Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU) welcomed the commitment by the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to make any expansion by the British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) onto Jogbahn Clan land dependent on the approval of the communities affected. EPO has been accused by the communities of taking their land and clearing it without their consent.
In September 2013, community members were beaten and detained by EPO security staff and the Liberian police on their way to lodge a complaint about the expansion to the authorities.The company denied that it acted without community consultation or outside Liberian law.
The commitment by the President marks a significant victory in the battle for customary land rights to be respected. “While Liberia desperately needs investment it cannot afford to do business with companies which trample over vulnerable people. By this decision, the President has shown that she intends to put her people first.” says Natalie Ashworth, Global Witness.
British company, EPO, has two palm oil concessions in Liberia covering a total of 89,000 hectares. The company, which is listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange, took steps in late 2012 and throughout 2013 to expand its operations in Grand Bassa County onto land customarily held by the Jogbahn community.
The expansion of the company’s operations would have destroyed the forests, farms and wetlands upon which the Jogbahn people rely for their livelihoods and food. In a response to a letter by Global Witness the company stated that it respects “the Liberian community rights and land.” [sic] Communities reported to Global Witness that over the course of 2013 they were subjected to increasingly severe intimidation by EPO security staff. The intimidation escalated in September 2013 when 17 community members were reportedly beaten and arrested by EPO security staff and officers from the elite Liberian Police Support Unit (PSU).