Press Release / Aug. 9, 2013

Arsenal F.C. gets ‘Yellow Card’ on links to suspected human rights abuses

Club ignoring concerns over Vietnamese-academy partner’s land grabbing and human rights abuses

Arsenal F.C. appears unwilling to prevent a key Vietnamese academy partner company trading on its name whilst accused of widespread environmental and human rights abuses in Cambodia and Laos, said Global Witness today.

Rubber giants Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) are accused of causing extensive social and environmental damage in and around their plantations in Cambodia and Laos, according to Global Witness’s May 2013 report and film, Rubber Barons. At the time, both companies committed to review the environmental and social impact of their activities in Cambodia and Laos and take action to remedy any problems found. However, reports received from both companies in July show that neither company has made any genuine effort to fulfil its pledge or has any intention of doing so.

Meanwhile, HAGL’s Chairman Duc has used the media to trade heavily on the company’s close relationship with Arsenal. Media reports state that HAGL is the club’s main distributor for merchandise in Vietnam, while the partnership also includes the HAGL – Arsenal JMG Academy, and saw the London club play a Vietnam XI on a recent trip sponsored by the company. HAGL chairman used this visit to boost the company’s image and publicly dispute Global Witness’ findings. Duc was reported in the press saying that the findings were “90 per cent untrue”, before claiming "you can see that the team has come, can't you? Nothing has happened."

Megan MacInnes from Global Witness said: “Although this is not the first time that HAGL and VRG have promised action but done nothing, we are genuinely shocked at how bad these reports are. Our investigation showed how both companies are routinely bulldozing farms and ruining lives – this shows they have no real interest in cleaning up their act. Instead, HAGL’s Chairman Duc is far more interested in using Arsenal’s name to launder his company’s reputation in the media, and the club seems happy to let him do so.”

Global Witness contacted Arsenal with its concerns after the Rubber Barons findings were picked up by fans, who wrote blogs and started a petition demanding that the club break all ties to HAGL. Arsenal responded that it was unaware of the allegations, and that its relationship with the club had effectively ended in 2008.

The club has since clarified to Global Witness that HAGL remains part of the club's wide talent scouting network, but that the recent associations with the company related to HAGL's sponsorship of a match on Arsenal's 2013 tour of Vietnam, and no other use of the Arsenal name has been granted for some time.

“Arsenal initially said they’re no longer involved with HAGL, but their trip is sponsored by the company, they’re partnering on an academy and the club’s name is plastered all over HAGL’s advertising,” said MacInnes. “There is no excuse for fudging this, this company has kicked people off their land in deals they knew nothing about, and then used armed security forces to guard the plantations, there have been many human rights abuses. If Arsenal wants to be seen as a credible and positive influence in the region, it has to clear up its position and publicly end all ties with HAGL.”

International investors in HAGL and VRG have also been keenly watching the reporting process as a test of both companies’ intentions and will be extremely disappointed to see the results so far. These investors should publicly threaten to divest from both companies if they don’t clean up their act by the end of November 2013.

Rubber Barons provided community testimony and other evidence of land grabbing, lack of consultation with communities, non-payment of compensation and routine use of armed security forces to guard plantations in Cambodia. Large areas of supposedly protected intact forest have been cleared, in contravention of forest protection laws and apparently in collusion with Cambodia’s corrupt elite.

Despite promising to investigate these problems, HAGL’s report simply states “there are no land disputes between HAGL and local people” and “HAGL’s project do not harm the livelihood of local people as well the society and environment in the area” without providing any evidence to back this up. VRG’s report denies the existence of any disputes, but then goes on to say “it is impossible to identify the arable land areas belonging to the local population when implementing … land concessions”.


Contact: Oliver Courtney, [email protected] +44 (0)7912 517147

Notes to editors: