Liberia sighs under Dutch rule in Liechtenstein logging company
The Liechtenstein company under Dutch leadership “NRD Natural Resources Development’ exploits part of the rainforest in Liberia. The two operating companies”International Consultant Capital” (ICC) and “Geblo logging”, acquired logging concessions on 398,000 hectares of land in the “Grand Gedeh”, “Sinoe” and “Rivercess” districts in 2009.
NRD owes a number of fees for the exercise of that right. For the land rental, taxes and a number of social obligations stipulated in the contract between the Liberian government and the logging companies.
NRD and her subsidiaries never met their financial obligations toward Liberia since their inception, and in doing so they seriously failed the country and its people.
When the “Liberia Forest Initiative” (LFI) was launched in 2004, its intent was that the reforms of the Liberian forest sector after the end of the civil war would benefit the Liberian people. It was an initiative of the United States Department of State (via USAID), and was supported by a number of international organizations, including the World Bank.
By mid-2020, the arrears in the financial obligations of ICC and GEBLO jointly amount to over twenty-five million dollars. Money, which largely had to benefit local communities in Liberia. For the construction of infrastructure, schools and hospitals. The contracts were intended to lead to employment for the bitterly poor inhabitants of local communities. About 5,000 jobs were envisaged in the forestry sector. With decent housing, food and a safe working environment. Very little – if at all – has come of this. Today, the forestry sector employs 1,500 people. Of those, about 500 are employed by the two companies. Under poor working conditions; with meager wages, no housing. With irregular food rations and without job security. Little or nothing came of the initial promises.
labour conditions ICC & Geblo in Liberia
|Nr. of employees||309||179|
|Full Time||14 %||0 %|
|Part-time / casual||86 %||100 %|
|Contract duration||1-6 months||Per day|
|Minimum wage per day||$ 3,50||$ 3,50|
|Maximum wage per day||$ 8,00||$ 7,50|
|Housing on camp||10 %||30 %|
|Allowance if not||No||No|
|Ration per month||25 Kgs||25 Kgs|
|Reliability of ration||Irregular||Irregular|
|Source: NUCFD 2019: assessment employment conditions|
The article below is a poignant example of how companies deal with their social responsibility. It is not a story in itself, there are numerous similar examples. The saga of the forest sector in liberia after Taylor and Kouwenhoven is endless and steeped in a large number of incidents and gross abuses. My book “The Tocantins Forest’ takes you along into the sad details.
ICC LOGGING EMPLOYEES THREATEN WITH HUNGER STRIKE OVER SALARY DELAY
Grand Bassa County- About 250 workers from the “International Consultant Logging Company” (ICC) have threatened to go on hunger strike if they fail to pay five months’ wages owed to them by the company’s management.
According to Mr Emmanuel Somah, a representative of the disadvantaged workers, no more timber shipments will take place from the ICC facilities in Big Joe Town, just outside the port city of Buchanan, until the issue is resolved. The boycott will last until the arrears have been paid in full.
The injured workers’ action follows management’s plan to pay two months of their five-month arrears and the balance three months later. The workers reject this and demand that all five months be paid in full.
According to them, in order to calm the prevailing situation, the government must intervene quickly and ensure that they get their money, otherwise they will embarrass the company’s operation by blocking the main entrance until their demands are met.
Mr Somah said; “We came here on Monday to get our money and the management told us to go home and come back on Tuesday as they were not willing to pay our five months backlog.
However, when we arrived on Tuesday, management begged us to settle for two months from our five months backlog and showed us a later date for the balance to be paid. But we say no to that, we want all our money because we don’t trust the company. If not, the company will not operate in peace.”
The five month backlog is equivalent to USD$1,000 to USD$1,800.
“We have our wife and children at home, and there is no food. We work for this company and every month we have to apologize because we don’t get paid. Some of us have been abandoned by our wives and children because we cannot provide for their daily needs.
This company really pushes us to cause trouble and we’re not going home. We prefer to sleep at the company’s concession yard until we get our money,” said Mr. Somah.
The workers feel that the government of Liberia, including Grand Bassa County labor commissioner Mr Johnson Quaqua, does not represent them well, but speaks in the public interest of the company just because of the taxes they pay to the government.
Mr Somah added. “The president told us in his inaugural address that we wouldn’t be spectators of our own province’s economy, but now it’s even worse than that; we toil for nothing on our own land as if we were outsiders.
Cutting a log is no easy task. When we have a hard time in the bush, the government cannot provide protection, but there is now time and money to send a huge team of officers from the Police Unit (PSU) today to calm the situation and also to company and its management. This Is So Sad For Our Democracy”
When asked, Mr. Johnson Quaqua, the Grand Bassa County labor commissioner, condemned the company’s move to export the county’s resources while unable to pay its employees their wages.
Despite his disappointment, Mr. Quaqua thanked the aggrieved workers for their peaceful protest, assuring them that he would continue to pressure the management of the logging company until the money was paid in full.
Furthermore, Mr Quaqua said that the company’s management had told him that the slowdown in workers’ salary is caused by the fall in prices in the global market and the effect of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“Because of my intervention, the workers have kept so quiet and I say it is not ‘good practice’. That’s why we’re urge anyone who owes workers a salary to make sure these people get their money, because that’s what they work for.”