Firestone Rubber Company:
Rubber Tappers, Forest Movements and Indigenous People
This week’s readings were on forest and indigenous people of highlands of Zomia between the borders of Thailand and Burma. We read articles on the forest people of Northern Thailand and how social and environmental drivers such as gender, religion, classicism, environment and science influenced their movements. We also read series of articles about rubber tappers in Liberia and Brazil exploring their socioeconomic conditions, environmental and health implications and resistance for change and transformation.
Firestone Tire and Rubber Company established the largest rubber plantation in Liberia in 1926 during the presidency of Charles D. B. King the 17th president of Liberia. Firestone started the exportation of latex from Liberia during the presidency of Edwin Barclay. The Government of Liberia and Firestone signed a concession contract in 1926 for the production of latex by Firestone on 1 million acres of land, which constitute approximately 4% of the total territory and about 10% of all arable land. During WWII, the US Government in 1942 built the Robertfield International Airport (RIA) in Liberia. At that time, the airport was the largest in Africa and was used by the US for emergency landing for NASA Space Shuttle, deployment of US forces and fighter jets and the exportation of natural rubber that was instrumental in the war against the Axis Powers.
Rubber tappers at the Firestone rubber plantation are Liberian and mostly rural people who were employed to work. The company invest very little amount in infrastructural development, health and sanitation, and inadequate safety procedures. Currently, Firestone is the only international corporation that employs a large number of Liberians. The company has about 14,000 employees most of whom are rubber tappers, who are required to tap 750 rubber trees each day at an amount of $3.80 per hour. Rubber tappers are provided housing by the company that have been in existence since the 1930s with high exposure rates to carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and chemical pesticides. Workers are forcefully mandated to complete their daily quotas of their work without which their wage is decrease to account for trees that were not tapped. Rubber tappers also have to transport raw latex weighting about 70 to 140 lbs from 1 to 2 miles.
According to environmental impact assessment survey conducted by the Government of Liberia, chemical pesticides used by Firestone on trees are released into local water resources causing several environmental and health impacts on local and rural residence.