By Linus Aleke
An Environmental Justice Organisation under the aegis of “Friends of the Earth (FoE) Africa, has demanded an end to the economic exploitation of locals by multinational agro-commodity corporations in West Africa.
The group called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to put in place a legal instrument aimed at checkmating this form of exploitation in the sub-region.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Africa made this call at the ongoing First Ordinary Session of the regional Legislature in Abuja.
Coordinator, Forest and Biodiversity Programme of the organization, Rita Uwaka, who led FoE’s delegation to the Parliament, lamented that multinational companies, especially of oil palm came on the pretext of developing the communities but end up forcefully taking their lands and exploiting them.
She said, “There are more cases of labor 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 violations, environmental damage, biodiversity, and livelihood loss”.
Uwaka explained that the aim of the group is to promote the development of millions of indigenous people and local communities with a focus on women and youth who depend on forests and farmlands for their day-to-day wellbeing.
Member of the ECOWAS Parliament from Sierra Leone, Hon. Shiaka Sama, bemoaned the ugly incidents of exploitation of indigenous people, describing it as neo-colonialism.
Sama who said this during plenary claimed that he was once a victim of harassment by these companies, warning that if drastic measures are not taken, more people will become 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,” he disclosed.
He said that 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.
“This is a new form of colonialism and if we do not take our time, we are going to give up this continent,” he further lamented.