Open Letter to Friends of the Eart, in Response to the Publication 'Sime Darby and Land Grabs in Liberia' (June 2013)

Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL) is, once again, the subject of erroneous criticism by Friends of the Earth (FoE) and its Liberian partner organisation, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).

SDPL has refuted your previous false allegations several times and we believe it is unacceptable for you to continue to publish what you call “fact sheets” that contain few facts and many factual inaccuracies.

Indeed, SDPL has sought to meet with FoE to share information and engage positively with you. It is surprising that you have never agreed to meet, preferring to make allegations without seeking to substantiate them.

You have raised specific concerns about SDPL clearing land in Golidee Town in Bomi County, where the Gorbli clan live. In fact, SDPL has written consent from the clan committee, who are now offering more land and have asked us to enter as soon as possible.

Additionally, you refer to a recent report by the University of Reading (published 24 June 2013), which lacks credibility and rigour, relying on out-of-date secondary research and a five-day visit to Liberia. It also covers an area which Sime Darby has not even entered.

Most importantly, its authors did not seek to speak to SDPL at any point in the preparation of their report, despite the fact that the company is their main subject matter. We believe this is completely unacceptable and have made a complaint to the University as a result.

SDPL signed a concession agreement with the Government of Liberia, which gives us rights to the land. We have entered into a legal contract with a democratically-elected Government, and do not believe there is any evidence whatsoever that it violates human rights.

Sime Darby welcomes responsible engagement and is committed to learning lessons and using best practice about how best to build on its investment in Liberia. Sime Darby is engaged in full consultation with all stakeholders, including responsible NGOs. We firmly believe that active, responsible engagement is a positive way to proceed in Liberia.

Unlike FoE, other NGOs actively engage with SDPL to help meet our shared objective of ensuring responsible economic development in Liberia. Recently, we created the Sustainable Partnership Initiative (SPI) – which includes representatives of the Project Affected Community, the UN, World Bank and Green Advocates – as a forum for responsible engagement. We also have a relationship with Tropical Forest Trust (TFT), which has given SDPL advice on how to improve our processes. We are now putting its recommendations into practice.

As will be clear, we have grave concerns about the practices of FoE and SDI. We are not alone in this. Local community representatives in Liberia are on record as criticising the claims and behaviour of both SDI and FoE. The community Elders of Gbarpolu county issued a statement that concluded: ‘we would like to state categorically that SDI is no longer welcomed as their activities are creating more harm than good for our people’.

As stated on numerous past occasions:

Sime Darby Plantation has entered Liberia with the best intentions of developing a viable business that will generate a return for the company and transform the economic and social viability of the nation. At each stage of the development, we have reflected on what has gone well, and rectified where there are gaps in our processes. We have improved our manner of engagement and consultation, and are working to ensure that our plantations are expanded responsibly and with the consent of all stakeholders.

Sime Darby Plantation will not develop any land without the express permission of the local communities. A recent example of how this has worked in practice is in Bopolu District in Gbarpolu County, where SDPL has conducted two sensitisation processes to assess the local community’s attitude towards SDPL’s investment. In November 2010, the residents stated that they were against any oil palm development. SDPL agreed not to enter, and did not, therefore, even start the process of obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the residents. When a second sensitisation process was conducted in Bopolu District in April 2011, residents were positive and welcomed the prospect of economic development. SDPL will in due course undertake FPIC from the local people and, without that consent, we will not enter Bopolu.

As a matter of policy, we engage in a process called “participatory mapping”, which requires more active involvement from the communities, and ensures that all areas which are of importance and off limits to SDPL are clearly marked. We have established a new Charter that deals directly with the affected communities. This will address the outstanding issues around land and human rights. We are aware that there have always been two contracts: the concession agreement with the Government; and our social contract with the people. The new Charter will strengthen that social contract.

We again reiterate our willingness to meet with you to discuss both our activity in Liberia, and the reports you have issued. We presume that you will now wish publicly to accept our invitation.

Everybody – from the UN to the World Bank to the British Prime Minister – recognises that responsible private inward investment is the key to transforming developing economies. Without the investment of companies like Sime Darby, Liberia would face a precarious future. Sime Darby wants to be part of creating a self-sustaining successful Liberia for the 21st Century.
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