Silas Siakor was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2006 for exposing evidence that former Liberian President Charles Taylor used profits from unchecked, rampant logging to pay the costs of a brutal 14-year civil war that left 150,000 people dead.
At great personal risk, Siakor collected extremely hard-to-get evidence of falsified logging records, illegal logging practices and associated human rights abuses. As a result of his work, the United Nations placed strict sanctions on Liberia- banning the export of timber.
Today, Siakor’s work to protect Liberia’s forests continues as palm oil developments threaten the environmental and social wellbeing of local communities. Together with his team at the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Siakor is leading a public awareness campaign to pressure European financiers to divest from Sime Darby, a Malaysian Palm Oil company operating in Liberia.
SDI recently released a report charging Sime Darby of conducting illegal land grabs and contributing to rampant deforestation, violating Liberian land laws and threatening the rights and livelihoods of local citizens.
In the report, Siakor says, “Farmers are losing their land and livelihoods, the rights of those living in poverty in rural areas are being violated, and the forests on which communities depend are increasingly threatened. I see no guarantees that rural communities will benefit in any meaningful way from investments in palm oil.”
Shortly after releasing the report, Siakor traveled to Indonesia- where more than 80% of the world’s palm oil is grown- for a high level conference on palm oil development, where he briefed government and industry officials on the situation in Liberia.
Siakor and his team are hoping the report will prompt investors to pressure Sime Darby to correct its violations or risk divestment.