Banner Image: An ArcelorMittal locomotive leaves the Port of Buchanan for Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Ojuku S. Kangar, Jr.
BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa County – A group, Bassa Untied Front for Positive Change (BASUFOC), has given ArcelorMittal an 11-day ultimatum to fulfill the portion of its concession agreement that relates to the county, which the steel giant has violated.
“We are calling on the entire citizenry to engage ArcelorMittal to tell her that we are tired,” lead advocate for the BASUFOC Du-Ben Cleon, said during a press conference held in the county. “We have given Arcelor Mittal from August 20 to 31 to fulfill the MDA, or else there will be a citizens’ action.” Cleon did not say what action the group would take.
“For any reason, ArcelorMittal decide to ride on the hospitality of the people as a weakness, the people will take a very strong citizens’ action,” Cleon added.
The group made an array of recommendations to the company for the benefit of people in Bassa, including 15 scholarships, more jobs at the technical, top management and security levels. Additionally, it called for the rehabilitation of the company’s residential area known locally as the loop. “We want to caution ArcelorMittal to take keen note of how the residential compound in the loop is gradually getting damaged by creeping forest, and lack of care,” Cleon said. The concession agreement obligates the company to carry out such a project.
In a statement on Wednesday, ArcelorMittal denied the group’s claims, saying “The issues raised by the group include serious misrepresentation of the facts.
“ArcelorMittal Liberia is a company that takes our commitments and corporate social responsibility seriously in partnership with support from company employees, government, and community stakeholders,” it said in the statement. “As a law-abiding corporate citizen, ArcelorMittal Liberia is open to civil engagement and encourages anyone or groups with interest or concerns about operations to use a civil and legal channel.”
‘There is no impact’
ArcelorMittal signed a 25-year mineral development agreement (MDA). It has operated for 16 years already. The concession agreement mandates the company to contribute US$3 million a year to the county social development fund for Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties, which covers its life-of-mine to US$75 million for development and improvement of the lives of local people in the concession area. But the group said that ArcelorMittal has not made the full payment.
Last year, ArcelorMittal launched a US$840,000 development fund for affected communities in the three counties after defaulting on the payment for 14 years. The delay in the payment is a violation of the company’s agreement. It also contravenes the United Nations Principles on Business and Human Rights, which companies such as ArcelorMittal that are listed on the London Stock Exchange ascribe to.
“This amount should have been US$3 million,” the group said. It urged ArcelorMittal to “ensure that affected communities receive their allotment every year in terms of projects and that the balance of US$2 million-plus be disbursed.”
BASUFOC—a conglomerate of students and marketers—accused the company of infringing on the rights of its members, and breaching health, education, security, employment, and safety guidelines enshrined within its mineral development agreement (MDA).
“Since the signing of the MDA, the construction or provision of secondary education in the concession area has remained evasive,” the group said. “As one of the custodian counties of the concessionaire that owns the seaport, which allows ArcelorMittal to sell her ore has been marginalized in terms of employment of its citizens and residents, needless to mention in strategic administrative, technical and managerial positions as spelled out in the MDA.”
The group also said that Liberia’s highest taxpayer has failed on the safety and security concession agreement. Last year June, one of the company’s locomotives derailed in a town in Nimba County. Such rail accidents contributed to a fall in the company’s production and shipment of crude iron ore, according to its midyear report. Production fell from 7.3 metric tons in the first quarter of this year to 4.9 metric tons of ore in the second quarter. Ore shipment also slumped within the same period from 7.4 metric tons to 4.6 metric tons.
“ArcelorMittal’s lack of safety is glaring and evidenced on the railroad,” the group said, demanding the company to “strengthen [its] safety installations on the railroad to meet international standards and [prevent] continuous derailment of locomotives.”
BASUFOC said ArcelorMittal also defaulted on its concessional obligation to train Liberians, hire their services and buy their materials. It cited Barccoline, a community close to Port of Buchanan, where the company ships its iron ore. The company has employed no one in the community’s 12 villages and towns, according to residents.
“Since 2012, ArcelorMittal has not done anything for this community that l have seen,” said Christian Yankoon, general secretary of the seafront community in an interview with The DayLight. “Their coming in Liberia should have impacted affected communities, but there is no impact [here]. For us, we are benefitting nothing.”
“Arcelor Mittal should have harnessed the potential of the Barccoline fishing industry so they can sell to the company,” Cleon said. “By doing this, the company would have transformed the community.”
ArcelorMittal Liberia has invested over $1.7 billion in the country. It is Liberia’s largest taxpayer, with the Luxembourg-headquartered steel manufacturer contributing over US$19 million to the country’s revenue in the fiscal year 2018/2019, according to the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) in its latest report. The company plans to begin expanding its mine facilities beginning this dry season to increase its production to 15 metric tons per year as of the fourth quarter of 2023 worth US$800 million.
The previous version of this story has been edited to reflect ArcelorMittal’s response to the group. It has also been corrected for US$840,000 instead of US$840 social development fund.