Investigation reveals palm oil giant destroyed forests in Upper Guinean Rainforest

Independent sustainability body confirms allegations that Golden Agri-Resources and its investee Golden Veroleum Liberia violated land and human rights

Monrovia, Liberia – Earlier this month an independent investigation in Liberia found that over a thousand hectares of sensitive and already-threatened forest ecosystem in the Upper Guinean Rainforest had been cleared.The finding was the result of the first formal complaint heard by the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), an environmental auditing body. 

The perpetrator, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), is a project of the world’s second largest palm oil company, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR). Internationally, GAR supplies palm oil to leading retail brands including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Mondelez and Nestle. One of a small number of multinational companies growing palm oil in West Africa, GVL operates its plantation on lands that are customarily owned by Liberian communities. The region also serves as a habitat for endangered, endemic species, including chimpanzees and pygmy hippopotami. 

“There is no denying anymore that GAR and GVL engaged in harmful practices resulting in deforestation and the violation of communities’ rights,” said James Otto, Program Coordinator at the environmental organization Sustainable Development Institute, based in Liberia. “These companies must now restore the forests and provide redress to affected communities. They should ensure that communities are leading forest restoration and management over their customary lands.”    

Otto expressed that “the Government of Liberia should urgently take up its role to enforce concession agreements and national policies to avoid deforestation and rights violations in all industrial monoculture plantations in Liberia.”  

 The HCSA Executive Committee determined that the companies must remediate the affected forests and violations of social standards, halt land development until conflicts with residents are resolved, submit new forest, biodiversity and land assessments, and adopt a “Zero Retaliation” policy to guard against further human rights violations. GAR released a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the verdict. 

The HCSA’s requirements are not legally binding and the only sanction facing the company is suspension from the HCSA group. However, the findings highlight GAR’s non-compliance with the “No Deforestation No Exploitation” policies of several of its customers and financiers. The conflict could bring a market backlash and increasing government scrutiny.   

GAR’s Liberian operations have faced ongoing charges of deforestation and human rights violations since its start in 2010. The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil found that the company’s operations were in broad violation of environmental and human rights norms in 2018, concluding a grievance process that began in 2012. Also in 2018, Sustainable Development Institute Liberia, Milieudefensie, and Friends of the Earth U.S., all chapters of the Friends of the Earth federation, filed the complaint with the HCSA group that concluded this month. That same year, the Liberian legislature passed the landmark Land Rights Act, which recognizes the customary land rights of communities to own, manage, and govern their traditional lands and forests.  

Communications contact: Kaela Bamberger, [email protected]
Expert contacts:
Jeff Conant
, Friends of the Earth US, [email protected], (575) 770-2829
James Otto, Program CoordinatorSustainable Development Institute Liberia, [email protected], +231 770 001 446
Danielle van Oijen, Forest Program Coordinator, Milieudefensie, [email protected], +31634019215 

 

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