In July 2015 Global Witness published a report called 'The New Snake Oil: Violence, Threats, and False Promises at the Heart of Liberia's Palm Oil Expansion'. The report focused on the land grabbing crisis in Liberia which was being driven by one of the country's biggest investors and supporters in the Government: Golden Veroleum. The report detailed how Liberians were reported to have been violently beaten, threatened and arrested for protesting the expansion of Golden Veroleum (GVL), a palm oil company that presides over one of the world’s biggest plantations in southern Liberia.
The report said “the company’s close ties to politicians have allowed it to aggressively expand its operations, protected by state security. During Liberia’s 2014 Ebola crisis, when local community support NGOs were staying at home for risk of contagion, GVL significantly – and suspiciously –
ramped up its expansion.”
The company is propped up by some of the world’s most popular banks including BlackRock who according to the report had an estimated investment of US$42,355,567 in GVL.
It said that since the end of Liberia’s civil war in 2003, the Government had made industrial agriculture a central pillar of the country’s development strategy, with ten percent of Liberia already earmarked for plantations – an area three times the size of Beijing. However resistance comes at a cost.
Global Witness stated that “GVL operations are protected by a combination of state forces and private security, and The New Snake Oil documents several reported instances of violent assaults and arbitrary arrests. There is significant political pressure on communities too, with those who dissent branded as “anti-development” and at least one Government staffer fired from his job for refusing to consent to expansion… This rapid agricultural expansion is taking place in a legal
vacuum. There are no laws in Liberia to govern how agriculture companies should be awarded contracts, how they should operate, or be held to account. Oversight is also lacking. At present there is no ministry that is mandated to regulate agricultural plantations, leaving Liberian NGOs to pick up the slack supporting communities as GVL expands onto their lands. When this monitoring was hampered by Liberia’s 2014 Ebola outbreak, GVL dramatically expanded its operations.
Between August and October 2014, at the height of the outbreak, GVL held a series of large community meetings signing over thousands of hectares of community land.”
Global Witness was calling on the Liberian Government, GVL, and the Government’s international partners to reform Liberia’s agriculture sector, protecting the rights of communities who are losing
their land. The Government should halt the further expansion of GVL’s plantation until it has investigated and held accountable those who may have beaten and intimidated community members and taken bribes.
The company lost a whole mark for secondary criticism under Human Rights.