When Feronia acquired PHC in 2009, our immediate priority was to ensure the survival of the business. We renovated two palm oil mills and constructed a new palm oil mill at Yaligimba and started a programme to replant oil palm trees which were past their prime. We raised the finance to secure the jobs and livelihoods of our c.3, 800 workforce and we reconnected our plantations to the outside world through mobile telephony and the internet. We also committed to zero deforestation of natural forest on the plantations and to rebuilding the business in a sustainable way.
Since 2013, we have been delivering an Environmental and Social Action Plan (ESAP) that focuses our efforts on priority environmental, social, and labour needs. The ESAP was developed by Feronia and specialists familiar with Good International Industry Practice (GIIP) (as defined by the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability) and the principles and criteria for certification to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). You can find out more on how we’re progressing here.
We have also created a governance structure within the Company which guides and oversees our commitment to strong social and environmental performance and ensures continual improvement.
In December 2014 we commissioned a baseline environmental and social assessment (ESA) of PHC and our wider area of influence so as to understand more completely the state of our plantations, needs of our workers and local communities, particularly around livelihood, education and healthcare and environmental protection. The ESA was a considerable study, and to our knowledge, is the first of its kind in the agricultural sector of the DRC. Having undertaken these studies, we have a strong understanding of our operating environment and we are using them to evaluate our existing activities and to inform our sustainability strategy moving forward.
Whilst we have ensured the survival of the business, have made improvements to working conditions (particularly around salaries, benefits and occupational health and safety), and have begun a long term programme to refurbish housing, healthcare facilities, and social infrastructure, we recognise that there is still much to do.
Renovated two mills and constructed a new palm oil mill at Yaligimba
Undertaken a large replanting programme with 16,700 hectares of oil palm replanted by 2015
Secured c.3,800 jobs, indirectly helping c.57,000 livelihoods
Rehabilitated 314 of our workforce houses
Built and refurbished 99 toilets facilities
Made vital repairs to the four hospitals on our plantations
Rehabilitated and continue to maintain a network of approximately 1,900km of roads
Partnered with Water for Africa for the drilling, maintenance and monitoring of 52 new boreholes
Implemented defensive and safe driving training for PHC and relevant subcontractor drivers
Trained 50 key managers in anti-bribery and corruption
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Key Improvements to PHC Infrastructure
Better Understanding of our Concessions
Key Improvements to PHC Infrastructure
When Feronia acquired the business in 2009, c. 47% of planted hectares were considered beyond the end of their productive life and few trees in the potentially high-yielding 8-18 year range had been treated with fertilizer in their formative years. We had just one fully operational palm oil mill and PHC's production was down over 95% from at its peak.
Over the intervening years we have invested heavily. We have renovated two mills and constructed a new palm oil mill at Yaligimba, the previous mill having closed in 2008 after more than 50 years of operation. We have undertaken a large replanting programme with 16,700 hectares of oil palm replanted by the end of 2015 and we have re-equipped the three plantations with vehicles , equipment, tools and machinery.
Feronia inherited existing services and infrastructure including housing, healthcare and sanitation which had suffered years of under investment and fell short of the standards we want for our communities. It took several years to get the loss making business on an even footing and secure the finance needed to start investing in our infrastructure but we have now implemented an ongoing programme to repair and rebuild local infrastructure and have made progress in the following areas:
Housing and Sanitation
In 2014, we started a worker housing rehabilitation programme using local PHC construction teams who are making steady progress in assessing housing needs and reconstructing them as needed. To date we have rehabilitated 314 houses of our c.3,800 workforce houses and refurbished 99 toilets facilities. In 2014 we also commissioned a pioneering design company to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the plantations' existing social infrastructure. The process included engaging with local communities regarding housing and social infrastructure requirements. The findings from this report, which includes suggestions for construction methods, design and location specific requirements, will inform the Company’s future Housing Action Development Plan.
In 2014 we developed a hospital action plan and have made vital repairs to the hospitals on our plantations. We have done this through reinstating company management at the Boteka and Lokutu hospitals, restoring three wards in each hospital (male, female, maternity), and repaired operating theatres and sanitation facilities.
