* Golden Veroleum workers cleared crops, desecrated graves
* U.S.-owned firm was signatory to RSPO certification
* Liberia seeking investment to rebuild after war
By Richard Valdmanis
DAKAR, March 22 Liberia's largest palm oil
company, Golden Veroleum, needs to review its social and
environmental policies after its workers damaged graves, cleared
existing crops and polluted creeks, according to an independent
study it commissioned.
The findings from The Forest Trust (TFT), a non-profit
environmental consultancy, follow complaints from activists that
the Singapore-controlled firm is violating commitments it made
as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a
global certification body for the industry.
Palm oil is the world's most important vegetable oil used in
everything from margarine and soap to biofuel, with annual
production around the world worth about $20 billion.
RSPO requires its members to adopt environmentally and
socially responsible policies to improve the industry's record
that has included forest destruction and pollution.
"There is materiality to a number of the claims made by the
communities," according to the TFT report obtained by Reuters.
It said Golden Veroleum needed to review its land
acquisition process, improve communication with locals, bolster
its compensation process, and educate workers about the
company's RSPO commitments, among other things.
"We acknowledge and accept the recommendations in the report
and we expect to implement them," said Golden Veroleum spokesman
David Rothschild. "If we have fallen short, we will try to
Critics say the palm oil industry is taking part in a land
grab in Africa that reduces local food output in favour of crops
for export. Golden Veroleum's investment, however, was widely
seen as a boon for Liberia, which is trying to rebuild after a
1989-2003 civil war that crippled its economy.
TFT submitted the findings to Golden Veroleum in February
but the document has yet to be released publicly. Global
Veroleum commissioned TFT to do the study in January, saying it
hoped the findings and recommendations would help it improve its
operation in Liberia.
The report found at least four cases of workers apparently
damaging ancestral cemeteries - including by planting trees on
graves - and instances of farms being cleared without prior
consent and creeks used for drinking water being polluted. The
report added that compensation to victims was often inadequate.
"It is true that the number of seriously affected
individuals has not yet been high, however our findings indicate
that it could quickly increase as the operation progresses,"
according to the TFT report.
Golden Veroleum is owned by the U.S.-based Verdant Fund LP,
whose sole investor is Singapore-listed palm oil giant Golden
Agri-Resources, the world's second-largest palm oil
It became Liberia's biggest palm oil investor in 2010 after
announcing plans to spend $1.6 billion developing plantations
over 220,000 hectares.
Golden Veroleum became an RSPO member in 2011, stating on
its RSPO web page that: "All land development from the first
acre, will be conducted in compliance with RSPO."
"Our investment ... will carefully preserve original and
high conservation value forest and biodiverse areas, sacred and
community lands," it continued.
RSPO membership is meant to help palm oil firms boost their
access to markets and capital while improving community and
labour relations and preventing environmental damage.
Golden Veroleum's Rothschild said the company was in
discussions with RSPO over the incidents and that the company
expected to retain its membership after implementing changes to
No Golden-Agri official could immediately be contacted in
(Editing by Anthony Barker)