Firestone responded in writing to 10 questions from ProPublica and Frontline. Excerpts of those responses follow.
On the decision to do business with Charles Taylor:
The Firestone concession is located in the portion of Liberia that was controlled entirely by the Charles Taylor government until 1993, and then parts of it thereafter. At a certain point the company and management of that time were forced to accept the reality of Liberia’s circumstances and environment. The company had to acknowledge the Taylor government or abandon the concession — and all Liberians who depended on it —without any guarantee that the company and its management could return. Records indicate the team chose to stay and see if working with the Taylor government was possible.
As a business operating in country, the company’s role was to produce rubber and care for its employees. Government leaders were then and are typically still charged with determining the future of a country like Liberia. There was a process in place, and the negotiators considered the NPFL to be a part of it. The documents illustrate that it was the hope of the management team that a solution would emerge while the company could continue to operate the business and support the people in Liberia who depended on Firestone Liberia for their livelihood.
Firestone followed the lead of the U.S. government, other nations, former President Jimmy Carter, international organizations and others who understood that with the exception of the capital city, Charles Taylor controlled all of Liberia. All dealt with Taylor in efforts to bring peace to Liberia and get the country moving forward again.
Firestone’s management made the difficult decision to preserve its operation. Because the company did not abandon the operation, employees had work, and management was able to eventually return and rebuild. The Firestone operation was then and is still critically important to the economy of Liberia and to the lives of the tens of thousands who depend on it for wages, healthcare, housing and education.
On the decision to sign a formal memorandum of understanding:
Once Firestone decided to try and maintain the operation in Liberia, it became necessary to establish the terms under which the company would remain. The facility was in NPFL-controlled territory, and the NPFL was acting as a government in every way possible. The NPFL wanted Firestone to continue operating, but otherwise held a very strong negotiating position, and as a private company operating in a foreign country Firestone’s management negotiated the best terms they could under the circumstances. At the time of the MOU, there was no well-established record of Taylor’s human right violations, details of which only objectively emerged in the years to come.
Reaction to Taylor’s claim that Firestone – its money, food, fuel, supplies and shelter – had been the “lifeblood” of his territory in the early years of Liberia’s civil war:
Taylor’s armed forces occupied Firestone’s facilities against the wishes of the company and its employees, and they generally took whatever they needed, including trucks, food, medical supplies, fuel and equipment. They occupied facilities and lodging areas, and Firestone was powerless to prevent it.
On some occasions, Firestone provided equal amounts of emergency relief rice to the Taylor government and the provisional government based in Monrovia, which then allowed the company to distribute humanitarian supplies to NGOs and provide rice and other necessities to workers living on the farm.
Firestone worked with all relevant parties to ensure that there was minimal damage to the plant and facilities, that its employees received food, medicine and other crucial items…
Firestone also assisted NGOs in transporting vital goods to Liberia. For example, a U.S. State Department cable on July 29, 1991, praises Firestone as an “NGO” playing a major role in relief operations as it worked with such groups as Catholic Relief Services and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in providing food to at least 70,000 persons.
Reaction to claims by the interim government in Monrovia in 1993 that Firestone had provided communication facilities, a supply base and weapons and ammunition storage for the 1992 assault on Monrovia known as Operation Octopus:
Operation Octopus was designed as a coordinated strike from various parts of Liberia, with the target of Monrovia. Taylor’s armed forces were able to move through the Firestone concession at will. Firestone had no ability to defend its property, resources or equipment.
On the question of Firestone seeking compensation from its insurers based on the claim that the events in Liberia had not been a war:
Firestone sought to recover losses to its property and production that resulted from the situation in Liberia. The company pursued coverage under the terms of its policy because the company believed damage occurred as a result of a civil conflict rather than a conventional war. In fact, most of the damage that occurred at Firestone Liberia was the result of looting. Firestone understood that the insurer had a different interpretation of events, and all parties were willing to let the courts have the last word. Fortunately, Firestone and its insurers were able to arrive at a negotiated settlement.
