On Nov. 18, PBS aired “Firestone and the Warlord,” the result of a joint Frontline-ProPublica investigation into the relationship between the Firestone tire company and Liberia’s former president and convicted war criminal, Charles Taylor. ProPublica also published a lengthy companion piece under the same title, drawing upon hundreds of interviews and scores of never-before-seen documents. The result is an exhaustively researched and fresh look at the vital role played by a major international corporation in supporting one of Africa’s most brutal dictators.
Firestone’s history in Liberia
Firestone first came to Liberia in the 1920s, seeking to exploit the country’s vast rubber resources. In 1926, it opened the rubber plantation that, 66 years later, would serve as Charles Taylor’s base for directing his brutal assault on Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.
Firestone’s Liberian rubber plantation was considered to be the world’s largest and was a key asset for a company that, after being swallowed up by Bridgestone in 1988, began to experience cash-flow problems. So, despite generating just $16 million in revenue in 1989 (the year before the start of Liberia’s civil war), the plantation’s 15 percent profit margin represented a much-needed “bright spot on a corporate ledger drowning in red ink.” The plantation provided roughly 40 percent of the latex in America at the time.Click to continue reading »