Imagine waking up one day to be told by a man from the government that the land that your family has lived and relied on for generations has been sold to developers. You have to be out by the time the bulldozers arrive next week. You have no right of reply, you can’t see the documents behind the deal, and you won’t be getting compensation. And if you don’t go quietly, soldiers will make you wish you had.
This type of “land-grab” is happening more and more often across the developing world, as national and foreign investors scramble to buy up cheap land for everything from food to biofuel plantations to mining. As much as 203m hectares has already changed hands in land deals over the last decade – that’s eight times the area of the United Kingdom. And this figure is set to grow as population growth, consumption and financial speculation drive demand upwards.
With strong rules to protect communities and environment, these investments could stimulate development in some of the poorest parts of the world. But the market is moving much faster than regulators can leaving behind a murky trade controlled by powerful and often corrupt elites.
Land deals are often done in secret, without consulting those most affected. Environmental damage and human rights are paid lip service at best, and often completely ignored. Communities can’t find out who has bought their land or see the contracts, so they don’t know what it’s worth or who to blame for taking it.
In May 2013, our report and video Rubber Barons revealed for the first time how rubber is a key driver of this problem. Vast amounts of land have been acquired for rubber plantations in Laos and Cambodia by two of Vietnam’s biggest largest companies, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and the Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG). These rubber barons are financed by international investors including Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private lending arm of the World Bank.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Global Witness’s Dealing with Disclosure report, launched in April 2012, sets out the practical steps that governments and companies need to take to make land deals fair and open. People who live off the land must be consulted and given the chance to refuse investments. They must be able to access information in a way they can understand and use. Then companies and governments can be held to account for how the land is used, and who benefits.
As well as pushing for solutions to fix the system, Global Witness is continuing to investigate the impact of large-scale land concessions on rural communities and environment in the Mekong region and Liberia.
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