Tag Archives: FAO

Risk calculation and blood sugar – Can CSR arguments get a handle on the global land-rush?

by Rhodri C. Williams

The nearly 18 months that have passed since David Pred wrote in this blog about industrial sugarcane production and land-grabbing in Cambodia have been dramatic ones in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Perhaps most notably, the tragic and entirely predictable collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh last May galvanized a process of negotiating binding arbitration agreements between corporations and labor unions with participation by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The resulting “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” was described by Peter Spiro in Opinio Juris as “a signal episode in the continuing evolution of global corporate regulation”:

The template: a legal agreement between non-state parties facilitated and nominally hosted by an international organization. No governments involved, at least not as parties to the agreement. If it works, look for more of the same in other contexts. The ILO ‘s profile will surely rise in the face of this episode and the growing global awareness of worker rights issues.

For better and for worse, the Rana Plaza disaster also generated competing models, with a group of North American retailers unveiling a non-legally binding alternative to the mainly European ‘Accord’ in July. While critics alleged that the latter plan amounted to an attempt by large corporations such as Walmart to co-opt the global CSR movement, US corporations condemned the Accord as rigid, insensitive to the realities of the global textiles market, and (perhaps most tellingly), a potential floodgate for litigation.

These developments indicate that the protracted debate over effective social regulation of global markets (beautifully summarised in this essay by Richard M. Locke) has lurched forward, but is far from over. While experts have raised technical concerns about the arbitration procedures espoused in the Accord, it has nevertheless clearly introduced a new paradigm, planting a new, binding standard in a field dominated by voluntary codes of conduct. However, the competing North American initiative demonstrates the persistence of non-binding commitments that rely on states to regulate the conditions of production, rather than giving workers recourse to the corporations that sit astride global production chains.

Meanwhile, the debate over large-scale acquisition of land in developing countries by foreign states and corporations – the ‘global land rush’ – has rumbled on. In particular light of the extent to which corporations have been actors in the land rush, early indications that the land tenure governance debate would converge with the broader CSR debate appear to have been more than borne out.

Most notably, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently adopted a well-received set of “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure“. Though these are frequently referred to generically as ‘land grab guidelines’, they actually focus on the ‘supply side’, setting out duties of care for the authorities that dispose over land subject to investment (for more on the Guidelines, see this dedicated edition of the Land Tenure Journal). Meanwhile, a corresponding set of ‘demand side’ due diligence guidelines for investors – the “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments” is currently slated for adoption in 2014.

A similar pattern has emerged in advocacy with, for instance, the Rights and Resource Initiative (RRI) recently having reframed the ‘supply side’ question of State neglect of local tenure rights as a ‘demand side’ problem of corporate risk:

In examining the evidence, a pattern emerges. Many investors and operators have committed time, money and effort without understanding some considerable risks, ones usually considered externalities in the normal course of business. …. Property rights in many emerging markets are dysfunctional to the point that ownership of land can be granted to an investor without the tens of thousands of people living on, or dependent on, that land knowing about it. …. By themselves, delays caused by land tenure problems can inflate a project’s expenditures by an order of magnitude – and in some cases these losses have even been great enough to endanger the future of the corporate parent itself.

Meanwhile, more concerted efforts are being put into gauging the genuine scale of the problem, most notably through the development of a Land Matrix, a public online database of land deals. However, getting a handle on the scale of the problem, with its often murky and frequently unreported (or reported but unconsumnated) deals remains difficult. Nevertheless, two recent and overlapping insights have involved the extent to which the land rush has penetrated – and destabilized – South-East Asia and the role of the sugar industry and sugarcane in driving large scale land investment.

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Safeguarding land rights: An opportunity for the World Bank to lead

by David Pred and Natalie Bugalski

Washington, April 13, 2013 – At the start of the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty this week, World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim made some welcome remarks about the global land rights crisis.   He did not respond directly to the withering criticism of the role the Bank has played in promoting land grabs.   But he did say that the Bank shares the concerns about the risks of large-scale land acquisitions, and importantly he acknowledged that “additional efforts must be made to build capacity and safeguards related to land rights and to empower civil society to hold governments accountable.”

What caught people at the Conference pleasantly off guard was the Bank’s statement that its own social and environmental safeguard policies, now under review, would be informed by the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forest and Fisheries.

Inclusive Development International and Oxfam put forward a concrete proposal at the Conference for the Bank to do just that.  We presented a proposal for a new World Bank safeguard policy on tenure of land, housing and natural resources that draws extensively from the Voluntary Guidelines.

The proposal addresses major gaps in the Bank’s current policy framework that have left people affected by Bank operations unprotected from harmful impacts on their tenure rights.  If adopted, these policy measures would ensure that the Bank upholds its responsibility to respect human rights by safeguarding against the weakening of tenure rights, the instigation of land conflict and the exacerbation of inequality in access to land and natural resources by Bank operations.

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Corporate social responsibility in a changing world: Targeting conflict resource exploitation

by Rhodri C. Williams

The march of the voluntary guidelines continues, it seems, with new approaches geared to address gaps in earlier efforts to urge corporate self-control. As Peter Spiro noted some time back in Opinio Juris (and Chris Huggins pointed out in these pages), the promotion of “soft” voluntary standards as a means of getting at some very hard human rights violations is still seen with skepticism in many quarters.

