any claim for further compensation.  Unilever has no direct commercial relationship with Feronia and there has been no discussion on local supply relationships, workers compensation or employment conditions since the sale of the Unilever stake in PHC.  Unilever is looking into the concerns raised in the report related to production under licence by Marsavco locally but has not yet been able to verify the allegations or consider the response of the companies involved. Unilever would been happy to offer comment to the authors of the report before publication but unfortunately was not given the opportunity to do so.

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