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

Author: Abdi Latif Dahir, Quartz Africa, Published on: 2 May 2019

"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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Related companies: Golden Agri-Resources Golden Veroleum Liberia