How Firestone saw its role, if any, in the rise of Taylor:
At no time did Firestone have a collaborative relationship with Charles Taylor. The company’s activities were focused on protecting its employees and property. The company had no ability to stop Taylor’s forces from using the plantation for any purposes. The management team relied on the guidance of officials who specialize in foreign policy, and were in regular communication regarding Firestone’s operation with the U.S. government, including the State Department and U.S. Embassy, throughout this period.
Firestone had no role in the rise of Charles Taylor. It had no role in his ability to hold power in Liberia. Charles Taylor was able to take over most of the country in just two weeks because the repressive Doe government was so deeply unpopular. Taylor had many supporters among respected governments and individuals, some enthusiastic, some simply recognizing his political and military power and hoping that he would be a better alternative to Doe.
Does Firestone believe it did the right thing? Yes. Do we, along with former U.S. presidents, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and many leaders around the world who worked with Charles Taylor regret the war criminal he became? Yes.
Firestone’s decision to remain in Liberia was very costly for the company. The company continues to rebuild, but along with its Liberian employees Firestone was able to preserve an important economic asset for Liberia, and we are proud of that.
A characterization of Firestone’s operations in Liberia since the war:
Firestone Liberia is a leading employer in Liberia, offering among the best wages and benefits in the region to the company’s employees and their families. This includes free housing, subsidized food, paid time off and a pension upon retirement.
Firestone Liberia’s entry-level workers are among the highest-paid in the country for the jobs they perform. Specific wages vary according to the employee’s position and responsibilities, and working conditions at Firestone Liberia are negotiated directly with FAWUL (Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia).
Additionally, we are very proud of the education and medical care we provide to our employees and their families. The company operates 27 schools that employees’ dependents may attend at no cost. Firestone’s medical facilities, including Firestone Medical Center at the rubber farm and a number of smaller clinics, are also available to treat workers and their families as part of the company’s free healthcare benefit programs.
The total compensation we offer our employees is not only competitive but among the very best in the region.
Firestone agreed to have Gerald Padmore, its consultant on Liberia in the early 1990s, be interviewed by ProPublica and Frontline. Excerpts of that interview follow.
On initial meetings in Akron in 1990 with Firestone executives:
Padmore: The discussions focused on, as I said, what do we do next. There were legal issues, for example, declaring a force majeure, that, under the contract, Firestone couldn’t carry out its operations, as it was legally required to do. It couldn’t operate its hospital and the schools for employees. It couldn’t even employ people, because it no longer had access to the farm. So that’s one aspect. The next aspect is, is there a government there? To whom do we give notice, because the government had collapsed, and there were insurgent forces that had taken over the area of the farm, so forces led by Charles Taylor. There were discussions with the United States Government, with the State Department, of what do we do next, and what is your advice. So there was a whole range of discussions of that kind.
The other benefit, of course, you could preserve the assets from destruction. There was great concern about that. There was a lot of looting. There was a lot of just destruction for no very good reason, and if the destruction was too bad, it might make it impossible for Firestone to go back, or the cost might be too great. So there was that concern.
On the negative side, there was the tremendous risk, and the fact that you didn’t have an effective government, so who did you deal with? Would you have to deal with Charles Taylor? Could you do that? There was an interim government by then, established in Monrovia. You could certainly talk to them, but they had no control beyond Monrovia, so they couldn’t help you in other respect. So it was a real dilemma for the company, and a lot of, I would say, soul-searching, and really tough, tough decision-making that had to be done.
On the decision not to go back to Liberia immediately:
Padmore: I think the initial decision—and, again, as best I understand it, because I didn’t sit in on senior management meetings, but as external counsel I got instructions—the decision seemed to be, let’s wait and see, because the West African force had come to Liberia, and the thinking was that it would eventually move up into the area, so it would kind of restore order to the area of the Firestone farm, which is a huge area. Alternatively, people were also trying, believed that there might be some negotiations between the various Liberian factions of Charles Taylor group and the interim government, sort of civil actors in Monrovia, so they would come together and resolve things, and put an end to the conflict. So I think the initial decision was, let’s just wait and see what happens.
