The Fernando Po Labour Crisis of 1929–1930
Accusation that Liberia was exporting labour to the Spanish colony of Fernando Po under conditions “hardly distinguishable from organized slave trade” was perhaps the worst scandal the country ever faced since it was founded. The sensational charge emanating from the USA created global ripples and a vast amount of literature.
This chapter scrutinizes all the opinions expressed and tries to find out the exact antecedents which prompted the US government to take such a step. It also deals with the report submitted by the International Commission of Enquiry sent by the League of Nations upon request from Liberia. Unlike most writers on this issue, the present author questions the impartiality of the commission’s report which condemns only Liberia, the source of supply of labour, without mentioning the Spanish colonial government, which was the source of demand for the labour. The report gives Firestone a clean bill of health although the group of economists of Northwestern University is of the opinion that there was an element of coercion in Firestone’s method of recruitment even 40 years after it had started growing rubber.
Faced with hostile criticism from all quarters, the government of Liberia requested that the League provide experts in finance, judicial administration, sanitation and native administration. It, however, refused to accept anything that would undermine the sovereignty of the country. President King resigned and Edwin Barclay took over. Liberia’s relations with the League entered a new phase.