Liberia: Global Witness report alleges intimidation, violent abuse of communities opposed to Golden Veroleum's encroachment on their lands

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Article
2 May 2019

Liberia: Lawyer forced into exile after fighting palm oil industry receives Goldman Environmental Prize

Author: Abdi Latif Dahir, Quartz Africa

"How challenging the powerful global palm oil industry forced a Liberian lawyer into exile", 29 April 2019.

...Deforestation has...become a critical issue for the forest cover, particularly with the growing demand for palm oil that is used in everything from cosmetics and food to cleaning products...The efforts to ensure Liberia’s tropical forests remain intact is why Liberian lawyer Alfred Brownell, 53, was among those granted the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco today...

In 2010, Liberia’s government signed a 65-year concession agreement to develop over 543,000 acres of land with Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a subsidiary of the Singapore-listed company Golden Agri-Resources. Yet the company was immediately accused of clearing community forests and desecrating burial grounds and sacred sites without notifying residents or adequately compensating them. Because Brownell knew that GVL depended on its certification with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, he helped launch a community complaint that halted plantation expansion and protected 513,500 acres–or roughly 94% of the forest leased to GVL...Tensions rose after the company failed to deliver the promised jobs and roads to the community, leading to violent demonstrations against it at a plantation in Sinoe County. Brownell again intervened, securing the release of 14 out of 15 community members who were arbitrarily detained. One of them had died in mysterious circumstances.

With his rising profile, Brownell was targeted for his work and found himself at the center of a national manhunt—eventually escaping with his family in mid-December 2016 to the United States...In 2018, he also became the Beau Biden Chair’s inaugural recipient, a fund dedicated to preserving the lives and knowledge base of scholars who are in danger...

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Article
23 July 2015

Global Witness report: 'The new snake oil? - violence, threats and false promises at the heart of Liberia’s palm oil expansion'

Author: Global Witness

'The new snake oil? - violence, threats and false promises at the heart of Liberia’s palm oil expansion', 23 Jul 2015:…This report shows how Liberians are reported to have been violently beaten, threatened, and arrested for protesting the expansion of Golden Veroleum (GVL)…During Liberia’s 2014 Ebola crisis, when…NGOs were staying at home for risk of contagion, GVL significantly – and suspiciously – ramped up its expansion…Community meetings where citizens are encour­aged to sign away their land to GVL are watched over by high-rank­ing Government officials. People report having…no choice but to sign, and while the company says communities are providing their free, prior, and informed consent, Global Witness’ analysis…raises concerns that signatories lacked sufficient information to make informed decisions…GVL operations are protected by a combination of state forces and private security, and The New Snake Oil documents several reported instances of violent assaults and arbitrary arrests…Global Witness is calling on the Liberian Government, GVL, and…international partners to…protect…the rights of communities…

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Company response
23 July 2015

Golden Veroleum Liberia responds to Global Witness report

Author: Golden Veroleum Liberia

'Golden Veroleum Liberia responds to Global Witness report', 23 Jul 2015: GVL strongly refutes the allegations contained in the Global Witness (GW) report…We are highly transparent in all our operations and have repeatedly invited local and international NGOs to work with us…The report…alleges that GVL accelerated its conversion activity during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. These allegations are simply wrong. 70% of all land preparation activity in 2014 was undertaken prior to the major outbreak of Ebola...The report also makes assertions of coercion and improper dealings by government officials and…GVL employees. These assertions are historical in nature and were previously investigated…show[ing]…that GVL has not been party to any coercion or improprieties…[O]ur sustainability and operational processes…in many areas exceed RSPO, Liberian and industry requirements and standards. Yet we…will continue to make improvements...We remain committed to responsible investment in Liberia and to working constructively and respectfully with our host communities and stakeholders for many years to come…

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Article
23 July 2015

Liberia: Global Witness exposes violence, threats and false GVL promises

Author: Front Page Africa (Liberia)

'Global Witness exposes violence, threats and false GVL promises', 23 Jul 2015:…[A] new Global Witness exposé…details how state officials are…helping…palm oil company Golden Veroleum (GVL) harass communities into signing away their land and crush dissent. The report…documents the huge foreign investment, state-sanctioned violence, and regulatory black holes that are making this possible. Global Witness reveals how GVL accelerated its operations at the peak of Liberia’s 2014 Ebola outbreak. The company held meetings with hundreds of people and encouraged illiterate citizens to sign away their land rights when community support groups were staying home for risk of contagion. At this time GVL almost doubled the size of its plantation. This behaviour hasn’t discouraged the world’s major banks…[including] Standard Chartered, HSBC, and Citibank [from investing] in GVL parent company – Golden Agri-Resources (GAR)…Global Witness is calling on Liberia’s government to investigate acts of violence, pass a law recognising that rural communities own their land, and regulate the country’s agriculture sector…

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Company response
8 July 2015

Detailed GVL comments matrix response to Global Witness letter

Author: Golden Veroleum Liberia

‘Detailed Comments Matrix GVL information response to Global Witness letter of 18 June 2015’, 8 Jul 2015:...GW June 18 statement/ allegation: After the GVL contract period ends, the company’s plantation will be transferred to the Government, making it unlikely that the communities who own the land on which the GVL plantation is located will ever again be able to manage their land. GVL response: Based on our policies, the full GVL Concession Agreement (CA), the approved Liberian Land Policy, the current Land Act in front of the Legislature, and our agreements with communities, GVL believes it to be well established and recognized that the land we have worked on so far is community land, and will revert to communities at the end of any agreement periods. Discussion: GVL will only develop land agreed with host communities under the company’s and RSPO’s FPIC process; we respect and recognise community customary ownership of these lands…

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