On the change in plans in 1991:
Padmore: That changed sometime in 1991, for a number of reasons, as I recall, and I don’t know all the reasons but certainly among the reasons I’m aware of, there was a sense, by the employees, or certain of the employees, “We’ve been abandoned. Firestone, you’ve left. The ex-pats have gone.” And these were difficult times in Liberia. What did you do? Foreigners were evacuating. Liberians were left behind, and that was true generally, and not just for Firestone. And there’s a good reason for that, because Liberians didn’t necessarily have a right to go anywhere else, and other countries, at that point, were not ready to accept Liberian refugees.
So there was great concern that the employees were saying to the company, “You’ve left us. We don’t have adequate food. We don’t have shelter. We don’t have a sense of security, so you need to come back and do something.” That was one thing.
The other thing is that Charles Taylor was also sending out a message, as I understand, that Firestone was against him and was favoring the interim government, which was not true. Firestone didn’t take a position on Liberian politics. But he used that to say, “You see, they’ve left you. They’ve abandoned you. They’re not here.” And there were even some Firestone employees who began to tap rubber, that is, to retrieve rubber from the trees, and say, “We’re going to do this on our own.” So there was tremendous risk there, to the assets, to the rubber trees, and to the other physical assets, that they might be damaged by these desperate people, understandably desperate, who were trying to find a way to make a living.
So Firestone then began thinking, wait a minute. It looks like the West African force is not going to move up into that area. There seems to have been lines drawn. Taylor controls that area, and these folks control Monrovia and its environs. So, maybe we’re going to have to talk with the people who control the area and see whether we can get back on and do some good. And I would say that was probably in mid-1991.
On what Firestone knew about Charles Taylor in 1991:
Padmore: At that point in time, well, I certainly can’t—you said what did Firestone know, I know what I knew and what I discussed with Firestone, which was that he was a rebel leader, he had control of the area, he seemed to be a popular figure among certain people in Liberia, including certain ethnic groups, and he was ambitious, wanted to be president. We knew there had been fighting, there had been killing, and there had been some ethnic reprisal killings. But at that time, from the information available to me, and, I think, to Firestone, Taylor did not appear to be conducting genocidal activities or war criminal, or anything of that kind, and, indeed, the United States Government had not discouraged Firestone from contacting Taylor and seeing what could be done.
More on what was known about Taylor:
Padmore: You know, in Liberia, in 1990 and 1991, there were terrible human rights violations all around. Indeed, the violations by the then-Liberian army of the now-deposed President Doe, and the things he had done, had really been the focus of everybody’s attention, because those were well-known. They were documented. Massacre at a Lutheran church and other activities. That was the real concern, frankly, about human rights abuse. We had heard—I had heard, I should say—about some excesses by the Taylor forces, but, again, in 1991, I don’t recall any reports of systematic and widespread human rights abuses, and the areas under Taylor’s control seemed to be relatively peaceful at that time.
On discussions with U.S. diplomats in 1991:
Padmore: Well, where is Liberia going, what’s going to happen, what do we do? We’re hearing stories from our employees that they’re distressed. We’re hearing stories that our assets are being looted or destroyed. It’s a question of, do we abandon Liberia, as many other major businesses had done, or will there be a future, and how do we get back on? At that time, there were still ongoing discussions among the Liberian actors about solving the problem, coming to an interim government, holding elections. There were even some joint economic committees that were formed, and so forth. So, at that point, it seemed encouraging, and my recollection is that Firestone was not discouraged from contacting the Taylor people and trying to get access. We’d had completely no access back to the farm.
On first contacts with Taylor:
Padmore: Again, I think that was sometime in the middle of 1991, that Firestone made that decision, and I believe contacts were made with Taylor representatives, who, by the way, were in Monrovia, because there were talks going on to form an interim government, and there were joint committees and so forth. So the contact was made with Taylor representatives in Monrovia that we’d like to get back, our employees have needs. We want to preserve this important asset, not only for the company but for the country. And, eventually, those led to meetings by some Firestone people with Charles Taylor, as I recall, and eventually an agreement that they could return.
