LOS ANGELES (Dec. 1)—A labor advocacy group has filed suit against Bridgestone/Firestone, claiming the company practices slave labor and forces small children to work long hours at the BFS natural rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia, allegations Bridgestone/Firestone strongly denies.
According to the suit filed in the Central California federal district court by the International Labor Rights Fund, rubber tappers at Harbel must tap at least 1,125 trees daily to make their daily wage of $3.19 before deductions, and must enlist their children to meet that quota. "Workers are stripped of rights, they are isolated, they are at the mercy of Firestone for everything from food to lodging, they risk expulsion and certain starvation if they raise even minor complaints," the suit stated. "The Firestone Plantation remains a gulag of misery."
In a written statement, BFS said its workers in Harbel are unionized and receive some of the highest wages paid in Liberia. The company also said it employs no one under the age of 18 and operates 20 schools in which more than 7,000 children are enrolled. "Firestone is committed to its long-term partnership with the Liberian people," the company said. "The allegations by the group are outrageous and are simply not supported by the facts."