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Democratic Republic of Congo: HRW report alleges European development banks are failing to protect Feronia workers on palm oil plantations

A new report by Human Rights Watch entitled "A Dirty Investment" alleges workers on Feronia-owned palm oil plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been exposed to hazardous pesticides, which causes health problems, and suffer abusive employment practices, including receiving wages that drive extreme poverty levels. The report also claims that the European investment banks that fund Feronia - CDC Group from the United Kingdom; BIO from Belgium; DEG from Germany; and FMO from the Netherlands - had failed to meet their obligation to ensure that the companies they finance are not engaged in human rights abuses.

The four banks released a joint statement in response to the report, both available below. The BBC and Aljazeera articles includes comments from Feronia.

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Article
26 November 2019

Democratic Republic of Congo: Report finds Feronia workers suffer from pesticide exposure-related health conditions

Author: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

"DR Congo workers for Feronia made impotent by pesticides - HRW", 25 November 2019

Workers exposed to pesticides at a UK-funded firm in the Democratic Republic of Congo have complained of becoming impotent, a rights group has said...

...The UK government's development bank, CDC, owns 38% of Feronia in DR Congo.It said Feronia had invested heavily in protective equipment and all workers were required to wear it.

Feronia...said...it had spent $360,000 (£280,000) on personal protective equipment...which workers had been trained to use, and it had implemented a policy requiring the equipment to be worn in the workplace...

...Impotence - along with shortness of breath, headaches, and weight loss that the workers complained about - were health problems "consistent with exposure to pesticides in general..."...

...At the Yaligimba plantation, the company dumped the waste from its palm oil mill next to workers' homes...

...The rights group also accused Feronia of paying "extreme poverty" wages...

In a statement, CDC said: "Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME)...does not threaten human health. A treatment plant for POME represents a multimillion dollar investment - money that the company has chosen instead to spend on housing, clean water provision, healthcare and educational facilities for employees, their families and other members of the local communities. It is the aim of the company to build treatment plants...but is regrettably not in a financial position to do so currently...In addition, the company has refurbished or dug 72 new boreholes for the provision of clean water..."

...[Feronia said]  working conditions had improved considerably since the involvement of the European banks in 2013. Employees were now paid substantially more than the minimum wage...It also confirmed that it had invested considerably in access to safe drinking water...

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Report
25 November 2019

A Dirty Investment

Author: Human Rights Watch

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Item
25 November 2019

A joint statement from CDC Group, BIO, DEG and FMO on the long-term role of Development Finance Institutions in poverty-stricken regions of the world

Author: CDC Group, BIO, DEG and FMO

...Today’s Human Rights Watch report concerning our shared investment in PHC/Feronia [...] highlights the need for further investment to improve environmental and working conditions at the company. Realising improvements to working conditions and community infrastructure is central to DFIs’ engagement with Feronia. We therefore welcome HRW’s research and will continue to work with Feronia on how to best address these urgent challenges. We take very seriously our role and commitment as long-term socially responsible DFI investors to manage salient impacts and help to achieve positive change in challenging and imperfect contexts...

Investments like Feronia are never quick fixes. They take a great deal of investment, expertise and – most importantly – time and commitment to put right...

Throughout our engagement with HRW, we have been transparent about the company’s challenges...

[T]he issues raised by HRW in its report are important and the company, owners and lenders are committed to tackling them. Actions we are taking are detailed below...

Our ambitions for the company will not be achieved until it is financially self-sufficient and operating to international standards concerning working conditions and environmental best practice.

To that end, our motivation and goals are the same as HRW...

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Article
25 November 2019

DR Congo: Development Banks Linked to Palm Oil Abuses

Author: Human Rights Watch

The 95-page report, A Dirty Investment: European Development Banks’ Link to Abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Palm Oil Industry, documents that investment banks owned by Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are failing to protect the rights of people working and living on three plantations they finance. Human Rights Watch found that Feronia and its subsidiary in Congo, Plantations et Huileries du Congo, S.A. (PHC), exposes workers to dangerous pesticides, dumps untreated industrial waste into local waterways, and engages in abusive employment practices that result in extreme poverty wages...

The development banks have considerable leverage over the companies in which they invest, given the numerous conditions they attach to their lending, Human Rights Watch said...

The development banks should adopt policies that ensure that the businesses they invest in pay living wages to their workers... The banks should conduct systematic risk assessments [...] and establish time-bound plans to carry out mitigation measures. They should disclose this information to potentially affected communities and relevant authorities.

The banks should also strengthen their complaint systems to provide a real remedy to victims, publicize the systems in potentially affected communities...

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Article
25 November 2019

European banks accused of failing to protect DRC palm oil workers

Author: Mia Swart, Aljazeera

A new report by a prominent rights group has accused four European development banks of failing to protect workers on palm oil plantations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from being exposed to hazardous pesticides and being paid very low wages, driving the levels of "extreme poverty".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said [...] that the investment banks - CDC Group from the United Kingdom; BIO from Belgium; DEG from Germany; and FMO from the Netherlands - had failed to meet their obligation to ensure that the companies they finance are not engaged in abusive practices.

HRW found that the lack of oversight by the banks enabled the palm oil-producing company Feronia and its subsidiary, Plantations et Huileries du Congo SA (PHC), to commit abuses and environmental harm...

"The banks should insist that Feronia remedies the abuses and commits to a concrete plan to end them." ...

According to HRW, the alleged practices of PHC contravene the DRC's labour law and international human rights standards...

[T]he four banks acknowledged that the issues raised in the report were "important", adding that "the company, owners and lenders are committed to tackling them"...

For its part, Feronia said in a statement in response to the report that it had done "a huge amount" since 2013 but recognised that "there is still a great deal to be done"...

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