On Taylor’s requirements for doing business:
Padmore: Among them would be that Firestone would recognize that he had a de facto government, it controlled the area of the Firestone farm, the entire area, and, indeed, it controlled most of Liberia, and that if Firestone came back, it would treat his government as the Liberian government, and the government that it must deal with. So to the extent that there were taxes to be paid, they would be paid to the Taylor government, and to the extent that there were labor issues with the employees, and so forth, his ministers would deal with Firestone in resolving those. Those are the principal conditions I’m aware of.
On the decision to go forward:
Padmore: I can tell you generally that the decision was made, and one I supported, that these discussions would go forward. As a practical matter, it was critical to do so, if Firestone was going to preserve a future for its assets, and help its employees. The concern I had was that, at some point, people in the interim government, in Monrovia, might challenge that decision, and so you would have to deal with that at some point. It was really unclear, the matter of Liberian law. Well, as a matter of Liberian law, there was no government. There was no constitutional government. The constitution government had been overthrown. It was no longer there. There were people in Monrovia who had set themselves up as an interim government, without a constitutional basis. There was Charles Taylor, who, by force of arms, had taken most of the country… And these two different governments, from a legal or constitutional aspect, had no legitimacy, if you will. They certainly had control—Taylor over most of the country and the interim government, with the help of the West African forces, over the area around Monrovia. So, in a sense, whoever you dealt with, you would eventually have a future government that might question what you did.
On whether Firestone acquiesced to Taylor’s demands:
Padmore: Yes, absolutely. It was clear that without that, you would not be able to put a management team on the ground.
On paying taxes to Taylor:
Padmore: Firestone had agreed to pay taxes that it would ordinarily be required to pay to the Liberian government, to the Taylor-led government, as though it were the Liberian government.
On doing so even though there was no legitimate government:
Padmore: Well, I didn’t say that neither government was a legitimate government in Firestone’s eyes. What I really meant is that, strictly speaking, as a matter of Liberian law or international law, neither government was a legitimate government.
On paying Taylor just like any other Liberian might have had to:
Padmore: Well, obviously (Firestone was) very different in many ways than an average Liberian citizen. But with respect to being subject to the control of the forces that control that area, Firestone was just like any other Liberian person….whether you’re a multinational, billion-dollar company or you’re a small, poor, Liberian farmer, you both are required to pay to the people who control that area, because if you don’t, there will be consequences against you. So, for Firestone, it was either you don’t go back or you have to acquiesce and pay taxes to the government in control of that area.
On the difficulty of contemplating not going back to Liberia at all:
Padmore: You know, that’s the really tough question. That’s a dilemma. The easy answer for Firestone, in my opinion, would have been to choose, as the Bong Mining Company, a German company, did, and so many others—Mano River Mining Company—and just say, “We’re out of here. It’s risky. It’s scary. Economically, it doesn’t make any sense. So we’re just going to shut it down and walk away.” In a sense, that would have been morally satisfying, that you could safely be back in the United States. But if you felt a sense of responsibility to Liberia, and, most importantly, to the workers, your teammates, really, the people you’ve worked with for years, who were distressed—some of them were killed—you’d say, well, let’s go back and see if we can help them. That’s number one.
Number two, if you felt as though, this is an important asset for Liberia, let’s try to preserve it. Let’s save it from being vandalized, and the rubber trees being butchered, to get latex out quickly, and really destroy the possibility of ever restoring this asset, then you’d say, well, let’s go back. And, finally, as a business person—and I didn’t participate in this—you make a business decision. The money we’re going to have to spend to go back, because it’s going to be years before we have to rebuild and we have to do all of these things—is that going to be a worthwhile investment for us to make, as a business? And that business decision was also made—let’s go back.
