Interview with Rita Uwaka and Gladys Omorefe Osaghae about communities’ rights violations in West Africa by SIAT’s subsidiary company, Presco Plc.
Last June, five community representatives from Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast came to Brussels to denounce the appropriation of their lands by SIAT (Société d’investissement pour l’agriculture tropicale), a Belgian company specialised in the production of rubber and palm oil. On this occasion, CIDSE had the opportunity to interview Rita Uwaka and Gladys Omorefe Osaghae. During the interview, the two women described the human rights abuses they have been subjected to for years due to the actions of SIAT’s subsidiary company, Presco Plc.
Rita works with Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria and coordinates the Forest & Biodiversity programme at Friends of the Earth Africa, while Gladys is a farmer, community leader and secretary of a women’s group from the Obaretin community in Nigeria. Both of them came in Brussels to seek redress and justice for the environmental damage and human rights violations caused by SIAT’s activities and to call for the adoption of strong binding rules for multinational companies. They shared how these companies have been involved in many land rights issues, violation of workers’ rights and all forms of social, environmental and gender abuses. Rita believes that European institutions must acknowledge the violations by European countries in Africa and that they should listen to the voices of the affected communities whose rights have been violated due to the operations of agro-industrial companies, such as SIAT and its subsidiary Presco Plc.
Land expropriation causes serious damage, especially for women, who have difficulty providing for the survival of their children:
“We, women, we are suffering. When children are hungry, they don’t go to daddy, they go to mommy first. We are not able to take care for them. After grabbing the land, we didn’t know where to farm again, we didn’t know where to get the food from. Suffering came. They dug a trench around the community. So, there is no way we can go to the farmland. That has an impact that affects the community, especially the women. We need help. So that’s why I am here” stated Gladys.
The EU has a responsibility to hold companies like SIAT and its subsidiaries accountable for their human rights and environmental violations.
“If you continue to invest in these companies is like you are taking the rights of the communities away and continue with the destruction of our forest, water bodies because these companies rely on agrotoxins to be able to get good yield. This causes a lot of hazards on communities that depend on these resources, especially women, and those that fall under their care. The EU should ensure that the rights of the affected communities are respected, not violated” said Rita.
About the EU and upcoming legislation
In October 2020, the European Parliament asked the Commission to present legislation to put an end to global deforestation for which the EU is also co-responsible. The EU directive, presented by the Commission, would make it mandatory for companies to check sustainability and responsibility (due diligence). Last February, the European Commission published its proposal for new rules on corporate responsibility. The new Directive proposal (the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive – CSDDD), aims to hold businesses accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage throughout their value chains. The announcement was an important step towards binding measures for companies and has enormous potential. However, it must be improved because it does not go far enough and is inadequate in its current form, with a lot of loopholes and several limitations.
About SIAT & Presco Plc
SIAT is one of the five main companies that control 75% of oil palm plantations in Africa. It sells its palm oil products to large multinational corporations, such as Unilever and Nestlé, and its rubber products feed into the supply chains of the international giants of the tyre industry, such as Michelin and Goodyear. Presco Plc, which is a subsidiary of SIAT Belgium, is 60% owned by SIAT and 40% owned by private investors and stakeholders. SIAT started operating in Nigeria in 2012. SIAT and its subsidiary companies carry out deforestation and appropriation of land and plantations to expand their facilities, violating the rights of local communities and destroying the ecosystem to exploit the land for their activities and the exploitation of plantations to produce palm oil.
Additional background information
To learn more about the SIAT case you can consult the following links:
- New policy brief: “Large-scale land acquisitions in Africa: Impacts, conflicts and human rights violations. The case of SIAT’s subsidiary in Ivory Coast
- Video: Testimonies from communities affected by SIAT activities in Ghana
- Video: “MADE IN IMPUNITY: Belgian rubber from Ivory Coast”
- Fact sheets: Ghana and Ivory Coast cases presented by the People’s Tribunal on cases of abuse by agribusiness companies in Africa
- Article by GRAIN: “Communities in Africa fight back against land grabbing for palm oil”.
- Interview by the Italian Magazine VITA
Credit photo: CIDSE.