882.5041/6: Telegram

The Chargé in Liberia ( Hibbard ) to the Secretary of State

11. Department’s telegram number 7, January 22, 7 p.m. Firestone Plantations Company has cabled full text of the bill to Akron and I have requested that the Department be furnished a copy immediately for study.

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The following are my comments:

There has been a growing trend in all countries for the past few years and particularly since the war to enact social legislation. Barclay has been more and more influenced by this as he leans strongly to the left. In addition he is nationalistic, xenophobe and antiwhite. These predominant characteristics have produced this bill which is solely his own.

The country is not prepared for such legislation nor is it necessary from the point of view of the people since in the proper sense of the term as understood in developed industrial countries, there are no working classes in Liberia.

Firestone is the largest employer of labor in the country now having approximately 20,000 on the payroll. These have freely and voluntarily abandoned their tribal life to work for Firestone so they cannot be said to be exploited, particularly as they already have housing, medical care and other benefits provided for in this bill which do not exist anywhere else in the country. Wages have recently been raised and the prices of imported goods sold to them are kept below cost. It is doubtful if another thousand individuals can be found in the country who are employed for a daily cash wage under similar conditions.

The next largest employ[er] of labor is the Government which is specifically exempted from the terms of the bill.

All persons employed for a daily, weekly or monthly wage are covered by the bill. Certain categories are specifically enumerated but of these only a few have minimum wages fixed. Those with wages fixed are for the most part employed by Firestone or other foreigners. The terminology is loose. For instance when is a mechanic skilled and who determines this. No provision is made for junior or apprentice employees, a very necessary system where no opportunities for training are available. The wages of household servants are not fixed.

The sections dealing with the employment of foreigners is unnecessary. No one would go to the expense of importing office workers if they were available in quantities in the country but they are not and the Government has never provided any means of training such workers.

The provision for setting up labor courts and the administration of this bill is unclear and incomplete. Those who have observed the inefficient and venal operation of the ordinary courts of law here fully realize the impossibility of there being any fair administration of this complicated measure. Moreover the ordinary courts would seem to have jurisdiction making the establishment of other bodies an unnecessary expense.

Sections 9 and 19 are definitely discriminatory. The former is unnecessary since ordinary courts have sufficient jurisdiction. The [Page 694] latter can never be enforced against a Liberian as not more than a dozen have 5,000 dollars and they will not be convicted.

To sum up:

The bill is discriminatory being designed to affect Firestone and other foreign firms exclusively and will not be administered against Liberians. Most of them including the legislators freely admit this.
There are not sufficient people qualified to administer the bill. The result will be a constant harassing of employers on petty and venal charges.
Present wages and working conditions provided by foreigners do not make the bill necessary and workers are not demanding it.
The result to us will be to raise the production cost of rubber over a cent a pound on an estimated yield of 32,000,000 without needed benefit to labor.
The effect on Liberia will be inflation and discouragement of the investment of foreign capital in post-war development and exploitation which is the country’s only salvation.

Although some such legislation as this was foreshadowed in Barclay’s annual message the bill has been prepared in secret by him and there has been an attempt to jam it through without discussion.