Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
Last night (Tuesday, January 29), the city council of Berkeley, CA unanimously passed a resolution
expressing solidarity with the workers on Firestone's rubber plantation in Liberia. The resolution was based on a recommendation from the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission which advises the city council on issues of social justice. Berkeley became the first city to pass a resolution related to Firestone's exploitation in Liberia.
Could your city be next?! If you are interested in following Berkeley's lead and taking local action to support the workers in Liberia, contact Tim at tim.newman[at]ilrf.org.
Keep reading for reactions and to read the text of the resolution.
Here are some responses to the Berkeley City Council resolution:
Commissioner Diana Bohn said, “I’m proud to serve in a City like Berkeley that acts locally and thinks globally, and we hope to see other cities follow suit. This resolution has the potential for helping Firestone finally realize it is in their interest to negotiate a fair contract with their rubber workers."
Nunu Kidane of the Bay-Area based Priority Africa
Network said, “Plantation is the operative word in
Bridgestone’s exploitation of Liberian workers, it is modern day slavery with
pay of about $3 for some 21 hours worth of work, including child labor.”
Austin Nantee, President of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia said, “The City of Berkeley has taken a courageous step to stand with the workers of Liberia. We thank the City Council for their solidarity and pray that Firestone is paying attention.”
Henry Bweh Chair of Concerned Citizens of Owens Grove, the community adjacent to Firestone’s plantation said, “Firestone continues to ignore the pleas of the community that lives behind its factory and depends on the river for survival. It is exciting that a city council in the U.S. expresses the same concerns we have voiced for so long."
Expressing Solidarity with Firestone Corporation Rubber Workers in Liberia
From Commissioner Bohn, December 21, 2007
WHEREAS, Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Chapter 369.070, establishing the Peace and Justice Commission, states that the Commission shall (A) Advise the Berkeley City Council … on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice…including…support for human rights and self-determination throughout the world, (and) (C) Help develop proposals for the City Council…for actions in furtherance of the goals of peace and justice”; and
WHEREAS, Firestone Corporation has operated in Liberia since 1926 and has exploited workers and the environment throughout its history, currently paying its workers $3.19 a day in base pay for a production quota that a Firestone official acknowledged in an interview with CNN in 2005 could take up to 21 hours of work per day to meet; thereby forcing the workers to employ family members, including young children, to assist them, which has led to a lawsuit against Firestone filed in 2005 by the International Labor Rights Fund (Class Action Complaint for Injunctive Relief & Damages) in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the Bridgestone/Firestone Corporation sells automobile tires in the city of Berkeley, deriving great profit due to the near slave-labor wages and exploitative conditions under which Liberian workers toil, and the City of Berkeley procures automobiles and trucks equipped with Bridgestone/Firestone tires, with proceeds flowing directly or indirectly to that corporation; and Berkeley residents, having a strong sense of social justice, do not wish their city to be a profit center for Bridgestone/Firestone; and
WHEREAS, Firestone rubber tappers in Liberia, all live inside a 240 square mile plantation and are dependent on the company for housing, schools and medical facilities all of which are inadequate; they have little access to safety equipment and limited access to medical facilities; their backbreaking work leads to numerous injuries and deformities the longer a tapper is employed, resulting in the release of a report by the United Nations Mission in Liberia in 2006 in which it was stated that “occupational safety and health standards are not observed at the Firestone plantation” (United Nations Mission in Liberia "Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into the Future" Report of the Commission for Africa, May, 2006), and to Firestone being given the Public Eye award for “irresponsible corporate behavior” and “conditions approaching slavery” at a ceremony at the World Social Forum in Switzerland; and
WHEREAS, the community outside the plantation has also charged Firestone with dumping chemical waste into the Farmington River, contaminating a waterway used for fishing, bathing and drinking water, and a French laboratory recently tested water samples and found high concentrations of ammonium, nitrate and other harmful chemicals; and
WHEREAS, fed up with the abusive conditions and the lack of union democracy, workers have staged two work stoppages demanding the formation of a union to represent them, elections for which took place on June 30, 2007, but there are ominous signs indicating that management and its allies are trying to place as many obstacles as possible in the way of independent union leaders.
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Peace & Justice Commission recommends that the Council of the City of Berkeley join the International Labor Rights Forum, Friends of the Earth, NAACP, TransAfrica Forum, The RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights and other United States and Liberian based organizations in demanding that Bridgestone/Firestone:
(1) Take responsibility for this situation and follow the law;
(2) Improve the assignment of achievable quotas for the average worker to negate the use of child laborers;
(3) Increase wages to raise the standard of living of plantation workers;
(4) Supply modern tools to protect workers on the job from coming into contact with harmful chemicals;
(5) Redress all environmental damages as a result of its Liberian operations;
(6) Stop releasing chemicals into the environment and stop exposing workers to any compounds and chemicals that are internationally recognized as most toxic; and
(7) Fully disclose all key project payments, contracts, and concession agreements for all Firestone projects in Liberia.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that copies of this Resolution be sent to the International Labor Rights Fund, International Labor Rights Forum, United Steel Workers (who will convey the information to the Liberian Rubber Workers), and Dan Adomitis, President, Firestone Natural Rubber.
Sources can all be found on: