Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect with me on LinkedIn Connect with me on Flickr
banner ad

Liberia should learn from its Firestone experience

By Tewroh Wehtoe Sungbeh   Firestone Rubber, Liberia
A chief executive officer (CEO) recently outlined his company’s vision for the millennium. That vision “is a global one” that will expand his three-billion-dollar cable wire manufacturing business to the rest of the world. Despite his global goal, the CEO spoke confidently and enthusiastically about China as a target market for the expansion.

In a message to his employees, he said, “We have to invade China with our product, but the government of China will not allow us to do business with them until we can guarantee them that we will build a manufacturing plant in that country, produce the materials there, and also hire the bulk of the workers there locally, including the managers that will oversee the plant.

“But you know what?,” he asked his employees. “If we ever want to get a share of that massive market in China, we will have no choice but to comply with the demands of the Chinese government, because we need them than they need us.”

Communist China is a nation of some 5 billion people. With a lucrative business environment, China has become the darling of western industrialized nations. Many of these nations, years ago would have shunned, blacklisted, or sanctioned China economically for its human rights record and form of government.

Instead of the industrialized nations holding China in check for alleged human rights abuses, the West has given a red carpet welcome to China, hoping to win a sizable share of its market. Years ago, China was accepted as a member of the controversial World Trade Organization (WTO), established in 1995 to deal with international trading rules, and to ensure that commerce flows smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

The Chinese example is an excellent lesson. It has China and her people’s intersts at heart. The agreement not only calls for the cable wire manufacturing company to build a plants in China, it also states the employment of local workers and executives.  That strategy says a lot about what a country or its dedicated leaders can and should do if they bargain in good faith.

Liberia was once in such a position when Firestone Plantations Company began operations there. As a child growing up in New Kru Town, Monrovia, I did not only read about the constant exploitation of Liberia and its workers by Firestone and other multinational companies, I heard elderly Liberians like my dad discussed the issue.

Why was such esploitation possible?  If the Liberian government had acted like the Chinese government in the case of the cable wire manufacturing company, would there have been such massive exploitation?

In 1926, Firestone signed a 99-year lease agreement with Liberia for a million acres of land at 6 cents per acre with a one percent income tax on Firestone’s annual gross earnings. The original investment was estimated at $50 million dollars. Twenty thounsand workers were hire at the time, which was said to be 10-15 percent of the aggregate Liberian labor force.

Liberia’s rubber then could have been what oil is to Saudi Arabia, and coffee is to Colombia and the Ivory Coast. Liberia was well-placed since there was no synthetic rubber with which to compete in the global marketplace. If the Liberian government had bargained in good faith with Firestone Plantations Company, the agreement reached would have included a generous benefit package that could have enhanced the lifestyles of workers, the surrounding communties and Liberia.

With the tremendous profits Firestone enjoyed as a company, the Liberian government could have demanded Firestone to build plants to manufacture tires and other rubberized materials in Liberia, with inscriptions as “Made In Liberia, by Liberian Workers.”

The Firestone legacy has set a bad precedent for other companies that ensued. Had Firestone produced good results that benetitted its workers and Liberia, other multinational corporations like LAMCO, Bong Mining Company, and B.F. Goodrich, would have followed suit.

Instead, they, too, came and signed lucrative agreements with their local puppets, devastated the entire country and returned to their nativities.

Dismal as things may seem, there is hope that post-war Liberia — with abundant mineral resources – could bounce back. This will happen only if Liberian leaders learn from the country’s past experience, and stay away from those reckless agreements that could further destroy what is left of the country.

Category: Editorial

About the Author:

Comments Closed

Comments are closed.