We have also begun equipping hospitals with the resources needed to function effectively - which has included on site generators, laboratory equipment and refrigerators. In addition to our own investment we have developed a partnership with US charity Project C.U.R.E. to deliver essential medical equipment.
We are sponsoring UK based charity Water for Africa to implement a ground water project across our operations in order to provide access to clean drinking water for our workers and wider communities. Water for Africa will train a team of Feronia employees in the drilling, maintenance and monitoring of 52 new boreholes across the Company’s plantations. The drilling team will be responsible for training local people in routine maintenance and monitoring, which is essential for the long-term sustainability of these water sources. In parallel we have contracted with a DRC drilling company to provide 15 boreholes at Lokutu. Find out more here.
With roads accessible by everyone in and around our plantations, we have rehabilitated and continue to maintain a network of approximately 1,900km of roads. In 2014 we developed a road maintenance programme to continue this work to ensure a good network of weather resilient roads between key locations.
Mobile and Internet
We have worked with Vodacom to install mobile phone towers on the plantations providing access to mobile telephony. We have also installed satellite internet access in each of our plantation offices. We believe that telecommunications and technology are instrumental to providing access to information and service based economies and intend to expand communications links as our operations grow.
Key Improvements to Labour and Working Conditions
Feronia places great importance on the quality and well-being of our workforce. We want our people to realise their full potential and therefore aim to create a safe and thriving work environment. Many of our employees and managers have worked for the company for decades and continue a generational legacy. We recognise the significant knowledge and skills held by our workforce and consider them to be an invaluable asset.
When Feronia acquired PHC in 2009, we made a commitment to zero redundancies and retention of pre-existing employment contracts. We formerly adopted and communicated to our employees a Human Resources Policy- which acts as our guiding principle in the management of all of our people. Other improvements to labour and working conditions include:
- Wage increases: Since 2009, the company has steadily increased wage rates in line with increased productivity and affordability. In 2014, Feronia and the six unions which represent its over 3,800 PHC employees signed a new Collective Agreement focussed on improving pay, benefits and general terms of employment and represented an ongoing commitment by the as the operational performance of the Company improves.
Employees receive a number of benefits above and beyond what is legally required and every employee is paid a minimum of the cash equivalent of the DRC’s minimum wage.
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS): All workers receive training in OHS and have been provided with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) following comprehensive OHS risk assessments. We have also implemented an occupational health monitoring programme in order to reduce (and ideally eliminate) work related illness or accidents and to create optimum working conditions to protect our workers mental and physical health.
Ensuring road safety is critical to running safe and efficient operations. In 2015 we implemented a programme of defensive and safe driver training for all PHC and relevant subcontractor drivers with drivers receiving copies of the Feronia Road Safety Manual which is available in English, French and Lingala and by which they must abide. All drivers employed through contractors are also required to follow PHC road safety policy and guidelines. We also run regular ‘Toolbox Talks’ with our drivers to discuss driving risks such as the dangers of drinking and driving.
- Anti-Bribery and Corruption: The prevalence of everyday corruption poses a risk to any business operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We apply a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to acts of bribery and corruption by our employees or by business partners working on behalf of the company, including advisors, agents or contractors.
We are actively taking steps to meet our obligations to detect, prevent and eliminate, as well as reduce opportunities for bribery and corruption. We are committed to complying with all applicable laws in the UK, Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We have developed detailed policies and procedures to strengthen the culture of ethics and integrity in our business and are committed to providing guidance and support to employees should they face these issues. Our senior management team have all received training in anti-bribery and corruption, and we are expanding a training programme to relevant personnel across our business. To date we have trained 50 key managers.
Better Understanding of our Concessions
From the outset, we have believed that Feronia can act as a force for good in the management and protection of the natural environment, in the creation of long term high quality employment and thriving local communities. In 2014 we commissioned an independent consultant to conduct a pioneering study, analysing the environmental and socio-economic impacts and opportunities associated with the rehabilitation of our plantations so as to guide our thinking on how to avoid and/or minimise adverse impacts, and to identify opportunities through which we could leverage bigger development outcomes. The results of these findings can be found here.