Someone else could have made a very different decision and say, let’s stay away, and nobody would have blamed them, but there would have been a lot of people who would have been hurt by that decision. There would have been, today, not an enterprise that employs, still, 8,000 people, with 16,000 kids in school, from kindergarten to high school, with a hospital that, as we know, has provided the most effective care in the country for Ebola victims. None of that would have been possible had Firestone made the decision, in 1990 or 1991 or 1992, we’re out of here. No one would have blamed them for it, but I think it would have been the wrong decision.
On decision to twice leave the plantation and its workers when things got ugly:
Padmore: Those were really difficult circumstances, and people’s lives were at risk. Fighting was going on. People were threatened. You had no choice but to leave. But that’s a little bit different than saying, “We’re winding up operations. We’re closing it down. We’re writing it off. It’s a loss, end of story, and we’re never going back.” It was always a temporary decision, a decision to leave on a temporary basis, with the intention of going back. And, from what I understand, there were certainly people within the Firestone organization here in the United States who, just for financial reasons, said, “We ought to get out of here. This doesn’t make sense.”
You know, Liberians thought that Firestone was so critical, and the production of rubber was so critical, and my recollection is, when Liberia was shut down by its civil conflict, the world’s natural rubber market hardly noticed, because compared to Malaysia, and Indonesia, and Vietnam, and so forth, Liberia was a pretty minor producer, although Firestone was, far and away, the largest private employer in the country, even much larger than the mining companies.
On what might have convinced Firestone to get out of a war torn Liberia for good:
Padmore: It’s difficult for me to speak for the Firestone management and its parent company, Bridgestone, but I would say you’ve actually stated it. Had you gotten to the point where Firestone employees were being slaughtered—there was absolutely no order. There was total disorder. What could a private, albeit multinational, international company do other than raising a private army? How do you go in there and stop the slaughter? If it reached that point, I think the company would have said, “Goodbye. We’re gone.”
Let me give you a story from an earlier time. In the early ’80s, Firestone made a decision, as I recall, to really sort of get out of the business of managing rubber farms, and they went to the Liberian government and said, “Look, we’ll give it to you. It’s yours.” And even the government of Samuel K. Doe, at that time, said, “Absolutely not. Don’t leave. Can we do something that will help you stay here?” because the government recognized that if left to its own devices, it might very well not have the capacity to manage the asset, and you would lose the asset. And If you lost the Firestone asset, you not only lost that particular farm, you also affected all the hundreds, and maybe thousands of Liberian small rubber farmers, who relied on Firestone for expertise, for technical assistance, for planting materials, and as somebody they could sell their product to.
On the oddity of a signed, formal memorandum of understanding with a warlord:
Padmore: I can’t say for certain but my recollection is that it was Charles Taylor, for lots of reasons, and probably most important of which was that Taylor wanted the recognition. Firestone was a major company in Liberia, and had been in Liberia since 1926, and I think if Firestone signed an agreement with him, I suspect he felt this would be a feather in his cap, in the eyes of Liberians. So I would think that was something he wanted.
On the deal perhaps giving Taylor the kind of legitimacy he sought:
Padmore: I think that Taylor certainly, he felt that this would supply him with some legitimacy. The legitimacy that Taylor got, in that period of time, didn’t come from Firestone or from this document. It came from the recognition of the international community, including the United States government, the United Nations, and others that were talking with him, dealing with him, urging him to join with the forces in the government in Monrovia, and lead to elections. Taylor was meeting with heads of state from African countries. There was just a reality. The world recognized this. The government recognized this. If we’re going to help Liberia, we have to deal with Charles Taylor. That was a decision the United States government made, the United Nations made, the country of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria. They all made that decision. So it was not surprising to me, as a business, that Firestone would also have to talk to Mr. Taylor.
On going to Liberia and meeting Taylor in 1992:
Padmore: It was remarkable, actually. I remember, before going over there, I was over in the park right here next to my house, and talking to my youngest daughter, who was, in 1992, she was probably just 5 years old, or so. And when I said, “I’m going to go to Liberia,” she wasn’t very happy about that, and neither was my wife, but I thought it was something I needed to do, because it was a chance for Liberia, a chance for a future. And we’re all hopeful, then, that this madness that had gone on would soon end.
