Golden Veroleum Liberia’s track record: broken promises and continued deforestation

Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and Milieudefensie researched Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL)’s compliance with three social contracts or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with local communities in 2014. On the basis of these MoU’s, Numopoh, Tartweh-Drapoh, and Nitrian communities provided GVL with access to their customary lands for the development of palm oil plantations. In return, agreements stated that the communities would receive benefits, including jobs, training, education, health care, a healthy environment and opportunities to develop their own farms.

GVL is controlled by Singapore stock listed Golden Agri-Resources. Both companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and publicly pride themselves on their sustainability credentials. Yet, GVL’s operations in Liberia have been anything but sustainable. Since 2012, communities have raised numerous formal complaints and grievances regarding the company’s sustained environmental and human rights abuses. After seven years of signing the MoU’s, it is time for the company to fulfill its promises.



A New Era of Customary Property Rights? – Liberia’s Land and Forest Legislation in Light of the Indigenous Right to Self-Determination

Abstract: After the end of Liberia’s civil war in 2003, the country embarked upon the reform of its forest and land legislation. This culminated in the adoption of the 2009 Community Rights Law with Respect to Forest Lands and the 2018 Land Rights Act, which NGOs and donors have described as being amongst the most progressive laws in sub-Saharan Africa with regard to the recognition of customary land tenure. Given these actors commitment to human rights, this article takes the indigenous right to self-determination as a starting point for analysing customary property rights and their implementation in Liberia. This includes the examination of the Liberian concept of the 1) recognition and nature of customary land rights, 2) customary ownership of natural resources, 3) jurisdiction over customary land, 4) the prohibition of forcible removal, and 5) the right to free, prior and informed con‐ sent. *

Regional Dialogue on Oil Palm Development in West Africa - Conclusions

We, the delegates, from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and our partners from UK attending the Regional Dialogue on Oil Palm Development in West Africa from November 27th and 28th 2019, engaged in experience sharing on community rights, and the role of stakeholders in the context of oil palm plantation development and came to the following conclusions:

  1. Some countries in the region are initiating reforms aimed at increasing financial flow through investments, and addressing poor governance and management of natural resources including land and forests;

  2. Despite these national efforts aimed at reforms, the acquisition of land by oil palm companies is often characterized by lack of respect for the rights of local communities;

  3. Although there has been progress in some countries over the last decade in enacting laws that support community rights, implementation of these laws remain a challenge;

  4. Other factors hindering progress in the sector include: inadequate legal framework, limited awareness within communities about their rights and weak law enforcement by national institutions;

  5. Although the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil may not be the complete solution for the protection of human rights and the environment, it has been useful tool for some communities in countries where governance is weak;

  6. The rights and interests of women and other marginalized people are not fully recognized, respected and protected in land dealings between communities and oil palm companies, and their representation and participation in community decision-making processes are treated poorly;

  7. There is high risk to the security and safety of human rights defenders, CSO actors and local community activists, and they operate at the risk of being targeted by company and state securities during the course of their work;

  8. Progressive community leaders and local government officials are often victims of reprisals including arbitrary and sometimes unlawful dismissals; and

  9. The increasing amount of land being allocated to large-scale mono-culture contribute to climate change, threatens food security, community livelihood, and ecological wellbeing.


TIMBY Factsheet Vol.1 October 2019

Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) runs the Palm Bay Estate palm oil concession in District #4 of Grand Bassa County. This concession falls under a 2008 agreement between its subsidiary Libinco (formerly Libinc Palm Oil Inc) and the Republic of Liberia. EPO has an approved Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for 13,962 hectares. Thousands of hectares of palm oil have been rehabilitated or newly planted (since 2014) as part of what the company termed ‘phase 1’ of 8370 hectares. Gmenee village sits right in that new planting area. EPO states it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with all affected communities, but Gmenee village people say they have not seen such agreement and do not have a copy. There is no information on the number of hectares of land from Gmenee that has been cleared by the company – efforts by the community to get these have not been successful.

