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Business & Finance: Lever, Firestone, Ford

3 minute read

With gleaming tusks, spotted skins, Africa lures the hunter. With savage tribes, brilliant plumage, exotic flowers, Africa calls to the explorer and the naturalist. But to the 20th century industrialist, eagerly scanning the world’s wealth, the world’s markets, Africa means first RAW MATERIALS, then CHEAP LABOR. Palm oil, extracted from the fruit of the African oil palm, the basis of many a soap, drew William Hesketh Lever to Africa in 1911 (see p. 17). More and more oil was needed for Lever Brothers’ gigantic plant at Port Sunlight, England. The Congo held a vast, almost virginal source of supply. Into the Congo, 1,000 miles, went British industrialism, dutifully accompanied by British medicine, British education. Lever Brothers became rulers of a black empire of 1,860,000 acres, exploited its mine of raw materials, its cheap labor. Last week, black labor in the Congo demanded and got 19¢ a day. Like the soap works at Port Sunlight, the tire factories at Akron, Ohio, must be served. From one source or another, an unending supply of rubber must pour into the plant of Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. Angry at the cost of obtaining it from one source (British), Harvey Samuel Firestone determined to get it from another. Said he: “Americans Should Produce Their Own Rubber.” Thus U. S. industrialism went to Africa, in the person of white-belmeted, soft-spoken Harvey Samuel Firestone Jr.. with engineers, chemists, physicians, builders. The Firestones chose Liberia for the first all-American rubber plantation. With typical U. S. efficiency, the groundwork was laid by refinancing the shiftless Liberian government, then obtaining the right to plant rubber trees over an area of 1,000,000 acres. With typical U. S. generosity, Mr. Firestone paid more than the average African wage. Liberian blacks receive 25¢ a day, in cash. Last week, the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations was called upon to read a curious document. It was a report, made by onetime Harvard professor Raymond Buell, submitted to the League by Henri A. Junod, President of the International Society for the Protection of Natives. Declared Professor Buell, in effect: “Firestone forced its way into Liberia. The U. S. State Department and Herbert Hoover brought pressure to bear to make the Liberian government accept the refinancing operations and admit Firestone rubber. Eventually, the lands of the natives will be confiscated. Through the terms of the loan, through U. S. financial advisers, a closed door has been established. It will end in peonage.” Shocked, the State Department issued vigorous and sweeping denials. The Firestones have used but 20,000 of its 1,000,000 acres. The U. S. will not countenance closed doors, forced labor.

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From Detroit, last week, sailed the motorship Lake Ormoc, carrying hospital equipment, an experimental laboratory, machine shop, refrigerating plant, provisions for two years. Its destination: Santarem, Brazil, a river port 100 miles north of Henry Ford’s new 5,000,000 acre rubber plantation. In ten years, Mr. Ford’s experts hope the plantation will yield 6,000,000,000 pounds of rubber annually, enough to make 1,000,000,000 Ford tires.

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