New Investors Exposed Behind the Human Rights Crisis at the PHC Oil Palm Plantations in DRC
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February 8, 2022, 6:00 AM PT
Oakland, CA — As community efforts to reclaim 100,000 hectares of their ancestral land occupied by oil palm plantations are met with violent repression, unlawful arrests, and murder, a new report from the Oakland Institute — Meet the Investors Behind the PHC Oil Palm Plantations in DRC — exposes the financiers profiteering from the plantations.
Communities in Lokutu, Yaligimba, and Boteka in DRC, forcibly displaced first in 1911 by the Belgian colonial authorities to establish oil palm plantations, face acute hardships today. Livelihoods are severely impacted — hunger and poverty are widespread while the dumping of untreated industrial waste has polluted a major source of drinking water. Having lost their lands and reduced to working as laborers on the plantations, community members face poor wages and unsafe working conditions.
An independent investigation carried out in September 2021 brought to light the escalation of violence against community members. On September 14, soldiers and PHC security guards reportedly looted and destroyed dozens of homes, tortured and kidnapped villagers from communities surrounding the plantations.
On January 8, 2022, after a group of workers at the Boteka plantation went on strike to protest poor wages, PHC called in the police and military who opened fire on the protestors, seriously wounding two workers.
“High profile investors are profiteering from the plantations through investments made in PHC’s majority owner, Kuramo Capital Management (KCM) an investment management firm, that took over the company in 2019,” said Frédéric Mousseau Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute. Meet the Investors sunlights KCM’s key partners and US-based institutional investors such as the Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and Kamehameha Schools, along with investors exposed in the March 2021 publication, In King Leopold’s Steps — the University of Michigan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the South African Government Employees Pension Fund and Public Investment Corporation, and the UK Royal County of Berkshire Pension Scheme.
The report also shines the light on a key partner, Jide Zeitlin, through his private investment firm Keffi Group. Zeitlin notably resigned as CEO of Tapestry in 2020 following a misconduct allegation. It also details the disturbing internal legal battle currently underway between Wale Adeosun and Larry Seruma for control of the plantations.
“The extent of the abuses faced by locals makes a farce of the company’s stated goal of doing development in DRC,” said Mousseau. “KCM’s lack of accountability shows their real intent when it comes to improving the dismal conditions faced by the local communities,” Mousseau added.
“The relationship between PHC’s owners and the communities is extremely strained and will not change unless those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable and communities demand for the return of their land is taken seriously,” said Jean-François Mombia Atuku, of the Réseau d’information et d’appui aux ONG (RIAO-RDC). “How many community members must be beaten, jailed, or killed until those invested in PHC take action?” he asked.
“Each investor has been informed of rampant human rights abuses taking place on these plantations,” said Andy Currier, lead author of the report and Oakland Institute’s Research Associate. “While some claim to abide by ethical investment guidelines, their continued inaction in the face of growing evidence demonstrates that their profits come first before people,” Currier concluded.
Given the failure of the owners of PHC to take action, the Oakland Institute echoes calls of local communities for an international investigation into these grave human rights abuses and for the investors profiteering from the exploitation of the plantation to be held accountable for the wrongdoings of the company.