Since 1926, Firestone Natural Rubber Company has worked with the people of Liberia to create a thriving natural rubber industry and to provide critical — and, in many cases, otherwise unavailable — social services to its Liberian employees and their families. After more than 80 years of investment, the Firestone Liberia location—covering almost 200 square miles — is the largest single natural rubber operation in the world.
Firestone Liberia’s operations were not spared during Liberia’s civil war. Its factory, worker housing, schools, power transmission facilities, vehicles and hospital were severely damaged, due not only to looting and vandalism but also to 14 years during which the company was unable to invest in maintaining these critical facilities. Despite the challenges, Firestone Natural Rubber Company remains committed to the country and the people of Liberia.
The company has invested more than $85 million in projects that will help Liberia rebuild and improve living standards. New housing, schools, health care facilities and free rubber tree saplings provided to Liberian farmers are helping to secure the future for thousands of families in the country.
Saving Liberia’s rubber industry
The company’s goal in Liberia is basic: restore operations to pre-war status and then improve upon that. To accomplish this goal, Firestone Liberia is replanting rubber trees, rebuilding its nursery stocks and reinvesting in the community. The company is now replanting approximately 5,000 acres of rubber trees annually. The lifespan of a rubber tree is about 30 years, and each seedling planted will take about seven years to mature. No significant replanting took place during the war years, however, so even with this massive replanting program the company will face a decreasing harvest of natural rubber, which is expected to continue until 2014.
The company is not merely trying to restock the rubber trees at its facility; it is working to rebuild the entire Liberian rubber industry. To that end, the company has distributed more than 1.5 million free rubber tree saplings to independent Liberian farmers since January 2008. Without help, this vital industry may die in Liberia.
In a country with more than 80 percent unemployment, Firestone Liberia provides jobs for more than 6,100 Liberians. Among the highest paid in Liberia, Firestone employees also receive free housing, medical care and education for their children, as well as paid vacation, subsidized food and a retirement pension. A typical workday for “tappers” — those individuals who tap the trees for rubber — is eight to 10 hours. Employees are represented by a labor union; their working conditions and wages are the result of a collective bargaining process freely entered into by both sides. Employees are also protected by strict child labor policies. Firestone Liberia does not hire or employ anyone under 18, and has a zero-tolerance policy against involving children in the work. Those who violate this policy risk losing their job.Commitment to education
Education is the key to a better life for all Liberians and the company is a strong supporter of education. Currently, more than 16,000 children are enrolled in 26 Firestone schools, all of them children of employees who attend at no cost. In a country with no generally available public electricity, the Fires- tone school system even makes computer labs available for its students. Firestone Liberia’s schools, which include elementary, junior high and high school grades, have produced leaders of Liberian government and business. The improvements that are underway to the Firestone school system will give thousands of young Liberians an opportunity to get an education and follow their dreams.Rebuilding housing
Much of the infrastructure and housing in the country was destroyed during civil war. Firestone Liberia was not spared and the company is constructing new housing for its employees as quickly as possible. Firestone teachers, healthcare workers, agricultural and manufacturing employees are now living in the recently reconstructed housing units. To date, Firestone Liberia has completed 1,741 new housing units and another 275 are in progress.Delivering health care
Firestone’s Duside Hospital has now reopened as an inpatient facility. Duside Hospital treats up to 9,000 patients each month including not only employees and their families but also other residents of the area. Duside Hospital partners with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health to store and administer vaccines that help protect Liberians from a range of diseases. Firestone’s Medical Services also works with the Liberian Ministry of Health for the control of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.Donation cargo program
In an effort to help Liberia’s post-war reconstruction efforts, Firestone Natural Rubber Company pro- vides space for relief and other donated goods on its cargo ships traveling to Liberia. Qualified 501(c) (3) charitable organizations may apply for this space.Supplying a tax base for Liberia
In addition to the employment, social services and infrastructure provided by Firestone Liberia, each year the company pays millions of dollars in tax revenue to the government of Liberia.
For more information on Firestone’s natural rubber operation in Liberia: www.FirestoneNaturalRubber.com.