What appears to be modern-day slavery is reportedly ongoing at the Sime Darby Rubber Plantations in Liberia’s western region. Workers of Sime Darby are complaining of bad labor practices at the plantation by the company’s management.
They told a team of Liberian human rights journalists that the company’s management was denying them of their benefits, describing the difficult circumstances under which they working as “modern-day slavery”.
They further explained that the management of the company initially announced a monthly salary of US$250.00 each, only to be told later that such amount would now be paid to a tapper who produces a ton of latex at the plantations.
According to them, it was not possible for a single tapper to produce a ton of latex, saying many of their colleagues have either walked away or stayed to earn a little over US$100 a month.
“Sometimes at the end of the month we tap up to 0.236kg, and sometime we only make US$204.00; I have to share with my helper who helps me to complete the amount,” said Molewoi, a tapper at the plantations.
They also complained about their deplorable living conditions, as well as poor medication, describing the job at Sime Darby amid the unfavorable conditions as a complete nonsense and un-useful.
The eyes of latex producers, otherwise referred to as tappers are usually affected in the process of producing the liquid from the rubber trees without any protection. They usually stand on the ground and stretch their hands above their heads, using a prepared knife known as ‘Halaka’ to produce the latex from the tree with their eyes open.
They accused the leadership of the worker Union of not representing their interest, noting that the Union’s leadership has deliberately failed to address all of the problems laid before it. Some of the workers also alleged that except those who produce the latex, employees of Same Darby who become very expressive are threatened with dismissal.
In contrast, the Secretary General of the Workers Union of Sime Darby, Dayton Dugba told reporters that the Union was in deed concerned about the workers’ health and welfare. He also confirmed claims by the workers about the monthly income of each employee.
“It is true that they are not making money at all, but at least they are making something more than they were in the past before Sime Darby took over the plantations,” he noted.
“We do not have any contractor here to brush under the rubber trees before tapping; it is the same tappers who brush and tap at the same time,” the Union Secretary General told reporters in Western Liberia last weekend.
He assured workers that the Union would continue to serve their interest even though some of them had accused the leadership of not protecting their interest.
However, a senior staff of the company who lives in Monrovia termed the workers’ claims as false.
Amid this denial, Eugene Fahnbulleh also noted that though there were some problems, grievances to management by workers are channeled through the workers’ union of which the tappers are all members.
Even though he did not name the problems, he assured that the allegations would be looked into upon the arrival of the General Manager from vacation.