Rubber is the most significant cash crop in Liberia, with the Firestone Liberia rubber plantation being the biggest employer in the country. Bridgestone Corporation is the parent company of the Firestone Company, and it is the largest rubber and tire company in the world. Bridgestone is a Japanese company with its headquarters in Tennessee, and it owns this Liberian company. Firestone Liberia Rubber Company faces several accusations of polluting rivers and violating the labor rights of its employees.
Characteristics of the Human Rights Violation
The characteristics of this case include an explanation of the employee lists and their rights as well as violations of international norms and labor laws. The main ideas portrayed in this case study dwell on environmental problems and labor rights and were confirmed using interviews of several stakeholders, which create a need for more investigations and fast resolutions by Firestone Liberia (Mighty Earth, 2020). Worker and labor rights in Liberia are protected by the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union (FAWUL) and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Human Rights Violated
The claims against Firestone Liberia Rubber Company are that it disregards both the host of labor rights and the 2008 CBA. The human rights violations that were realized in this company include unfair dismissal of the officials of the union, recurrent evictions from the housing provided by the company, and continued poor practices of labor (Mighty Earth, 2020).
Another human right that the company violated is the problems realized in the transfer of Firestone's pension liabilities to the state. The human rights that Firestone Liberia Company violated were those of its employees as well as the newly elected union leaders because the company did not realize them as full-time employees of the union (United Nations, 2006). A good example of such violations is when FAWUL's Chairman and Grievance Officer were discharged dishonestly despite being full-time employees, according to the CBA.
Publisher of the Accusations
Mighty Earth published the accusations with the help of Tania Bernath and staff at Green Advocates as they have to establish efforts to make Firestone reliable for its activities in Liberia (Mighty Earth, 2020).
How the Company was Involved in the Accusations
Bridgestone published a sustainable policy for procurement that enabled it to set clear principles that help it maintain its position as the largest natural rubber purchaser in the world. However, the policy has not been effectively used as communities in the host countries complain about pollution of water as well as degradation of the environment (Newman & Woods, 2011). The company empties its waste products in rivers such as Farmington River, and the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia has confirmed the existence of pollutants in the river.
The local communities are left with no source of clean water as the rivers which feed their water supply are filled with chemicals and other harmful materials. The workers and their children are exposed to harmful pesticides and chemicals as they produce rubber, placing them at risk of having health problems with complications that may lead to death (Ackwerman, 2008). Free education and healthcare for the workers in Liberia depend on children having a birth certificate.
Firestone offers medical services, but it is hard for the workers to get access to them because many of them do not have birth certificates, a requirement for any person to get medical attention from the company (United Nations, 2013). The reason why many people in Liberia do not have birth certificates is that Firestone's Duside Hospital did not issue birth certificates during the country's civil war. The ministry of health in Liberia provides the birth certificate, but it is too expensive for most workers because it is almost half of their monthly salaries (United Nations, 2013). Even if they can get access to the birth certificates, they are employed as contractors rather than employees. They are, therefore, not entitled to the free education and healthcare provided by the company.
Firestone Liberia has had a long history of violation of human rights in Liberia, with many advocates raising concerns through campaigns over the rights of the workers in the company. In the year 1926, the United States rubber manufacturer talked terms for a 99-year rent in Liberia, where it would use one million acres to form the Firestone rubber farms (Diggs & Center, 2019). The Liberian government promised the company a continuous cheap labor supply. Still, it was later accused of using force to recruit laborers from the interior of Liberia and using them to work for Firestone Liberia.
A report in the year 1930, known as the Christy report, showed that the government forcibly enforced labor for private purposes and used such labor in the Firestone plantations. Of the 10,000 laborers working for the company, more than three-quarters of them did not report to work voluntarily as the government obliged villagers to vacate their households and work in the rubber plantations (Alao, 2017).
