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Organisation seeks ECOWAS intervention to end exploitation of plantation farmers

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Friends of the Earth (FoE) Africa, an Environmental Justice Organisation, has called for ECOWAS Parliament’s intervention to end the exploitation and human rights violation against plantation farmers across the sub-region by multinational companies.

Ms Rita Uwaka, Coordinator, Forest and Biodiversity Programme of the organisation, made the call while presenting the FoE’s concerns before the ECOWAS Parliament at its ongoing 2022 First Ordinary Session in Abuja.

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Uwaka who led FoE’s delegation to the Parliament, alleged that multinational companies especially that of oil palm came in the name of development to African communities but ended up forcefully taking their lands and exploiting them.

She explained that unfortunately, the people were subdued by the companies and even local authorities who had been bribed by the multinational companies.

“There are more cases of labour exploitation and workers’ rights violation as a result of the operation of these agro-commodity companies.

“We are seeing workers, including pregnant women being ferried, transported in open trucks with accidents and death.

“It is sad to note that among our delegates here, we have one of the communities representatives who was knocked down by one of the tractors of these companies. Today, he cannot walk on his own.

“There are lots of violations in communities that are hosting these companies in different places and communities in Africa.

“Our struggle over the corporate takeover of our forest and lands is not a fight against development but a struggle to prevent further human rights developments, environmental damage, biodiversity and livelihood loss.

“As well as promote the development of millions of indigenous people and local communities with a focus on women and youth who depend on forest and farmlands for their day-to-day wellbeing.

“We call on the ECOWAS Parliament to support economic partnership agreements that respect the rights of local communities and indigenous people in Africa and protect and restore our environment.

“Provide access to justice for dependers and affected local communities, and stop trade deals like power companies to influence legislation through special rights and provisions at the detriment of public interest,” Uwaka said.

Addressing journalists after the presentation, Uwaka said FoE was headed to Brussels, Belgium to engage with the European Union Parliament to caution European companies in Africa who were engaged in such heinous acts.

She said the FoE Africa delegation would also head to Singapore, Asia to take its complaints to authorities for them to also caution the Asian companies in Africa violating human rights.

One of the victims, Philip Orok from Mbarakom Community, Cross Rivers who shared his experience with journalists, explained how he was badly treated upon sustaining injuries on the plantation by the company he worked for.

“In June 2019, I went to work as a headman. After sharing work for my workers to supervise the work, I had an accident.

“The management brought their ambulance and dumped me at the hospital. Until now they have not asked of me, to know if I am alive. My leg got bad.

“After ten months, I came back and went to them and when I confronted them, they used the security agencies to chase me, including my colleagues who spoke out for me.

“They load workers in the truck as if they load firewood, pregnant women. I was finally sacked without anything,” Orok said.

Hon. Shiaka Sama, Member of the ECOWAS Parliament for Sierra Leone, urged the Parliament to act drastically in addressing the menace, described as a new form of colonialism.

Sama who said he was once a victim of harassments by these companies, added that a lot of people became landless in their own communities.

“They have mounted illegal checkpoints on the lands of the people, preventing them from moving freely in their own communities.

“And these multinationals are very rich in a place like Africa where they have mass production, the people’s lives are in danger.

“They give bribes to local authorities; they instruct the police to arrest protesters; promises are not kept; the people realise that they have been robbed.

“I want to remind this house that most MPs here come from farming families so if we have multinational companies coming in and have taken our farmlands, we should act now.

“It is a shame to all of us who have known this as injustice and failed to take action because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice.

“Friends of the Earth have done so well at a time when no one stood up so that the world will know that there is injustice going on. I Thank you for giving voice to the voiceless.

“This is a new form of colonialism and if we do not take our time, we are going to give up this continent,” Sama said.

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