laos deforestation

Laos

The Lao People's Democratic Republic has seen rising commercial interest in the past decade, with agribusiness companies from China and Vietnam flooding in to cash in on arable land and cheap labour. Read more

This investment should herald a new era of prosperity for Laos’ people, but endemic corruption, weak rule of law and widespread disregard for local land rights have encouraged unethical behaviour by companies, and spawned a rash of state-licensed land grabs.

At least 1.1 million hectares of land have been allocated to industrial concessions, with many families offered no choice but to vacate their ancestral lands.  In a country where 80 per cent of the population rely on small-scale farming, this rapid sell-off means more and more people are losing their livelihoods and being pushed deeper into poverty. The environmental cost is also huge. Across the country, forest cover is giving way to industrial-scale plantations growing export crops like rubber and coffee.

Meanwhile, those brave enough to speak out often pay a high price. In December 2012, Laos' most prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone vanished, raising suspicions of a high-level cover up. Journalists, activists and community leaders are also regularly harassed and, as a result, civil society remains too scared to speak out.

In May 2013, our report and video 'Rubber Barons' revealed for the first time how rubber is a key driver of land grabs. Vast amounts of land have been acquired for rubber plantations in Laos and Cambodia by two of Vietnam's largest companies, Hoang Anh Gia Lai and the Vietnam Rubber Group, both of which have close links to the region’s political elite.

After the release of Rubber Barons, the Vietnam Rubber Group promised to improve communication with communities surrounding its plantations. Communities affected by Hoang Anh Gia Lai in Laos have not yet followed their Cambodian counterparts in submitting a complaint against the company to the International Finance Corporation – the private lending arm of the World Bank – but that option remains open to them.

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