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State Pension Money Invested In 'Questionable' Congo Palm Oil Company

April 6, 2021

SA’s involvement in the business, which is accused of human rights violations, is described as ‘highly inappropriate’

Bobby Jordan
Senior reporter

The South African Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) is invested in a Congolese palm oil business linked to human rights abuses and land expropriation.

The Public Investment Corporation (PIC) has confirmed that pension funds are being indirectly invested in Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC). The funds are ploughed in via a US investment company, Kuramo Capital Management, PHC’s majority stakeholder. PHC’s previous owners include British multinational consumer goods company Unilever and Canadian company Feronia. Kuramo acquired a majority stake in PHC late last year.

PHC’s alleged human rights abuses are detailed in a report released last month by US think-tank the Oakland Institute. In a press release published two weeks ago, the institute drew attention to the report’s broad findings and themes, which include a list of key investors in the PHC’s DRC business.

Historical abuses detailed in the Oakland report include:

  • Congolese communities affected by the palm oil business were forcibly displaced from “over 100,000 hectares of foreign controlled oil palm plantations established on their ancestral land”.

  • “The dispossession from ancestral land crippled livelihoods, as poverty and hunger became widespread.”

  • A 2019 Human Rights Watch report detailed how Feronia had abused the rights of local communities. These abuses included “abusive employment practices that kept workers in extreme poverty — including unpaid wages, exposing workers to dangerous pesticides, and routinely dumping untreated industrial waste, which contaminated a major supply of local drinking water, amongst others”.

  • Company security staff “forcefully repressed opposition through murder, unlawful detention, beatings and torture”.