East of ‘phase 1’ towards the Timbo river, an expansion area called ‘phase 2’ of another 4637 hectares holds richly forested lands and is home to the Joghban clan who have successfully resisted further encroachment of EPO on their land for years. This included an intervention from Liberia’s former president and a grievance process that culminated into an agreement and participatory mapping process in 2016. However, EPO still intends to expand in the phase 2 areas according to resource persons in the villages around the plantation. Several communities inform SDI that EPO is continuously intimidating, threatening and dividing communities into signing away their land.

The Struggle Between the Powerful and the People

In November 2018, the Sustainable D e v e l o p m e n t I n s t i t u t e ( S D I ) commissioned field-based research on p r i v a t e l y o w n e d m o n o c u l t u r e plantations across Bomi County, Liberia. The study sought to identify and provide a broader understanding on the nature and implications of privately owned land holdings on the livelihood/food sovereignty of local communities in view of the expansion of Sime Darby's plantation activities. The research is aligned with promoting SDI's approach on community rights and food security with good governance in forest and climate policy of Liberia. The research was also conducted within the context of Liberia's new Land Rights Act of 2018. The new law has paved the way to formal recognition and protection of the customary land rights of rural communities.

SDI Briefing Paper 09: A Decade Later - Time for a New Approach to Community Forestry in Liberia

The Policy Brief argues for an approach that situates forest and forest resources at the center of sustainable development efforts in forest communities. It proposes, for example that community forestry should be oriented towards social empowerment and community-owned enterprise development, and move away from the rent-seeking approach in which communities look to logging companies because they promise jobs, roads, schools, clinics, and clean water.



Land Valuation Briefer

The Community Rights and Cooperate Governance Program (CR&CGP) of SustainableDevelopment Institute (SDI) is using a land valuation tool developed by Namati. It supportscustomary communities and forest dependent peoples to clearly understand the value of their landand guide them to make informed decision during land negotiations with companies or investors.The exercise also makes customary communities more cohesive and resilient in the managementand governance of their lands and natural resources. And it helps women to understand they havesignificant role to play in decisions that directly affect their land and natural resources. Land and forests provide lot of values for communities. Identifying and calculating how these values are sustaining the livelihoods and existence of the community is difficult for community members. Without this knowledge and insight, communities are more likely to agree to let investors usetheir lands for much less than the value they already receive from the land. This brief explains how SDI uses the Land Valuation method, because it is a simple tool that can beextremely helpful for NGOs working with communities that are faced with companies that want tohave their land for logging, industrial plantations or any other use.

SDI Briefing Paper 07: Practical Potential Conflict and Implementation Challenges for the CRL and the LRL

Peace building efforts by Liberian legislators and their international partners have recognized the significance of forest governance in sustaining peace over the past 15 years. But whereas last year's Land Rights Law1(LRL) was heralded as an improvement also for community forest governance, some provisions of the new law may become problematic for community forestry when implemented.

The aim of this paper is not an exhaustive legal opinion on the contents of the new law, as this lies in the domain of Liberia's many apt legal practitioners to provide. Rather this paper will present an analysis of both laws and, highlight practical challenges that will very likely emerge when both laws are implemented in the same community concomitantly.

As a consequence, and perhaps most crucially, there may arise implementation challenges from the roles and responsibilities of communities legally delegated between the LRL and the Community Rights Law (CRL). Considering that these issues will likely become more acute when the existing Community Forest Management Agreements (CFMAs) expire, this brief closes with recommendations aimed at forestalling these challenges.

SDI Briefing Paper 08: Implementing The Land Rights Law Of Liberia: A Critical Test For Stakeholders

The passage, in September 2018, of the Land Rights Law (LRL) in Liberia was a critical moment in the country's long and tortuous path to legislative reforms in the land and natural resource sector. The LRL secures the rights of over 3 million Liberians to own and manage their land, particularly those in rural areas that have been historically marginalized and denied formal legal recognition of their customary land and resources. 