Meeting with Taylor was amazing. I met him first in a town called Kakata. We happened to hear he was there, and I was living in Buchanan, across the line, in Taylor territory, what they called Greater Liberia. I met him with all his military people around him, and there was a brief greeting, and he talked to his assistant to try to set up a meeting, which I did, and I think 3 or 4 days later I met him in Bonga. I think I was with one other person, a Liberian, who was friendly with the Taylor people, and just Taylor and I and this other person….Well, before I met him, first I met his wife very briefly. We chatted, and then I went in and met him. He very much put on the air of “I am the President.” We’d never met personally before, but he knew of me, and he may have met some of my brothers, and he spent a lot of time trying to explain to me how good he was for Liberia, the good things that he would do. He would unite the country. He would bring it back together. He was going to build a capital city in the middle of the country. He would turn Monrovia into a garden city. He even said he was going to set up a special military force that would make sure coups and things like that didn’t happen. I felt as though he was trying to persuade me of his good intentions and legitimacy.
On claims Taylor used the plantation to store arms and ammunition:
Padmore: Not to the best of my knowledge. If he did that, it would not have been with the knowledge or acquiescence of the Firestone management.
On the idea that Firestone was acting under the threat of Taylor’s guns:
Padmore: It depends on what time you’re talking about. At various periods, it was. Certainly, in 1990, it was acting under the threat of a gun and had to evacuate. Later in 1992, when military operations began by Taylor in an attempt to take Monrovia, I believe there would have been a military confrontation, and later, when the West African force and Liberian army drove Taylor off the farm, once again, you had Firestone people acting under the threat of a gun. Really, you had some business people trying to do some business, trying to preserve some assets and preserve a future for the company Liberia, and for the employees, and they’re between opposing armed forces. It might have been considered crazy to stay there, and so, at times, they sometimes had to evacuate.
On the idea that Firestone’s money aided Taylor and his ambitions:
Padmore: Well, Firestone certainly paid taxes to Taylor’s government, and paid some taxes to the Monrovia government. Did those things help? I’m sure they did, because they were a source of revenue for them.
On the idea that that help might have contributed to the civil war:
Padmore: You know, the problems in Liberia began in 1980, and anybody who knows Liberia recognizes that. The military coup that happened in 1980, the focus on ethnic killings that began in 1980, is really what tore the country apart. You had a military dictator, in 1980, who ruled until his terrible death in 1990. He did some good things, but we also know some very terrible things happened in Liberia in those years. Companies like Firestone, the mining companies, and others, stayed in the country. You always have that dilemma. The government is not a government of your choosing. You’re a private company and you’re a foreign company. You have responsibilities to your employees. Taxes were paid to Samuel K. Doe. Atrocities were committed by the Doe government.
It’s always a dilemma. When do you stay? When do you leave? Are you doing more good by staying, or are you doing less, and that’s a very hard choice to make…Firestone tried very hard to stay in Liberia in the 1990s, I think those were all good decisions, because, for me, Liberia outlasts the temporary rulers it may have. It’s a country. It’s ordinary people whose lives are terribly important. They don’t have the ability or the means, as I fortunately did, to fly off to the United States and be safe. They’ve got to worry about their kids. For me, it’s the right choice. Stay as long as you can.
On Firestone’s history of dealing with violent leaders of Liberia other than Taylor:
Padmore: First of all, I think it’s always difficult, if you look at things from the benefit of hindsight. When you make the decision at the time, you don’t know that Charles Taylor is going to do certain things, or, for that matter, that Samuel K. Doe would do certain things. You make the best decision you can at that time. If you look at it from today’s perspective—I mean, if someone had said, to Firestone, that Charles Taylor is going to attack Monrovia in October, or he’s going to do this thing or that thing, that might have affected the decision. In 1992, in May or June, you didn’t know those things. You were hopeful. Talks were going on. An interim government was going to be formed. Voting was going to take place. There would be an elected government in a couple of years. Are you going to be part of that process, help that process, allow people to earn a living, allow some ability to return to normal life? That’s the decision that you make. It turned out that Charles Taylor acted in ways that were unfortunate, but no one knew, in May or June, that that would have happened.
