Liberia: CSO-OPWG Alarms for the Land Rights Act Passage amid GVL Withdrawal from RSPO
Monrovia – The Civil Society Organizations Oil Palm Working Group has alarmed over the withdrawal of the giant oil palm concession Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) from the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil globally.
Report by Lisa T. Diasay, FPA Contributor
In a letter dated July 20, 2018, GVL withdrew from the RSPO based on what the company termed as ‘time and space’ to implement its sustainable plan other than the RSPO recommendation.
Earlier this year, the RSPO complaint committee found GVL in non-compliance with several elements to the RSPO principles and criteria including the company’s failure to implement adequate FPIC processes and procedures. Other elements were based on a 2012 complaints from GVL operation communities in Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties ranging on allegations of human rights abuses, the destruction of sacred sites, coercion and intimidation of community members and continued development of disputed land, among other, to which GVL has not denied or accepted.
Following the RSPO verdict, GVL appealed the decision, and in July 13, 2018, the Appeals Panel rejected the GVL’s appeal stating that it had ‘no merit’.
Following few weeks after being denied the appeal, the Golden Veroleum Liberia withdrew from the RSPO to follow its own principles and guidelines relative to the oil palm sector.
As it stands, GVL has a land Clearance of 2,200km2 concession in Liberia which was signed in 2010 for a 25-year operational agreement with the government of Liberia for palm oil production. Presently, several thousand of hectares of land have been cleared and planted, including lands that are subject of long-standing dispute between neighboring communities and in previously heavily forest.
Liberia’s forest is globally significant with populations of chimpanzee, leopard, pygmy hippopotamus and forest elephant which have been surveyed in the vicinity of the GVL’s planned concession.
Accordingly, the CSO Oil Palm Working Group stated that the company’s withdrawal reflects a lack of commitment to fully abide by the Liberian law, respect human rights and protect the environment. “The action of GVL violates article 16 of its contract with the Government of Liberia which requires it to be in compliance with the Principle of the RSPO. By refusing to abide by article 16, the company might be in breach of its environmental and human rights obligation,” the CSO-OPWG noted.
In 2008, the RSPO developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). When they are properly applied, these criteria can help to minimize negative impacts.
One of the most important RSPO criteria states no primary forests or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are fundamental to meeting basic or traditional cultural needs of local communities (high conservation value areas), can be cleared.
The group believes that the financiers of the GVL need to ensure that the company abides by its contracts with the Government of Liberia which the company will also respect the land and environment rights of Liberians.
“CSO-OPWG acknowledges the RSPO’s decision and its efforts to hold the GVL accountable for violating the land and environmental rights of rural Liberians and we note that the GVL’s voluntary withdrawal from the certification scheme without any indication of serious consequences is evidence of a critical weakness within the scheme,” the Group National Secretariat member, Gleadae Harmon-Hoskin sated.
Harmon-Hoskin said that the group is calling for stronger national policies, laws and regulations to govern activities of companies operating in the natural resource sector, especially large-scale investments in oil palm, and the international agreements that are legally binding.
The group said the passage of the Land Rights act remains a major priority for easing tension for customary landowners and rural dwellers in the acquisition of land and better benefits for development. “The Government of Liberia should also consider the GVL’s decision as a wakeup call to enact the Land Rights that has been under consideration since 2014,” the group averred.
When passed into law, the Land Rights Bill will recognize, formalize and strengthen communities’ land rights in Liberia which would also make it easier for Liberia courts to enforce the land rights of rural communities, rather rely on voluntary certification schemes such as the RSPO.
While the government including the lawmakers are debating the passage of the law, the CSO-OPWG wants the government to ensure effective monitoring of the concession companies for proper implementation of their contracts which the group believes will be in the interest of the affected communities, “ now that GVL has withdrawn from the RSPO for failure to abide by its sustainable plans government should ensure stronger monitoring of the concession companies because others might pull off soon and be on their own without being monitored by an international body,” the group noted.
The RSPO is an international certification scheme for Sustainable Oil Palm, in which members are voluntarily joined and monitored as per international best practice.
Basically, RSPO members across the globe represent seven stakeholder groups within the supply chain, completing the demand and supply loop and everything in between. Also its certified members is internationally recognized, moreover membership demonstrates a first step towards the commitment to sustainable palm oil.
By withdrawing from the RSPO, GVL will now operate in isolation of being monitored and products risked being sold on the black market due to the RSPO policies which cover its membership markets.
RSPO members have access to a strategic platform to create and influence policies and key decisions and benefit from best practice for agricultural, environment and social aspects.