Land Rights Policy Poster

Community Land Protection Tools: Land Rights Policy Poster

Community Self-Identification Poster

Community Land Protection Tools: Community Self-Identification Poster

The Community Rights Law Poster

Community Land Protection Tools: The Community Rights Law Poster

FPIC Poster

Community Land Protection Tools: FPIC Poster

High Risk in the Rainforest

In August 2010, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) signed an agricultural concession agreement with the Gov- ernment of Liberia covering 350,000 hectares, or approximately 2.3 percent of the country’s land mass. The land indicated in the concession agreement is densely forested, rich in biodiversity and customari- ly owned and used by rural communities as the source of their food and water, livelihoods and culture. Since GVL’s arrival in Liberia, the company has faced consistent and well-documented allegations of hu- man rights violations, environmental degradation and disregard for communities’ land rights. New find- ings indicate that GVL has failed to reform its operations, despite numerous complaints filed with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2012, including a comprehensive set of complaints affirmed by the RSPO Complaints Panel in February 2018.

GVL’s primary investor is Singapore-listed palm oil company Golden Agri-Resources (GAR)—one of the world’s largest palm oil companies. GAR established GVL through a series of investment vehicles in order to expand its palm oil plantations from Indonesia into West Africa while shielding itself from liability for the risks of the endeavour. As GVL’s primary investor, GAR bears substantial responsibility for the risks and im- pacts of GVL’s operations.

GVL’s ownership structure may prevent GAR from being held legally liable for GVL’s activities in Liberia. However, GAR’s sustainability policies clearly indicate its responsibility for GVL’s business practices. GAR identifies the scope of its social and environmental policy to extend to “all upstream and downstream palm oil operations that we own, manage or invest in, regardless of the stake,”i thus clearly including GVL’s op- erations. GVL notes on its website that, “As an indirect investee company of Golden Agri-Resources, (GAR), we adhere to GAR’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which applies to all farms GAR invests in regardless of stake.”ii Financiers of GAR are therefore linked to GVL’s environmental and human rights violations and land conflicts, and may face material financial and reputational risks as a result.iii


PETITION STATEMENT FOR THE PASSAGE OF A PROCOMMUNITY LAND RIGHTS BILL ISSUED THIS 29TH DAY OF MAY 2018 AD To our honorable lawmakers of the 54th Legislative Assembly, We, members of the Liberia Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Working Group on Land Rights Reform , (hereafter the Working Group), a group of 28 CSOs working on land reform in Liberia; working along with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), the Women Land Rights Task Force (WLRTF), communities across Liberia and in the diaspora, and friends from across Africa and around the world are here to present a collection of petitions urging you, our astute lawmakers, to pass a Pro-Community Land Rights Bill. The Working Group has collected over Seventy Thousand signatures and Resolutions supporting the passage of a Pro-Community Land Rights Bill: in all, over Forty Thousand Liberians, including a resolution from 45 chiefs from across the country have signed petitions supporting the passage of a ProCommunity Land Rights Bill. In addition, our call is supported by an international petition of over 30,000 people from more than 25 countries spanning Africa, America, Asia, Latin America and Europe showing their support and solidarity for Liberian communities and the civil society organizations. Given that nearly three million Liberians live in rural areas and depend heavily on the land, it is imperative that Liberia recognize and protect these citizens’ customary land rights.

Peace and Prosperity for Liberia: A People-Centred Land Rights Act

The draft Liberian Land Rights Act (LRA) has the potential to become a fundamental law to the creation of a peaceful future for the country – improving the lives of over 3 million Liberians, reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and protecting the country’s forests. However, unless major changes are made to the current version that is in the hands of Senators, this historic opportunity will be lost. In fact, the current draft of the LRA - passed by the Lower House of Representatives in August 2017 – undermines the land rights of rural women and men, opening up their land for grabbing by more powerful actors. This is in open contradiction to the 2013 Liberia’s Land Rights Policy, the 2009 Community Rights Law, and international consensus and guidelines on land governance by both public and private sectors.

