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The Source: Firestone Tires And The Warlord


Was the Firestone Tire company complicit in the brutal war crimes of Charles Taylor?

Details of the relationship between the American icon and the African country were scant in the 25 -year-old civil war until now. A trove of diplomatic cables and corporate letters were discovered in the basement of an Akron, Ohio courthouse. Akron is the headquarters of Firestone.

Firestone began doing business in Liberia in 1926. The rubber tree plantation built there offered some of the best latex in the world. When the country was thrown into civil war during the 80s the company had two choices stay and pay to insurgent leader, Charles Taylor, or go. The company chose to stay. 

200,000 people would die in the first Liberian civil which lasted from 1989 -1997, and the Firestone plantation played a significant role. It's plantation appears to have been staging ground for Taylor's armies. According to ProPublica's documentation, Firestone would agree to pay Taylor's rebel government taxes in the millions and invested more than 30 million dollars in the plantation.

The intricate relationship between Firestone and Charles Taylor, one of the few men in recent history to be tried and convicted of war crimes at The Hague, is deeply explored in the new Frontline Special that airs tonight on KLRN at 9 PM. Frontline paired up with reporters from ProPublica to report a gruesome tale and the interconnectedness of business. 

More than Firestone though, the documentary leaves big questions about the role of business ethics in war zones. Viewers are left wondering what decisions are playing out in real time right now as American business interests span the globe.


  • Marcela Gaviria, producer for Frontline
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive