LIBERIA: Forest Peoples Requested to Provide Answers

Monrovia – London-based Forest Peoples Programme recently issued a report in which it claimed elements of Liberian concession agreements to be illegal. The report titled “Harmful Social and Environmental Impacts of Liberia Palm Oil Project Exposed” looked into palm oil company Golden Veroleum Liberia’s activities in the local communities of Grand Kru and Sinoe County. In a press release sent to GNN the NGO claimed that GVL’s procedures regarding Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) were highly inconsistent with relevant standards, including the Principles and Criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and its parent company GAR’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP). Despite its commitments to meeting high social and environmental standards, GVL’s track record of engaging with communities in its concession area shows a continuing disregard for FPIC and other social obligations in practice, while questioning whether such palm oil projects can ever be FPIC compliant.

For its part, GVL responded in its own press release. The company spokesperson, Stephen Binda, insisted that the FPP report was a rehash of old items and clearly FPP was out of date with its assessment by providing old and irrelevant information. He went on to say that the information provided by FPP in its report consistently made use of anonymous and unknown sources, which in his words questioned the validity of the claims made.

Upon initial reading of the FPP release and report GNN ascertained that the statement by Binda to be correct, in the use of unnamed and anonymous sources by FPP. GNN Managing Editor, Cholo Brooks, called FPP headquarters to get a response. As of the publishing of this story FPP has yet to respond.

Some of the questions regarding the claims GNN wanted to obtain were:

1) When did FPP conduct this study and in what communities?
2) Why does FPP use anonymous sources in its report?
3) What is FPP definition of human rights?
4) Why does FPP consider Liberian concession agreements or at least elements to be illegal?  And, has FPP addressed this officially with the Liberian government?
5) When does FPP plan to come to Liberia and embedding in the local communities?
6) What Liberian NGOs or CSOs are FPP working with?
7) Why should the Liberian people take FPP seriously since it does not operate in Liberia, but from Europe?
8) Has FPP coordinated its efforts with the Liberian government?
9) What alternatives does FPP have for employment or improved livelihoods for Liberian people?
10) Why does FPP not have an official boots on the ground approach by living with and in Liberian communities, which it claims to speak for and defend?

GVLs Head of Communication, Virgil Magee, noted that the FPP report lacked a current understanding of the communities in Southeast Liberia, and of how GVL works with them. Additionally that FPP had not participated in sustained fieldwork with communities for the past 1.5 years, and has chosen to utilize outdated information while presenting its data as current facts.

According to Magee, “GVL highly encourages FPP to engage directly with the company and local communities and that the FPP report highlighted selectively picked views and quotes, while excluding others. In particular, omitting broad community views, which would provide a more accurate reflection of GVL’s operation and its relationship with local communities and that in FPPs analysis of the Concession Agreement, it selects and quotes specific clauses without providing context and qualifiers, which provides a misleading interpretation.” He went on to say that GVL has on multiple occasions invited FPP and others to dialogue with the company and local communities, and in the local communities. “Only this way can we move forward,” he added. “We want to work with them and other stakeholders in a constructive and progressive manner.”

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