Liberian civil society is voicing concerns over the current draft of the LRA and recommends Liberian leaders revise it to align it with the African Union’s Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure, and the Sustainable Development Goals. In the coming weeks, the Liberian Senate and government have a historic opportunity to improve the lives of their people and to act as leaders and beacons of peace for West Africa. All they have to do is pass a people-centred version of the LRA. 

SDI Briefing Paper 06: What do communities want?

SDI Briefing 06 highlights local people’s preferences in the implementation of CFMAs in Liberia. It sought to establish the preferred community-owned forest enterprises, what communities are already doing to pursue their preferred enterprise development and, what the main commercial enterprises in the study communities are. The brief is limited in scope given that only two CFMA communities were covered. However, the selection of the communities was purposely representative of the two categories of CFMAs that are dominant in the sector, i.e. those with interest in conservation, and those with interest in logging. While the findings may not be representative, they do provide valuable insights into factors influencing community decisions about the forest management regime to use.

SDI briefing paper 05: The Sewacajua Community Forest

SDI briefing paper 05: The Sewacajua Community Forest The need to strengthen rule of law in the community forestry sector in Liberia

 This briefing paper presents findings of assessment in Sewacajua CFMA in Sinoe County, specifically highlighting the legal compliance and other issues that need to be addressed to make the CFMA compliant and ensure that it meaningfully benefits the community.

SDI Monitoring Framework

This monitoring framework was developed by SDI under the project: Tackling deforestation through linking REDD and FLEGT and funded by European Commission and  UK Department of International Development. It broadens ongoing civil society initiative to include monitoring access to information, participation in benefit sharing and community rights involving REDD+ programs currently ongoing in the Liberian forest sector. It offers an opportunity to harness synergy between FLEGT/VPA and REDD+ initiatives since both are keen on promoting community rights and participation in benefits redistribution. The monitoring framework is designed to be used by the SDI across the country and is made available to other CSOs, including the CS-IFM team, to adopt and use during their monitoring activities.


SDI Report Individual Land Ownership Versus Collective Land Ownership

In June 2016, Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF) andSustainable Development Institute (SDI) commissioned theconduct of a research to assess collective title versusindividual title and their implications for livelihood in termsof the use and management of land and forest resources.The research was conducted based on the premise that thedraft Land Rights Act (LRA) will be legislated therebypaving the way for formalized and legally protectedcollective ownership of land.With this pending development there is a need for civil society, policymakers and the rural population to better understand the challengesand opportunities that will come with these changes by examining thecurrent practices with respect to the governance and management ofcollective land, such as large parcels of land under collective title. Thepurpose of the research therefore, was to contribute to knowledge aswell as to inform future policy and practices.

SDI Revenue Flows Briefing No. 4

This briefing paper provides an analysis of the revenue flow from the logging industry into the national coffers and logging affected communities. Publicly available national revenue collection data and payments to communities are used as the basis for the analysis to ensure a fairly accurate assessment of the financial flows. The objective is to provide reliable information about financial flows from logging to communities and the central government in an accessible format to the general public.  It concludes that revenue to the state and royalty payments to communities have been minimal compared to the value of the round logs exported from Liberia and that accumulated arrear of $23 million the logging industry owes is unsustainable.

Logging Outside the Blouquia Community Forest Management Area 2

This briefing paper asserts that "Logging without a permit or outside a logging contract area or concession is illegal". The Forestry Development Authority has committed to "formulate a regulation ensuring forestry legal requirements are followed regarding felling of logs alongside access road leading into a concession area" from SDI’s publication Logging Outside the Blouquia Community Forest Management Area 2.


Keeping The Promise

This report will examine two of the most serious potential threats to good governance and professional management of Liberian forests: the looming wave of Community Forestry Management Agreements (CFMAs), and the potential for large-scale conversion of forests into agriculture plantations – particularly oil palm. By examining these emerging issues critically, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) hopes to warn the Liberian government and its partners of the potential for abuse and mismanagement in coming years. The report concludes with an examination of the sector’s role in the Liberian economy overall, with an eye on alternatives as well as the need to create an environment of oversight and accountability for civil servants at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and elsewhere

Open Letter from Goldman Prize Laureates

A host of Golden Environmental Prize winners send a letter to Liberia's Forest Development Authority (FDA) expressing their concerns at the FDA's plan to legalize conversion timber and its potential impact on Liberia's forests.

