Golden Veroleum Liberia Lays Off Workers, Endangers Communities, Highlighting Failure of Industrial Plantation ModelAmidst pandemic, palm oil industry poses increasing risks to communities, investors, and climate
WASHINGTON – Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a palm oil company operating in Liberia since 2012, announced recently that it is laying off 440 workers – about a tenth of its workforce – due to unsustainable losses and the falling price of palm oil. GVL’s operations have long been fraught with well-documented cases of land grabbing, deforestation, desecration of community sacred sites, and the destruction of endangered species habitat.
In April, GVL reportedly convened a community meeting in Sinoe County, violating government measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, according to the Sustainable Development Institute. These alarming reports cast raise questions about GVL’s practices and further demonstrate the company’s failure to respect communities’ rights and wellbeing, particularly given the company’s history. In 2014 at the height of the Ebola outbreak, GVL facilitated community meetings and insisted villagers sign over thousands of hectares of their land at a time when public gatherings were banned. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the certification body for the industry, found that GVL had acquired the land without the communities’ free, prior, informed consent.
Gaurav Madan, senior forests and lands campaigner with Friends of the Earth US, issued the following statement in response:
Golden Veroleum’s recent layoffs and continued disregard for communities’ rights highlight the failures of the industrial plantation model to bring about prosperity or development. GVL’s notorious history of abuse and environmental destruction is illustrative of how agribusiness at large continues to devastate both communities and forests around the world. Governments and investors should recognize the inherent risks posed by agribusiness and regulate and exclude companies that endanger people and planet for profit.
GVL is owned by Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the second largest palm oil company in the world. GAR, which is listed on the Singapore stock exchange, is backed by some of the world’s largest financial institutions including BlackRock, Vanguard, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, OCBC Bank and China Development Bank. GVL and GAR’s social and environmental violations constitute significant material risks to investors, including increasing climate-related risks due to the role of agribusiness in driving deforestation worldwide.
Earlier this year, Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby announced the sale of its entire Liberian operations after posting losses of tens of millions of dollars in consecutive years. Sime Darby’s concession, the second largest in Liberia after GVL, sold for $1 plus earn-out payments, signaling the continued decline of an industry linked with widespread environmental destruction and human rights abuses.