Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

Participants: Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.33
Mr. B. H. Larrabee, Vice President, Firestone Plantations.
Mr. Villard

Mr. Firestone brought in a copy of a radio message34 from the resident manager35 of the Firestone Plantations transmitting the text of a bill which had been passed this week in the Liberian Legislature fixing a minimum wage for workmen and defining and protecting the rights of the working classes in Liberia. It appeared that this bill had been introduced in the Liberian House on January 18, passed the same day, and passed by the Senate on January 20. The bill is scheduled to go into effect on February 1, 1943 and apparently only awaits the signature of President Barclay.

Mr. Firestone said that in his opinion this bill would create chaos in Liberia and would have a most adverse effect on the stability of the country at this critical juncture. He said that Liberia was not even remotely ready for labor legislation of this character and that it would play havoc with Firestone’s present urgent attempt to increase substantially the production of rubber. Mr. Firestone did not believe that the Liberian Government was capable of carrying out any such legislation at this time and that great confusion would be caused by introduction of the law. Mr. Larrabee called particular attention to the provision of Section 9, which included a penalty of not to exceed $1,000 for the utterance of “any abusive language having a racial basis” directed against any Liberian by a foreign employer. This in itself, Mr. Larrabee felt, would afford a basis for innumerable unjustified complaints and would require the employment of several additional lawyers by Firestone. Mr. Larrabee also felt that the time and a half for overtime provisions of the law, as well as the provision regulating the hours of employment for such persons as chauffeurs, etc., would enormously complicate Firestone’s operations.

Both Mr. Firestone and Mr. Larrabee did not seem so much concerned at the possible effect of this measure on expenditures under the Firestone payroll as they did at the difficulties in carrying out the law.

[Page 692]

Mr. Firestone suggested that the Department should bring to President Barclay’s attention certain considerations which ought to be taken into account before the measure became a law. One such consideration was the great difficulty of administering and enforcing such a law in Liberia’s present state of development, when similar measures had been found to present most complicated problems in the United States. Another effect of the measure would undoubtedly be to discourage any foreign enterprise from entering Liberia and assisting in the economic development of the country.

I told Mr. Firestone that we had received no word whatever from Monrovia on this subject and that the move was as much of a surprise to us as it was to him. I said we would be prepared to send a telegram to our Chargé d’Affaires instructing him to report on the measure and that we would consider the possibility of asking President Barclay to delay further action until our observations, pertaining to Liberia’s welfare, could be brought to his attention.

Mr. Firestone commented that in his opinion this act by President Barclay was in the nature of a “swan song”, since the President’s tenure of office expires a year from now and he probably wished to go on record as having enacted something of great benefit to Liberia’s working classes.

I said I would let Mr. Firestone know the results of any action we might take.

  1. President, Firestone Plantations Company.
  2. Not printed.
  3. George H. Seybold.