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Stopping Firestone and starting a citizen ‘revolution from below’: reflections on the enduring exploitation of Liberian land and labour

Robtel Neajai Pailey

LSE Research Online Documents on Economics from London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library

Abstract: Attempting to reduce America’s dependence on foreign-sourced rubber, Firestone established in 1926 the world’s largest industrial plantation in Liberia under a controversial 99-year-lease agreement. Nearly a century later, backlash against the exploitative nature of corporate hegemony and economic globalisation crystallised in a transnational campaign, Stop Firestone, and class action suit to hold the multinational accountable. I argue in this article that Liberia’s unequal incorporation into global capitalism has configured and reconfigured the set of relations between government and citizens through parallel, albeit interrelated, processes—the globalisation of capital (via trade and investments) and the globalisation of rights (via universalised notions of citizenship as a human right). While the pursuit of foreign direct investment (FDI) in particular placed the interests of investors like Firestone ‘above’ the state thus undermining government–citizen relations, it simultaneously created a politicised workforce and network of Liberian activists thus strengthening citizen–citizen relations. Based on careful review of concession agreements and court proceedings as well as interviews conducted with government officials, activists and legal advocates based in Liberia and the United States, this article is the first to meld historical and contemporary developments, underscoring the twenty-first century implications of Firestone’s enduring exploitation of Liberian land and labour.

Keywords: capitalism; citizenship; Firestone; globalisation; labour rights; Liberia; T&F deal (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J01 R14 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 18 pages
Date: 2023-08-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-afr, nep-his, nep-hme and nep-int
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Published in Third World Quarterly, 4, August, 2023. ISSN: 0143-6597

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