CSO Urges ECOWAS to Enact Laws to Mitigate Violation of Investors on Local Communities


By: Kebba AF Touray

A Civil Society Organization called‘Friends of the Earth’ (FoE), has called on the ECOWAS parliament and Governments at all levels, to hold multi-national companies and national and international financiers accountable, for the impacts of their plantations on communities. The CSO with the vision of a peaceful and sustainable world based on societies living in harmony with nature also called for justice for affected communities and environmental human rights defenders.

The coordinator for forest and biodiversity program of the CSO, Rita Uwaka, bemoaned the challenges related to violations by agri-food companies and their breach of operational contracts, while speaking with newsmen after their presentation to the ECOWAS parliament last Thursday, in Abuja.

Ms Uwaka noted that many of these companies operate and recklessly abandon their areas without considering the health hazard caused to inhabitants of the affected communities, and said some of the soils of the host communities are no longer useful for plantation due to pollution with agro-chemicals.

She condemned the violations in the community territories where these agri-food companies operate, highlighting the negative impacts of the expansion of industrial plantations causing deforestation; expulsion of communities; destruction of local food systems; pollution; land grabbing; violations of workers’ rights; gender-based violence; intimidation and harassment of environmental human rights defenders and women, among others.

According to Ms. Uwaka, the main economic sectors concerned are the wood, palm oil, rubber, eucalyptus and cocoa industries.

On his part, the Program Officer for Sustainable Regional Development in Liberia, Richard Sam, cited various instances of these multinational companies that unlawfully take over the land of host communities without their participation and or consent.

According to Sam, before activities commence in such areas by the agri-food processing companies, they must first seek approval from the local communities, adding they invest in host communities without compliance to their laws.He said these companies are supposed to explain to the indigenous people of these communities about the negative and positive impacts of their investment on their lands.According to him, most of the companies do not respect human rights, but deceive the communities by promising them opportunities and development which they will never see.

“We try to push our own Governments the best way. This is why we are here at ECOWAS, and we feel they have some responsibilities when it comes to oversight, to enforce different laws at regional and country level. The issues of policies, compliance and enforcement in local communities in these different investment areas is important, and we take this seriously,” he said. He said the ECOWAS parliament and GovernmentS can make existing and even new regulations more effective based on the promotion of good governance.

Gladys Uzoigwe, an eyewitness from Euola Community in Rivers State in Nigeria, narrated her experience with agri-food processing companies who she said destroyed their forests.

Gladys recounted her community’s horrible experience with a particular multi-national company that commenced production in her village in 1985, and violated their indigenous law without recourse.

According to Gladys,they have not benefited from anything since the companies came to their land; That they do not have electricity, good roads, water or even scholarships for their children.

‘‘Even the chemicals they used continue to affect the rest of remaining unused land. If you go to the communities taken over by them, you will never see development. Harassment and killings are what we see, because they have deprived us of many things in our community. They have sacked all the local landlords they have employed. We have so many youth who have graduated, but the companies will not employ them. These companies have divided our communities,” she said.

On her part, Mariam Orovwuje, the Deputy Food Sovereignty Programme of the Organisation said they have been trying to reach out to the authorities and Government agencies to identify these challenges confronting host communities in Nigeria, but have so far achieved little or no result.

She called on the ECOWAS parliament to address the daunting issues of violations, deforestation, and land grabbing, by enacting actionable laws that would mitigate the challenges. She however acknowledged that the parliament has not done much to resolve the problem but the group has had a lot of feedback from partners. She solicited the support of all to mitigate the challenges, while acknowledging that educating the public through sensitization efforts would further help in creating awareness and awaken the consciousness of people towards these violations.