On the question of regret:
Padmore: Anyone who dealt with Liberia in the period from 1980 to 2003 must have regrets that, what could I have done different? Might I have prevented something? I don’t know that Firestone could have done anything differently or prevented anything. I think the decisions they made, in my opinion, were completely justifiable.
Padmore: Completely justifiable, and, to be very frank, I believe they were the right decisions. It doesn’t mean that unfortunate things didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that Charles Taylor didn’t do certain things, and other warlords didn’t do terrible things. Had they not taken those decisions, I think Liberia would be much the worse for it today, and that’s what I’m worried about. I’m worried about a future for Liberia and Liberians. I want to see that future take place. And, frankly, I was proud to be a part of the Firestone team, because they stayed, and they did the right thing. They did not exploit the country. They did not seek to extract resources on some special deal. They did not pay off warlords, or give money under the table. They didn’t do any of those things. They did the right thing, and that’s why they’re still there. And that’s why, in the worst of the times of the Charles Taylor presidency in Liberia, when sanctions were imposed, you may know that there were never sanctions on the sale or rubber, because Firestone acted with integrity. I mean, that country has done enough things, in Liberia, over history, that I don’t agree with and didn’t like, but I’m not going to live in the past. I’m looking to the future and what’s best for the country.
On Taylor’s claim that Firestone had been the “lifeblood” of his territory in the early 1990s:
Padmore: I’m a little surprised by it. “Lifeblood,” well, you know, for that limited time in 1992, it would have provided employment to people who were living in his territory, so obviously he would consider that very important. Considering such a short time that it happened—and I don’t know when he made that statement—I am surprised because, later on, I think Taylor gained a lot more from exploitation of forest resources and mining of diamonds and other things than he ever did from rubber.
On the legality of Firestone’s dealings with Taylor:
Padmore: Well, you know, that’s kind of a legal question. I’d be happy as a lawyer to answer that, but, you know, the question of who is a government is a very interesting question. There is nothing in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that says you can’t pay warlords or you can’t pay somebody else. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in essence says you cannot bribe or give something of value to a foreign government official, which by the way would include the head of an insurgent group or a warlord or a rebel that controls territory. You can’t give them something so you get a benefit. You can’t give them an illegal payment so that you benefit in some way, and that’s what it’s all about.
Firestone was always very clear. It would pay taxes to any government that had control of an area, but it would not make other payments. It would not bribe. It would not give payments to secure an advantage for itself, and it refused to do so, even when it could have paid the way, perhaps, for some easier outcomes.
His most passionate defense of Firestone’s choices:
Padmore: You know, the only defense I could give is as a Liberian, and for me, I feel as though, at the end of the day, Liberians must and will take responsibility for everything that happened in their country. I don’t think it’s fair or right for Liberians to point a finger at others, be it the United States Government, “You didn’t do enough. Why did you send people to Somalia where they didn’t want you when you could have ended this whole thing in Liberia in 1990?” I don’t think it’s fair to point the finger at West African forces, who saved many lives, but also engaged in some looting and other activities. I don’t think it’s fair to point the finger at Firestone and say, “Well, why didn’t you leave?” and had they left, point the finger and say, “Why didn’t you stay? You spent—since 1926, you spent 70, 80 years in this country having wonderful things, and as soon as there was trouble, you left.” Liberians shouldn’t point the finger at anyone. Look internally and say, “What can we do better, and why did this happen?” Let’s not look for blame. Let’s look for ways to learn lessons from this and go forward from there. We are responsible for our own future.
As far as Firestone goes, as I said, I was proud to be a part of this effort because I thought it was good for Liberia, not necessarily for Firestone. For Liberia. And that’s really it.