Firestone chief fires back

With regard to Dave Zirin’s latest comments, let me respond directly and succinctly.

We do not tolerate child labor at our Liberian farm. If an employee even brings their child to the work site, they risk losing their job. No one, anywhere, in any endeavor, can guarantee total compliance with any rule. We do, however, guarantee that when we find child labor violations (and yes, we do monitor for them), they are dealt with. Any number of former employees who’ve lost their jobs because they violated our policy can attest to that.

I am not sure if Zirin has ever been to Liberia, much less our farm. I have walked and driven many miles of it. I have seen children throughout the country pushing carts, selling merchandise from boxes, and carrying almost anything you can imagine. I have yet to see a child on our farm carrying rubber or engaging in company-related work. What I do see is uniformed children, going to school, taking exams, using computer labs and playing in schoolyards. If it were the company’s intention to use child labor or deny employees’ children the opportunity to an education, I am not sure how or why we would have 23 company-provided schools and more under construction.

With regard to the Farmington River, water samples taken from the river demonstrate that there is no difference in water quality downstream of our facility than there is upstream. That is not to say that the quality of the river water is pristine. One only has to look across the river from our operations to see raw sewage being dumped from local communities that have no sanitation systems due to years of war. Regardless, to move past this issue, we are constructing a new treatment facility that totally eliminates any discharge into the river.

Zirin notes that we have operated in Liberia for 81 years, yet he fails to acknowledge the many years we were forced out of operation at gunpoint. He fails to acknowledge that after a horrific civil war, much of whatever we built in prior years was destroyed. That which wasn’t destroyed fell into unimaginable disrepair. Not many people understand or are even aware of the enormity of the challenge — in a country like Liberia, reconstruction means we must make our own bricks.

Yet Firestone Liberia remains committed to rebuilding, repairing and restoring not just our operations but the nation as a whole. For example, we provide free shipping aboard our company vessels for humanitarian cargo, and medical care to those who need to see a doctor, whether or not they are our employees. We will continue to do our part by providing jobs that pay above the national standards and by creating more jobs through new, value-added ventures. We will also continue to provide free housing, educational opportunities, and subsidized food to our employees and their families.

If Times readers think of anything during the halftime show this Sunday, it should be these things and not unfounded allegations. Oh, and Mr. Zirin, after you have educated, provided as much healthcare, built as many new homes and provided as many jobs for Liberians, come back and we’ll discuss the concept of “moral authority.”

Dan Adomitis is president of the Firestone Natural Rubber Company.