The Socfin Rubber Case
From the beginning, the SRC and LAC plantations provoked conflict with local indigenous Kpelle and Bassa communities. In successive waves of expansion, the rubber companies appropriated community land, erased culturally important sites such as grave markers and area of the bush dedicated to healing and traditional rituals, and undermined residents’ livelihoods by clearing and planting over their crops. In many cases, no compensation was paid; where compensation was paid, the company undervalued, under-counted, or ignored many of the crops that it had destroyed. While many of these expansions occurred under prior management, the conflicts with LAC came to a head under Socfin’s ownership, between 2004 and 2007, when united community opposition blocked the planned dislocation of neighboring villages. At SRC, the most recent expansions also occurred on Socfin’s watch, beginning in 2009 and extending all the way to 2015. While much of the land that Socfin has taken was held by the communities according to customary tenure, some of it was subject to pre-existing title deeds that were summarily ignored by the company. SRC’s expansions also ignore the both contractual and legal restrictions that limit the plantation to lands that were previously unencumbered or appropriated.
At SRC, in particular, the 22 affected communities have organized themselves to resist the abusive expansion of the plantation. These efforts, however, have been met with serious repression. Community organizers have been charged with sabotage and other dubious crimes and arbitrarily detained. SRC controls access to the communities, because most roads to the villages lead through the plantation, and they use this control to track the movements of human rights defenders and curtail their access to legal assistance.
In June 2019, representatives of the 22 communities filed a complaint with the International Finance Corporation (IFC – the private financing arm of the World Bank), on the basis that the IFC’s loan to SRC was being used to violate international norms on social and environmental responsibility. When the IFC decided that the complaint was substantiated and decided to seek a resolution between the two sides, SRC rejected any overtures at mediation and expedited its repayment of IFC’s loan in order to avoid its commitments to respect the IFC’s Performance Standards.
The IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) has now ruled that, despite the refusal of Socfin to participate in Dispute Resolution as recommended during the assessment phase of the complaint, the case is now eligible for a compliance appraisal process in which the IFC’s compliance with its own standards will be evaluated.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberia’s lockdowns have restricted access to the affected communities by Green Advocates and other allies. During this time, SRC has sponsored the formation of parallel social structures that spread misinformation about SRC’s history, the role of Green Advocates, and the human rights defenders who have risked their lives and livelihoods to bring to light the suffering of their communities.
In September 2020, lawyers for the SRC communities filed Freedom of Information requests to various government bodies, seeking documentation on the expansions of the plantation that they believe occurred contrary to law and public policy.
22 Liberian Indigenous communities accuse the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC), a Subsidiary of SOCFIN, a transnational corporation based in Luxembourg and an International Finance Corporation (IFC) Client, of grave human rights and environmental abuses using World Bank financing.
In a complaint filed today, 22 Liberian indigenous villagers say, the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) is using World Bank money to expand and operate its Liberian plantations through illegal land grabs, sexual violence, and intimidation of human rights defenders, according to a complaint filed today.