rubber barons logs brighter


Cambodia offers a stark illustration of how natural resources can be a curse, not a blessing, to a country’s population. Read more

Global Witness' first investigations in the mid-1990s exposed how the Khmer Rouge and Phnom Penh government were gutting the country’s forests to fund their military campaigns. 

Our investigations led to the Thai-Cambodia border being closed to the timber trade, and ultimately helped bring an end both to the Khmer Rouge and the conflict. Our 2015 report, The Cost of Luxury, documented how one of Cambodia’s most prominent tycoons is at the helm of a multi-million dollar timber smuggling operation that is stripping Cambodia’s forests of precious wood and shipping it to Hong Kong. This is the latest example of how Cambodia’s elite have exploited first forests, then oil, gas and mineral reserves, and most recently land for agri-business, to shore up their own positions of power.

In recent years, a wave of land grabbing has forced 700,000 people off their land without consultation or compensation. In May 2013, our Rubber Barons exposé revealed how 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. At the time, the companies were financed by international investors including Deutsche Bank and the private lending arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation.

Repression and violence against those who speak out against land grabs is increasingly severe, as shown by the murder of environmental activist Chut Wutty in April 2012. Just weeks after Wutty’s murder, a 14 year-old girl was shot and killed by military police amidst a land dispute between her community and a rubber plantation company.

After the release of Rubber Barons, the Vietnam Rubber Group committed to improving communication with those affected by its plantations, and launched an unprecedented initiative allowing communities to lodge formal complaints and enquiries. Still, the international community must do more stop the state sponsored land-grabbing in Cambodia, and ensure that land is managed in a way that benefits the Cambodian people rather than a small, corrupt elite.