Human rights activists will hold a demonstration Wednesday in Washington in front of a public relations office representing
the Bridgestone/Firestone Rubber Company. Today's protest comes on the heel of
a new report which accuses the company of a wide range of abuses on its
plantation in Liberia.
The report, titled "The Heavy Load: A Demand for
Fundamental Changes at the Bridgestone/Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia"
was published by the Liberia-based Save My Future Foundation. It cites poor
living conditions for rubber tappers, barriers to educational and health
access, water and air pollution, and violations of workers' right to organize.
The report and Wednesday's planned protest come as the Firestone workers' union is
negotiating with management for better wages and other benefits.
Edwin Cisco is
secretary general of the Firestone Agricultural Workers' Union of Liberia
(FAWUL). He told VOA that while Firestone has made some changes since the election of a new
workers' union last year, a lot more still needs to be done on the plantation.
I speak to you, there is an ongoing union-management contract negotiations
between the company and the new leadership of FAWUL to address most of those
issues that we have been agitating for over the years, issues relating to work
quota, and also issues relating to occupational health and safety, issues
relating to education as well as issues relating to salaries and wages," he
new report said Firestone rubber tappers work 12 hours a day without safety
equipment and that under the so-called quota system, each tapper is required to
tap 750 trees per day or 1,125 trees on a double tapping day.
said workers have had to enlist the services of their children or other family
members in order to complete their daily quotas.
we were able to do is that we injected in our proposal that the quota be
reduced because it is because of this quota that most workers have to carry
their families into the field to do the work. As we speak to you, even though
the company has a zero tolerance on child labor, the system still exists to the
point where workers, now they are not carrying children, but they have to hire
extra hand to assist them complete the quota for the day," Cisco said.
the price of rubber is at one of its highest on the world market, Cisco said
Firestone rubber tappers continue to earn 42 cents an hour or an estimated
US$3.38 per day.
"In terms of wages, Firestone continues to
maintain her old system to maintain the cost of production at a very, very
minimum level. The last contract negotiation between the management and the
union I think was in 2004. At that point the sale of a ton of rubber was at
US$400. Today, the sale of a ton of rubber is selling at something like
US$1,200. If we take all of that into consideration, definitely there's a need
for the income of the workers to move upward," he said.
the area of education for workers' children, Cisco said while Firestone has
been able to renovate and construct additional schools, some parts of the
plantation still do not have schools.
I speak to you, the company has taken several steps. They are now building
additional schools even though there is still a need for schools in various
areas of the plantation where students have to walk various miles to go to
school. The school system has been pushed to high level. They have put science
and computer labs. But we still feel that this needs to go all around the
plantation so that every child will have the opportunity to have access to some
of these facilities," he said.
also said the workers' union has been pushing Firestone management to provide a
busing system so that children whose communities have no schools can attend
credited the workers' successes at recent negotiations to two factors,
including the involvement of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government.
of the factors that is responsible for this is the workers' desire to come
together. Once they come together, they know that something can be achieved.
The other factor has to do with our own government. In the past successive
governments in our country had been unconcerned about the conditions under
which workers work on the plantation. But this new government under the
leadership of Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has shown the political will to
ensure that workers' voices are heard," Cisco said.
also praised the involvement of international labor organizations, including
the United Steele Workers' Union, the American Labor Solidarity Center, the
International Labor Rights Fund and others for helping to build the capacity of
advised workers in other countries to always come together in their effort to
seek better wages and other benefits.
I would say is that workers must come together. Once workers come together in
unity, they have the strength to move things forward because the bottom line is
that these multinationals that exist all over the world, their basic interest
is for their profit margin to move upward. But once they make the profit, they
must ensure that workers have a fair share of it," he said.