“Plantation” isn’t the word for Firestone. Think “state within a state.” Firestone originally controlled one million acres—four percent of the country, or nearly 10 percent of arable land. The current government, under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, renegotiated the concession to encompass 100,000. The company runs the schools, provides housing and water and markets; it even operates the only hospital, one of the few in the country.
With all that control, as Nicholas Jahr noted in The Nation, Firestone Tire has been able to run roughshod over workers’ rights and health in Liberia, treating its workers, as Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies notes, like slaves for the past 8 decades. But recent labor organizing has seen workers make some hard-won gains; Jahr and Woods join us to discuss.