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Report Accuses MOPP of Land Grab, Pollution and Labor Abuses

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Top: The entrance of the headquarters of Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) in Pleebo Sodoken District. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Mark B. Newa


MONROVIA – The Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) is involved in bad labor practices, land-grabbing and pollution, a new report by the nongovernmental organization the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) alleges. It accuses MOPP of wiping out local communities’ livelihood in violation of Liberian laws.  

The “Social and Environmental Impacts of Maryland Oil Palm Plantation in Liberia” report alleges the company of abusing the rights of locals to their land, and pushing them into poverty by polluting water sources and reneging on its concession obligations to develop their farms or smallholders program.  

“Today, we bring you compelling revelations… an open disregard of the rights and dignity of local communities affected by MOPP,” James Otto, a lead campaigner at SDI, told a press conference marking the launch of the report.  

“The SDI has worked to bring… issues impacting communities and environment, blatant violations of our laws and lack of respect for local communities on whose land whose land and resources company operates in our country,” Otto added.

SDI said it interviewed 23 people placed in 10 groups from seven communities for the report. It also interviewed the head of the local office of the EPA and local authorities, and photographs relevant places with global positioning system (GPS) coordinates.

MOPP did not answer queries for comments.

MOPP signed its concession agreement with the Liberian government in 2011 for covering 15,200 hectares of land in Maryland County and Grand Kru and worth US$230 million over the 25-year period. Owned by the Ivorian SIFCA Group, MOPP took over the ruins of Decoris Oil Palm Company, also based in the Ivory Coast after the end of the Liberia civil wars.  

Following in Decoris’ footsteps, MOPP with the aid of armed police, cleared communities’ lands, destroyed their ancestral graveyards dishonored traditional shrines and sacred sites, leading to riots.

Land-grab

MOPP abused communities’ rights to their ancestral land, the report says. The company did not get the consent of of local communities—including some that legally documents—before developing its plantation. It accuses the company of illegally including 6,400 acres of land on which it is obligated to develop farms for villagers, and that the company has no individual agreements with communities.  

Findings of the report are similar to a 2015 report by the Social Entrepreneur for Sustainable Development (SESDev) and Forest Peoples Programme.   

“Communities have the right to a formal and legally binding agreement with the company on the use of their lands,” Otto said. “MOPP urgently needs to start negotiating and listening to communities agree on terms and conditions of a lease, provide loss and damages and give back land to communities where requested.”

“If the employee or contractor is sick or even if he/she is hurt at work it will be noted as an ‘absence’ and the day salary is not paid – or employees receive only half of their due payment,” according to the report.

Criminalization

Citing unnamed sources, the report alleges that MOPP harasses and intimated citizens.

One woman said MOPP security guards arrested and beat her daughter who they accused of stealing palm nuts. The woman said “I had to pay L$3,000 to the MOPP security to free her.” Her comments are backed by a civil society actor.  

The report narrates an account of a local named Saturday Wilson, who it says has been frequently intimidated by MOPP for over a decade for a farmland in Gewloken, the town closest to MOPP’s headquarters.

“I am being threatened again and again repeatedly for the small piece of land owned by my family on which I planted palm. MOPP still wants to use the LLA agents and the court to take it away from me. As I speak, they are still after me.

Labor Issues

MOPP pays it contractors below the minimum wage (US$5.50 per day), cutting some contractors’ wages when they are sick or injured, the report alleges. The company does not permanently employ contractors even after three years.

“Contractors receive no payment for the day if production goals are not met. Production goals include the number of palms cleared of weeds as well as harvest volumes,” it says.   

A new report by the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) accuses Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) of bad labor practices. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue.

Pollution

The report accuses MOPP of planting in swamps, a breach of its environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, and principle of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the global watchdog for the commodity industry.  

MOPP’s mill waste and fertilizers are seeping into creeks used by locals for drinking water, it says, citing several locals.

“They planted palms in all the swamps around here. And when the palm started growing, they used to apply fertilizers and it really used to affect our water,” one says.  

And another, “They are still dumping the palm butter in the Swanpken river and people downstream are finding it difficult to use the water now.”  

In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined MOPP US$10,000 for importing several chemicals into the country without acquiring the requisite approval from the agency.

Livelihoods

Communities told SDI researchers that their livelihoods have been heavily compromised due to pollution, forest degradation and a shortage of land, according to the report.  

As the result, farmers have no access to herbs and firewood, forest to hunt, and waterfronts to fish, it says, adding grass the company had planted to control weeds are destroying their crops.  

