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Union Buried Evidence of Firestone Support of Warlord After Labor Deal

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It’s a shame when bad actions are concealed and covered up, and it seems particularly bad in this case, reported by Jonathan Jones and T. Christian Miller in ProPublica:

In 1996, Firestone, one of the world’s largest tire-makers, was locked in a grueling labor dispute with the United Steelworkers of America. The union portrayed it as a struggle between blue-collar workers and a company that was aiming to slash the pay and benefits of its employees. Thousands of workers went on strike, and the union mounted a consumer boycott of Firestone products and those of its Japanese-owned corporate parent, Bridgestone. There were protest demonstrations, too, including a “black flag” motorcycle brigade at the nation’s most famous auto race, the Indianapolis 500.

The steelworkers – who had begun representing Firestone employees after a merger with another union, the United Rubber Workers, in 1995 – also began looking into the company’s activities abroad, most notably its rubber operations in Liberia. With the help of private investigators, the union uncovered evidence that in the early 1990’s Firestone had been the source of money and logistical support for Charles Taylor, the notorious Liberian warlord whose violent bid for power had ensnared the country in a horrific civil war. The union then developed plans to use what it believed might have been criminal conduct by Firestone as leverage in the contract negotiations.

Plans were hatched to hold press conferences. A secret briefing was prepared for Vice President Al Gore. Importantly, there were also discussions about using the evidence of dealings with Taylor to demand that Firestone permit the steelworkers to play an active role in monitoring labor standards in Liberia. The union’s documents from the time suggest it saw a greater good in revealing Firestone’s history with Taylor — that doing so might make the company “accountable to the Liberian people and to the world,” as the union stated in the introduction of the 43-page confidential report detailing their findings.

But the steelworkers union never made its findings public. Instead, it buried the investigation of Firestone’s role in the Liberian civil war, and the company’s actions remained secret for more than 20 years. What happened to the investigation is not clear. But just two weeks after the union completed its inquiry, Firestone and the steelworkers met in confidential negotiations, and soon reached a deal. The union won concessions on pay and benefits. But any formal notion of improving working conditions in Liberia was abandoned, and Firestone’s dealing with Taylor would not be aired until a ProPublicaand PBS Frontline investigation late last year.

The steelworkers would not comment at all — on their investigation into Firestone’s activities in Liberia, what role the investigation had played in the negotiations, or why the union had decided to keep the information secret. In an email, Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the steelworkers, said the union could not comment on the matter because key leaders from that time period, including the union president and general counsel, are now dead. Other figures involved in the investigation had retired, he said.

A Firestone official said the company could not shed any light on the episode. Paul M. Oakley, a spokesman, said the company is now focusing on returning its rubber operations in Liberia to a relative level of normalcy in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak. Company officials, he said in an email, “are not inclined to spend a lot of time and effort combing through archives that may or may not have relevant information.”

Joe Uehlein, a longtime labor activist who served on the steelworkers’ global campaign strategy team, said Bridgestone Firestone was well aware of the union’s investigation and that it had helped prompt the eventual deal.

The Liberia investigation “played a big role in bringing Bridgestone Firestone back to the negotiating table,” said Uehlein, who is now retired.

Last November, ProPublica and PBS Frontline detailed for the first time the role Firestone played in the early stages of Taylor’s bloody rise to power, a set of findings that in several key respects echoed the evidence the union’s investigators had uncovered decades earlier.

The ProPublica and PBS Frontline story drew on hundreds of interviews, copies of documents found in court records, once-secret diplomatic cables, trial transcripts and work done by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Firestone, whose Liberian rubber plantation was regarded as the largest in the world, signed a formal deal with Taylor in 1992, agreeing to pay the warlord millions in exchange for being able to operate in the country during the early, brutally violent years of its civil war.

Taylor, who later was convicted of war crimes for atrocities carried out in Sierra Leone, testified under oath during his trial at The Hague that Firestone’s money and cooperation had been critical to his insurrection. . .

Continue reading.

Truly, modern corporations will do anything—absolutely anything, without regard to legality, morality, or ethics—to increase profit.

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2015 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Business, Law

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on Brian By Experience.


    Brian Dead Rift Webb

    12 March 2015 at 11:17 pm

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