Firestone and Liberia –
In 1926, the then Firestone Tire & Rubber Company leased 1,600 square miles of jungle in Liberia, West Africa, with the goal of producing its own rubber. Selected then for its location, soil and climatic conditions, Liberia is now home to the world's largest single natural rubber operation. Today, Firestone Liberia operates on a much smaller area of land with close to 8 million rubber trees planted on 200 square miles at its Harbel location (named after Firestone founder Harvey Firestone and his wife Idabelle).
As Firestone Liberia strives to achieve its business goals, the company also aims to enhance the quality of life for all Liberians. Firestone Liberia is involved in the community, providing jobs, housing, education, food and health care as it helps rebuild the country after 14 years of civil strife.
Firestone Liberia Milestones
- 1926: Liberia and the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company reach agreement to initiate the natural rubber industry development in Liberia.
- 1920s and 30s: The company (today called Firestone Liberia) employs thousands of Liberians. The company provides the capital for tree planting and for building processing factories, power plants and houses, as well as hundreds of miles of roads. Firestone Liberia also develops technical skills and scientific resources within the country.
- 1942 to 1945: Firestone Liberia contributes to the Allied effort during World War II by doubling its rubber exports to support the military's need for rubber.
- 1976: Firestone and the Liberian government sign a renegotiated concession agreement forming the basis of the company's continuing operation in Liberia.
- 2005: To save the Liberian rubber industry and to rehabilitate its operations to pre-war status, Firestone Natural Rubber Company and the Liberian government sign a renegotiated agreement. The agreement provides for extensive post-civil war capital investment, immediate replanting of rubber trees and extends the company's lease until 2041 to ensure it has the opportunity to harvest rubber from newly planted trees. The company commits to a long-term major replanting program and the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, housing and other infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the civil war. The company also commits to providing assistance to Liberian rubber farmers.
- 2006: Firestone Natural Rubber Company, having pledged $100 million of capital to the post-war rebuilding efforts, quickly rebuilds key infrastructures.
- 2007: As Firestone continues to rebuild schools and housing units, the company accelerates progress by providing space for relief and other donated goods on Firestone's dedicated shipping services, L & C Shipping Lines.
- 2008: The Government of Liberia and Firestone Liberia sign the Amended and Restated Concession Agreement that provides Firestone the stability to continue investing in the more than 6,500 jobs on its rubber farm. The agreement also allows Firestone to develop and launch its new rubberwood business, a value-added operation that will create a minimum of 500 new jobs. Following open collective bargaining negotiations, Firestone Liberia signs a new, mutually beneficial labor contract with the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL). The company also celebrates the official reopening of the Firestone Medical Center in Duside as an impatient facility, a major milestone in the company's ongoing efforts to rebuild schools, housing and medical facilities.
- 2009: Firestone Liberia announces the launch of its Hevea wood operation. As part of this new environmental initiative, rubber trees that have reached the end of their lifecycle for producing latex — about 28 years — are being processed into ecologically sustainable Hevea wood for use in the manufacture of furniture, flooring and other products. The Hevea wood operation will create a minimum of 500 additional Liberian jobs. The company also completes and opens a new marketplace in Harbel and announces plans for a new residential community on the site of the old marketplace. Firestone Liberia School System's sixth, ninth and 12th grade students earn an 88 percent passing rate on the West African Examination Council exam, performing well above the national average of 63 percent. In addition, Firestone High School graduates its first senior class.
- 2010: The Firestone Medical Center at Duside hosts 20 volunteer doctors and nurses from Children's Surgery International (CSI) for a five-day surgical mission in January. The team coordinates with Firestone's hospital staff to perform 142 operations free of charge for Liberians in need of care. In February, the company launches "89.5 FM – The Voice of Firestone Liberia" radio station in Harbel. The entire Firestone Liberia community celebrates the signing of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the company and the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL). The agreement, which replaces the labor contract signed in 2008, signals the parties' continuing partnership as they work together to revitalize the natural rubber industry and help rebuild the company's operations.