Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
Bridgestone recently sponsored a PGA tour golf tournament at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The tournament was the second in a five-year sponsorship agreement with the World Golf Championships. The irony of this company's sponsorship of a golf tournament, while it keeps the workers who extract the rubber which forms the basis of its wealth in near-slavery conditions, should not be forgotten.
When many of us heard about the Bridgestone Invitational, it reminded us of how on Firestone's rubber plantation in Liberia, the managers have huge houses with all the modern amenities as well as access to golf courses. Meanwhile, the rubber tappers and their families are crammed into one-room shacks with leaky roofs and no running water or electricity.
This photograph is of a Firestone manager's house in Liberia.
(Courtesy of the Save My Future Foundation)
This photograph shows the house of a typical rubber tapper employed by Firestone in Liberia. Even the most recently remodeled houses still lack running water, electricity and indoor latrines. (Courtesy of the Save My Future Foundation)
This is a photograph of one of the golf courses made for Firestone managers in Liberia. While they play golf, Firestone rubber tappers and their children carry buckets of latex weighing 75 pounds each for miles, with no protective gear to shield them from toxic chemicals used in production. (Courtesy of the Save My Future Foundation)
What does Tiger Woods have to do with it? Keep reading to find out more!
For Bridgestone Americas, the tournament provided a key place to build relationships with new customers and suppliers as well as significant brand exposure (the company estimates over 700 million references to their name through the tournament's coverage in the media). The tournament also showed Bridgestone/Firestone's increasing investment in golf. They currently make golf balls (which contain rubber) and other related golf products. As Bridgestone Americas Holdings, Inc. and Bridgestone North American Tire CEO Mark Emkes said to the Akron Beacon Journal:
''Many years ago, you'd buy a bowling tournament,'' Emkes said. ''Now, it's golf. Lots of upscale cars, tremendous interest.''
Bridgestone's research revealed that there are 27 million golfers in the United States. The average age is 45, the average income is $83,000. At the typical PGA Tour stop, about 30 percent of the fans will come from households earning more than $100,000.
''That's a very attractive demographic,'' said Emkes, noting that those consumers spend money.
Clearly, Emkes and the rest of the Firestone crew are more interested in wooing the US upper class than taking care of the workers who extract the resources that keep the company running.
Tiger Woods was the winner of the tournament. Emkes' response: ''What Tiger did gave us tremendous exposure all over the world, and I give him a big thank you." We hope that Tiger Woods, who prioritizes the health, education and welfare of US children in his charitable giving, will extend his compassion to the children who are forced to work on Firestone's rubber plantation and let Firestone know that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
You can help out by joining the Stop Firestone Picture Protest!
For a different view of Firestone, check out this video about their plantation in Liberia (as well as the rest of the videos on the Stop Firestone You Tube channel).