SDI Cover Letter Letter to FDA

SDI's letter to FDA highlighting their concerns about the Forest Development Authority's plan to legalize conversion timber.

Forest Under Threat

A brief prepared by SDI that looks into GVL's plantation expansion and the potential threat it poses to Liberia's last remaining forest.

What the People Say_flyer

This Policy Brief is a result of CSOs consultations with rural communities on the draft Land Rights Act. It provides the views of local communities on the draft Act, as well presents concrete recommendations to protect the pro community provisions of the Act.


This Policy Brief is a result of CSOs consultations with ruralcommunities on the draft Land Rights Act. It provides the views oflocal communities on the draft Act, as well presents concreterecommendations to protect the pro community provisions of the Act

Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

This report reveals that Liberia earns too little from its iron ore exports. It reveals that the country gives overly generous tax breaks to iron ore investors grossly undercutting its revised Revenue Code. For example, while the Revenue Code requires multinationals to pay 30 percent income taxes on all corporate profits, ArcelorMittal, China Union, and Putu only pay 25 percent. The report also reveals that state-citizen relations and relations between local communities and foreign multi-nationals operating in the mining sector are strained.

Draft Land Rights Act

Draft Land Rights Act submitted to the Legislature in late 2014.

Community Relations in Putu Iron Ore Mining Concession

This report evaluates Putu Iron Ore Mining operations in southeastern Liberia. At the PIOM concession, full-scale mining has not yet commenced, and as such the local population is largely hopeful of future opportunities and the company enjoys a fairly strong reputation. However, there are signs for concern. In 2011 a riot at PIOM caused two deaths and necessitated an ERU response, and there have been local complaints that the company is not doing enough to offer stable employment opportunities to residents of the district. Still, there is significant room for a stable and mutually beneficial relationship for PIOM to have with its affected neighbors. 

Community Relations in China Union Concession

This report highlights China Union’s slowness in living up to provisions of its agreement with the Government of Liberia, pointing to widespread dissatisfaction in Fuamah District, Bong County with the company’s operations and its abusive treatment of Liberian workers. SDI called on the Government of Liberia to press China Union to ensure that it fully complies with the terms of its Mineral Development Agreement with Liberia and that allegations of violence against Liberian workers are addressed and that violators are punished.

Positive Peace Crusade

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), founded in 2002, was accredited by the Government of Liberia in 2004. Following a decade of work on community rights issues in the forestry, agriculture, land, and mining sectors, the SDI is using its 10th Anniversary to reflect on achievements and challenges to inform planning for the future. Achievements in this context refer to progressive changes in policies, laws and regulations governing the natural resources sector to which the organisation has made significant interventions. This report chronicles SDI's 10 year Positive Peace Crusade in Liberia. 

Liberia Land Rights Policy

This Policy is a vision statement of where Liberians want to go with their land sector; none of the below principles or recommendations will be applied retroactively to change prior actions by the Government. Rather, this Policy will help ensure that in the future Liberia’s land sector is orderly, just, and contributes to economic growth and development for all Liberians. 

Protecting community lands and natural resources

Protecting community lands and natural resources

In Liberia there is an urgent need for strong legal protections for community lands and natural resources. This report details communities' experiences undertaking land documentation activities and the initial impacts of these efforts on conflict resolution and prevention, intra-community governance and conservation and sustainable natural resource management.

Uncertain Futures: The impacts of Sime Darby on communities in Liberia

Uncertain Futures

This report charts the impacts of palm oil company Sime Darby's operations on communities in Liberia. It presents testimonies of from affected communities and highlights the fears of others where the company plans to expand. It concludes that a new approach to land allocation needs to be developed based on fairness and justice, and backed by appropriate legislation.