“Reduced access to farmland increases food insecurity and less cash crops to support family incomes. Villages literally find the oil palms on their doorsteps. They have no living space or only degraded or poor areas where they can try and provide for their families,” the report added.

“The little farmland that we secured is no longer good because we have used it over and over again,” one farmer says in the report.

The report calls on MOPP to halt its expansion until it signs memoranda of understanding with communities, pays compensation for land-grab, completes the development of the mandatory smallholders’ program.

MOPP did not reply a set of questions from The DayLight on the issues raised in the report. The company did not respond to follow-up emails.

Seven Takeaways from LEITI’s 13th Report

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Top: Sand mining on the Robertsfield highway. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Gabriel M. Dixon

MONROVIA – Since its establishment in 2009, Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative has provided information on the governance of extractive resources, and encouraged openness and sound management of Liberia’s natural resources and the revenues generated therefrom by the government.  In June this year, LEITI released its 13th report to the public in keeping with its Act. The report covers mining, oil and gas, agriculture, and forestry.

It provides insights and depths into the activities and operations of companies in the extraction of minerals and logs, and the production and processing of rubber, oil palm, cocoa, and others.  

Here, The DayLight highlights seven takeaways from the report you need to know:  

Iron Ore Leads Export

Ships at the Freeport of Monrovia. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Extractive resources remain the main export commodities for Liberia. The country is heavily dependent on its natural resources with mining the largest contributor. Between 2019 and 2020, Liberia exported iron ore, diamonds, gold, bauxite, and other base metals. It also exported rubber, cocoa, and round woods from the agriculture and forestry sectors.

ArcelorMittal was the sole producer of iron ore, with Europe being the main destination of the commodity.  Iron ore represented 78.6 percent of the value of export in 2019-2020. Diamonds accounted for three percent of export value, with Israel the main destination of the precious minerals.

Mining Is Once More On Top Of Extractive Industries

Sand mining operation in Margibi County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Mining interjected the highest revenue from extractive activities in the domestic economy. It contributed US$45.243 million in the 2019/2020 fiscal year out of US$70.915 million in total revenue.

Minerals currently being mined in Liberia include iron ore, gold, diamonds, bauxite, and several base metals. Income from those minerals represents 63 percent of revenues generated from the entire extractive industry for the fiscal period the report covers. Second to mining was Agriculture which generated US$17.455 million, mostly from concession-related operations in the rubber and oil palm subsectors.  Agriculture was followed by forestry, netting US$7.312 million primarily from logging operations.

Mining, agriculture, and forestry were the three highest performers in the extractive sectors in 2019/2020. Oil and gas also contributed to tax income despite low investment activities. It contributed US$0.905 million to the revenue stream of Liberia for the period.

Rubber was the largest export commodity in the agriculture sector. it represents 81 percent of the total value of commodities exported by agriculture companies in 2019/2020. The Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) exported more rubber than any other company during the period, representing 56.7 percent of the total rubber exported.

Crude Palm Oil and Kernel were exported by two companies, LIBINCO Oil Palm and Golden Veroleum Liberia.  Both companies exported US$27.063 Million value of crude palm and kernel oils in 2019/2020. Total tax income from agriculture for the period was US$17.455 million with Firestone contributing 36.2 percent of the amount.

ArcelorMittal Is Liberia’s Biggest Taxpayer

Mining giant ArcelorMittal again tops the list of taxpayers. The company paid US$30.966, making it the biggest contributor of tax dollars in the extractive sector. It exported 9.5 million metric tons of iron ore between 2019 to 2020 on which the company paid taxes to Liberia. Firestone Rubber Company, the largest agriculture company in Liberia, paid US$6.318 million in taxes, making it the second biggest taxpayer. The company occupies the biggest land concession area in the history of Liberia with 405,000 hectares of land. oil palm companies Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County, and Equatorial Palm Oil in Grand Bassa County came third and fourth, with tax remittances of US$2.254 million and US$0.773 million, respectively.

ArcelorMittal and three other companies accounted for 92.2 percent of total tax income generated from mining in 2020. The other companies are BEA Mountain Mining Company, MNG Gold Liberia, Inc., and Hummingbird Resources, Inc. Arcelor Mittal is the sole producer of iron ore while BEA Mountain, MNG Gold, and Hummingbird are all involved in the extraction of gold, according to the report.