Firestone Liberia played a major part in the devastating civil war in the 1990s. Rebels headed by Charles Taylor violently attacked the plantation in the year 1990, which forced the company to sign a deal with Taylor so that it could re-open the rubber plantation in 1992 (Advocates, 2013). Firestone started paying taxes to the rebel administration, with $2.3 million being paid to the rebel administration by the end of one year (Advocates, 2013). In return, 300 soldiers protected the Firestone Liberia plantation with Taylor using it as a command post to attack Monrovia in a bid to overthrow Liberia's government in 1992 (Advocates, 2013). The attacks caused the historical civil war in Liberia, where thousands of people were raped, displaced, tortured, and killed. Child soldiers were used in battles making Taylor Liberia's president in 1997 (Advocates, 2013).
Accusations that exist against Firestone of violations of labor rights, abuses of human rights, and pollution of the environment became strong in the 2000s after the first democratic government was elected (DeJong, 2012). In 2005, a group of children and adults working in the Firestone rubber plantation filed a court case with a claim that the conditions of working at the plantation were similar to forced labor (DeJong, 2012). The supervisors at the plantation were accused of encouraging adult workers to come with their children to work so that the company would meet its high quotas of production.
Liberia has been ravaged by civil war for fourteen years, and this leads to 85 percent unemployment rates making the residents desperate for work (DeJong, 2012). Firestone Company, therefore, takes advantage of this situation to force the Liberian workers to tap at least 650 trees each day or have their wages slashed by half if they are unable to reach the targets (DeJong, 2012). More than 4,000 employees are required to come with their offspring and spouses to work so that they can meet their targets and get their daily pay (DeJong, 2012).
The workers are forced to work under harsh conditions because to reach the target of tapping 650 trees per day; they have to work for a minimum of 21 hours each day (Tejan-Cole, 2020). Children whose families depend on them for survival do not get an opportunity to attend school as they are always in the plantations working.
How the Company Reacted to the Accusations
Bridgestone came out to protect Firestone from the accusations against it with a claim that all employees in Firestone Liberia are governed using the same Human Resource systems it uses all over the world. The HR practices meet international standards across all the Bridgestone properties, not excluding Firestone Liberia; hence the employees who were fired from work had seriously breached the employment terms and policies of the company (Tejan-Cole, 2020). The company rejected any claims that they were dismissed for taking part in union activities.
It stated that they were placed through the relevant processes within the system of Human Resource Management, where warnings were given before the company took the measures to fire them. The response by the company was different from the employees' experiences as they were fired for being union executives (Tejan-Cole, 2020). On the matter concerning the use of child labor to achieve company profits, Firestone Liberia dismissed the case with an argument that the workers did not provide enough facts to support the claim.
The Liberian Firestone Company has had many cases of violation of the human rights of its workers and environmental pollutions, which affect the local communities in the country. the company was accused of violating the human rights of its workers and polluting the environment, especially rivers, through releasing its waste into river sources. The company rejected all claims placed in court against them as long as the workers did not have evidence of the exploitation and child labor; they accused the company of performing.
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Advocates. (2013). Flomo, et al. v. Firestone Natural Rubber Company. http://www.iradvocates.org/case/africa-liberia/flomo-et-al-v-firestone-natural-rubber-company
Alao, A. (2017). The burden of collective goodwill: The international involvement in the Liberian civil war. Taylor & Francis.
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Newman, T., & Woods, E. (2011, February 16). Labor Rights Advocates Congratulate Bridgestone/Firestone Workers in Liberia on Award from the U.S. Dept. of Labor. International Labor Rights Forum. https://laborrights.org/releases/labor-rights-advocates-congratulate-bridgestonefirestone-workers-liberia-award-us-dept
Tejan-Cole, A. (2020, February 29). Firestone's Lame Legacy in Liberia. https://www.politicosl.com/articles/firestone's-lame-legacy-Liberia
United Nations. (2006). Human Rights in Liberia's Rubber Plantations: Tapping into the Future. https://www.refworld.org/docid/473dade10.html
United Nations. (2013). The UN guiding principles on business and human rights an introduction. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Business/Intro_Guiding_PrinciplesBusinessHR.pdf
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