For over 85 years, Firestone’s massive rubber plantation in western Liberia has operated as a state within a state, not only serving as the second largest employer in a country with widespread unemployment, but also controlling the schools, housing, water and markets which operate on its land.
During the past five months, the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) has been struggling to reach a new and more equitable labor agreement with the multinational corporation. The union finally won a new contract on June 28. It’s the second contract FAWUL has won since Liberia settled into an exhausted peace in 2003. In interviews this past fall in Liberia, workers and activists recited a list of grievances, some of which go back decades: literally backbreaking quotas, meager wages, dismissal without cause, and atrocious housing, to say nothing of Firestone’s ongoing pollution. These days the company has roughly 5,000 tappers on the payroll, which makes it the second largest employer in a country with massive unemployment.
Credit: Nicholas Jahr