Protecting Community Lands and Resources: Evidence from Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda

This report compiles evidence from community land titling initiatives in three countries in an effort to address community land protection issues in policy and practice. The report concludes that community land documentation may be a more efficient method of land protection than individual and family titling.

Signing Their Lives Away

Signing Their Lives Away

This report details how a quarter of Liberia’s total landmass was granted to logging companies in just two years, following an explosion in the use of often illegal logging permits. A new type of logging contracts, Private Use Permits, give companies unparalleled access to some of Liberia’s most pristine forests. The report uncovers how Private Use Permits are being used by companies to avoid Liberia’s carefully-crafted forest laws and regulations.

Curse or Cure?

Curse or Cure?

This report throws a spotlight on Liberia’s fledgling oil and gas sector. An oil find in Liberia, which is still recovering from two natural resource fuelled civil wars, could provide desperately needed revenues if the industry is sufficiently reformed. But this report highlights that Liberia is not currently ready for oil without a comprehensive reform of the country’s oil and gas industry.

Forest Governance and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement

This report presents an analysis of lessons learned from the forest sector reform process and includes recommendations for all key players to ensure the implementation of the VPA will contribute to improving good governance in Liberia.

Where is the Money?

Where is the Money?

ArcelorMittal Liberia contributes US$3 million annually to the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) for development in counties hosting its operations. This report examines the mismanagement of the fund and as a result how it is failing to make significant impacts on the lives of the target beneficiaries. The report recomments reform of the fund to ensure it is accountable, transparenct and involves citizen's participation.

Making the forest sector transparent: Annual transparency report 2010

Making the forest sector transparent: Annual transparency report 2010

This report acts as an annual forest sector report card for Liberia which assesses the transparency of the sector as part of the Making the Forest Sector Transparent project. It recommends that the government fully implement transparency measures contained in various laws and develop action plans to make information accessible and transparent.

Liberia - The Promise Betrayed

Liberia - The Promise Betrayed

This report examines forest law enforcement and governance in post-conflict Liberia and catalogues major issues in the implementation of forest sector reform. It asserts that failure to fully implement reform may put the livelihoods of communities at risk and undermine the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy and any future Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU.

Working for Development?

Working for Development?

This report is a follow up to 2009's ‘ArcelorMittal: Going nowhere slowly' and takes an in depth look at the company’s activities in Liberia in terms of their contribution to the country’s development and highlights the failing of the County Social Development Fund in addressing the needs of communities impacted by the operations of ArcelorMittal.

Making the forest sector transparent: Annual transparency report 2009

Making the forest sector transparent: Annual transparency report 2009

This report is the first ever forest sector report card for Liberia as part of the Making the Forest Sector Transparent project. It assesses the transparency and accessibility of information in the forest sector with a particular focus on forest governance. It underlines the vital role FDA, civil society and the private sector play in ensuring increased transparency in the sector.

ArcelorMittal: Going nowhere slowly

ArcelorMittal: Going nowhere slowly

This report catalogues the social and environmental impacts of ArcellorMittal's mining activities globally. It highlights the issues with the company's activities in Liberia such as the lack of transparency in the management of the operations, the displacement of communities, the failure to produce secure employment and the environmental impact on the East Nimba Nature Reserve.

So Who Owns the Forest? Summary

So Who Owns the Forest? Summary

This is a summary of 'So Who Owns the Forest?' which explores issues of property rights and customary land tenure. This report advocates the urgent need for reform which recognises local people's collective entitlement over their customary lands. It offers practical solutions for dealing with land tenure issues for inclusion in national law.

So Who Owns the Forest?

So Who Owns the Forest?

Exploring issues of property rights and customary land tenure, this report advocates the urgent need for reform which recognises local people's collective entitlement over their customary lands. It reviews the treatment of customary land tenure over the century-long process of forming the modern Liberian State and offers practical solutions for dealing with land tenure issues for inclusion in national law.