By: Jessica Jones, Administrative Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
Alfred Brownell, Liberian Environment Justice Lawyer, recently visited the Institute for Policy Studies to discuss Firestone Tire and Rubber Company's domination and oppression that has gripped the Liberian people for generations and how the the nonprofit sector can assist to end this reign of power.
Brownell stated “there is no way to talk about democratic social reform…there is no way anyone can think about addressing those issues without thinking about Firestone.” Firestone has, for the last 82 years, entrenched itself deeply into Liberia’s economic, political and social structure. In a country whose average life-span is lower than 59 years (World Bank), Firestone has reaped generations that have yet to experience a life without forced labor, child labor, poor working conditions, and environmental destruction. Brownell, simply, offered the question: What kind of institutions do the Liberian people need to achieve their goals?
While the current class action lawsuit against Firestone is still pending, the time has come to strengthen Liberia’s civil society. Brownell stated the implications of these cases are great – “when you take a company to court, you cause the country to believe in the spirit of the law.” One of the many challenges that exist is creating a trickle-down effect of information to the rubber plantation workers so that they have the educational tools to be empowered. International advocates have joined together to enact legislative change to guarantee the basic rights of the Liberian people, and similarly, the growing Liberian civil society can build a movement which teaches people how to ensure that companies and the legislature will abide by the rules. It was this type of action that brought about this class action lawsuit. Brownell highlighted that it has been the children, forced to work for Firestone that have often been the backbone of this struggle. With little to no experience with a genuine democratic society and a history of corrupt leaders, Liria is not without its challenges. However, groups such as the Liberia Civil Society Forum are proof that there is investment in a nation without corruption. Brownell, himself, is a testament to this ideal. Throughout the session, Brownell stressed the importance of civil society’s transparency and distinct separation from the political arena, but remained optimistic about Liberia’s future “If we do not get firestone right, we are not going to get any other multi-national company right.”
You can join in solidarity with Firestone workers in Liberia by taking these actions by emailing Firestone here.
Alfred Lahai Brownell is the President and Founder of the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia (Green Advocates), based in Monrovia. Green Advocates is Liberia's premier human rights and environmental justice organization. Green Advocates is working to end slave like conditions and child labor at Bridgestone/Firestone rubber plantations in Liberia. Counselor Brownell's research work with workers on the plantation led to the filing of an Alien Tort Claim Act Case against Bridgestone/Firestone in the United States. The case is proceeding in U.S. Federal Court in Indiana.