Community Forests Exported More Logs Than Forest Concessions

A man marks logs harvested from the Korninga A Community Forest in Gbarpolu. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

There were more logging activities in community forest management areas (CFMA) than in forest management contracts (FMC) areas in Liberia, according to LEITI. Community forests produced 65,997.52 cubic meters or 75 percent of round logs in 2019-2020, while large-scale concessions produced 21,999.18 cubic meters of timbers. Total annual production for the period was 87,996.7 cubic meters according to information provided by the FDA to LEITI.

The export value of round logs was US$4,023,280, representing payments by 20 logging companies. The total volume of round logs exported was 230, 642 cubic meters with community forest exporting 54. 7 percent of the total volume while large-scale concessions and other forest agreements accounted for 48.3 percent.  

Community Forest Management Agreements and Forest Management Contracts are the two main types of agreements that produce round logs for export. Asia was the main destination of Liberian woods with China accounting for 62.4 percent of export There were more logging activities in community forests than in large-scale forest concessions. Out of the 87,996.7 cubic meters of round logs that were produced.

Community forests exported 127,139 cubic meters of round logs or 55.1 percent of the total round wood production for the fiscal period of 230,654 cubic meters. The total value of round woods exported was US$4,023,280.  

Community forests and large-scale concessions or forest management contracts are the two main types of agreements that produced round logs for export.

Agriculture Companies Employed More  

Workers of Golden Veroleum Liberia in Butaw, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The agriculture sector was the largest employer in the extractive industries. The sector workforce stands at 14,845, second only to the mining sector. Firestone remains the largest contributor to employment in the agriculture sector.

The sector is also the largest benefactor to social and environmental expenditure and it accounts for 68.5 percent of the total expenditure highlighted in both the agriculture and mining sectors. Total social expenditure by the agriculture sector was US$1.924 million in 2019 and 2020.

The International Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (IEITI), the parent oversight body of LEITI, defines Social and environmental expenditures as “a form of contributions from companies with the aim of supporting social development or to account for potential environmental impact.” In some cases, these social or environmental payments are based on legal or contractual obligations. In other cases, companies make voluntary social or environmental contributions.

LEITI agreed that based on the 2019 report, any public social expenditure such as payments for social services, public infrastructure, fuel subsidies, national debt servicing, etc. made by NOCAL i.e., outside of the national budgetary process be regarded as a quasi-fiscal expenditure

Companies Are Hiding Their Owners

A camp of International Consultant Capital in Tappita District, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The LEITI Act requires companies to disclose information on those who own them. but the institution found that many companies are not providing “ beneficial ownership” information as required by the Liberian Business Association Act of 1976 as amended in 2002.

The report said only 31 of the 132 companies that applied for or had licenses, were active in the mining sector. From the 31, only seven have declared who their owners are.

In the forestry sector,  28 companies but just three of them actually disclosed ownership. One company also provided partial owners’ identities. What it means is that 86 percent of companies engaged in logging in 2019/2020 did not disclose to government regulators who their owners are but were allowed to operate.

Similarly, in the agriculture sector, one company provided detailed information on the company ownership, and another company provided moderate ownership information to regulators from 13 active licenses issued in that period.

The Oil & Gas sector reported two active licenses issued to Chevron Liberia Holdings (Limited), and  Deeco Oil & Gas. Chevron is a listed company on the international market. But Deeco Oil &  Gas did not provide information on its owners. 

Concealment of company beneficial ownership enables many illegal activities, such as tax evasion, corruption, money laundering, and financing of terrorism, to take place out of the view of law enforcement authorities. Governments and international financial and business regulators now require companies to declare shareholders or ownership information to the public as part of global transparency initiatives.

The Business Association ACT of 2002 empowers the Liberia Business Registry to implement beneficial ownership disclosures which enhance transparency in doing business. In 2021, Liberia signed up for the Opening Extractive Program (OEP).  OEP is intended to assist Liberia to implement the beneficial ownership (BO) regime. Under the 2009 ACT of LEITI companies are required to disclose once every year the data on payments and other revenues.  

Companies Are Not Providing Relevant  Information

Rubber is one of Liberia’s major export commodities. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

Section 7.2 of the LEITI Act mandates the institution to report on a regular basis, to the president of Liberia and the general public. Such a report should include payments and revenues, audits, and/or reviews of concessions and contracts between the government and companies in the extractive sector. 

The report, however, said companies are not providing all of the information mandatory for full disclosure of contracts. It said it has “noticed that some mining contracts were not publicly disclosed on any of the agency’s (Ministry of Mines and Energy) platform” despite the companies being actively engaged in mining activities during the reporting period.  It further stated that “While all mining licenses are being disclosed on a license portal, the terms and conditions associated with those licenses are not disclosed.”

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