Nevertheless, Mark Taylor makes an engaging case for such standards in a recent Open Democracy piece on the role of natural resource extraction in fueling conflict. The article highlights the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict Affected and High Risk Areas, a standard adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2011 and subsequently regulated in the US through new regulations issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)  under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

Taylor notes several key insights that have emerged in the wake of older certification schemes such as the Kimberly Process for conflict diamonds. These include the manner in which both illicit inflows into conflict areas (such as small arms) and outflows (such as natural resources) have become incorporated into global market flows, as well as the extent to which vulnerable local populations may be just as dependent on extraction activities for their survival as warlords are for their arms budget. In light of such factors, Taylor argues that considerable advantages may be derived from focusing on business actors rather than states:

Like the Kimberly Process, or even UN sanctions, the Guidance seeks to exclude certain commodities from global trade flows. But there the similarity ends. Instead of obligating states, the Guidance places the responsibility on business to manage their supply chains. Instead of relying on a certification regime hobbled by a lack of state capacity, the Guidance deploys the concept of business due diligence, the practice of self-investigation and risk management in a business activity. And instead of targeting a commodity based on its association with rebel groups – a definition that has plagued the Kimberly Process, for example preventing it from taking action where abuses are committed by state armed forces, as in the case of Zimbabwe – the Guidance in effect focuses on the problems of conflict financing and human rights abuse associated with mineral extraction, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a state or non-state armed group.

In effect, the Guidance places the onus on businesses to show they are not financing conflict or contributing to human rights abuse through their sourcing of minerals. And nothing in the Guidance prevents states from regulating this responsibility to conduct due diligence, which is precisely what the US has done with the conflict minerals provision of Dodd-Frank, a measure the EU is now considering.

The combined reliance on traditional state regulation and more novel forms of corporate self-regulation is promising though not, as Taylor points out, unproblematic. However, even at this early stage, there may be timely lessons that could be drawn by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its current efforts to develop a set of ‘demand side’ standards regulating the conduct of actors participating in large-scale land investments in developing countries. This process should be facilitated by the fact that the FAO has already launched a set of ‘supply side’ guidelines for countries that are the object of such investment. While the latter clearly addressed state authorities disposing over targeted land, the former will need to take into account the role of both state and powerful non-state actors whose investments are driving the global land-rush.

Finally, in a timely reminder that such policies and safeguards are often only as effective as the advocates that monitor their application, Inclusive Development International issued a press release announcing a complaint before the Asian Development Bank’s Compliance Review Panel. The complaint alleges a violation of the Bank’s involuntary settlement policies with regard to communities affected by an ADB-funded railway rehabilitation project in Cambodia (on which, see Natalie Bugalski’s guest postings here and here). As such, it recalls the ongoing controversy in Cambodia over the World Bank’s attempts to act on a finding by its own Inspection Panel of a violation of its Resettlement Policy.

FAO global guidelines on tenure of land, forests and fisheries adopted

by Rhodri C. Williams

I’m not sure who comes out looking worse on this one, BBC or me. On BBC’s ledger sheet, I was intrigued to see a headline to the effect that the “UN adopts historic ‘land grab’ guidelines” – and even more intrigued to click on it and find no links, nor the barest reference to the sponsoring UN agency, the name of the guidelines or any other clear hints as to how I might set about reverse engineering my way to the actual text the article was about.

Lets stop for a second and consider what this says about how the UN is perceived. Would the BBC note the passage of an important policy in the US without once naming the responsible government ministry, the actual name of the policy or the URL where you could find the text? It must be distressing for UN employees to find their sprawling, diverse, and often bitterly divided institution still so easily written off as a monolith.

For my own part, I eventually managed to use the one direct quote in the BBC piece to find my way to a much more journalistically impressive effort by the Miami Herald. Which helped me to the realization that I had lost track of the process of adoption of the FAO’s new ‘Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security’, despite having blogged on them only a month ago.

In my own defense, I had reasonable grounds for confusion. Most of the buzz generated by the guidelines so far seems to come from their association with addressing the current phenomenon of large scale investments in land (more colloquially referred to as large scale land-grabbing). For instance, the BBC describes them flat out as “guidelines for rich countries buying land in developing nations”.

However, the FAO itself announces the guidelines in a much more nuanced manner that conforms to my own earlier understanding: although much of the “public debate has focused on the so-called ‘land-grabbing’ phenomenon,” this is only “one of the issues that are dealt with in these guidelines.” The press release notes that the new text “address a wide range of other issues” as well, many of them far more “entrenched” than land-grabbing.

In fact, the current guidelines appear to focus on the ‘supply side’ – what states experiencing outside investment can do to mitigate the conditions that leave their own populations exposed to its worst effects. Recommended measures such as recognition of customary rights, dispute resolution measures and managing urbanization are clearly directed toward the local authorities, and meant to confront destructive state practices such as the ongoing tendency to exploit post-colonial legacies in the form of ‘state land‘.

Meanwhile, behind all the noise (land grabbing sells, it seems), the FAO affirms that the separate and parallel process of developing guidelines for the ‘demand-side’ actors actually doing the investing in land remains on course:

For its part, the [FAO Committee on World Food Security] will next take a focused look at the issue of responsible agricultural investments in general. The body is currently planning a yearlong consultative process, to start in October, that could culminate in set of recommended principles for responsible investment in agriculture later in 2013.

In implementing the new guidelines, the FAO is banking on buy-in achieved in what was, by all accounts, an exemplary consultative process. It has also planned to engage in technical assistance and develop a series of technical handbooks designed to help countries adapt the guidelines to their local contexts. So more information – presumably along with a dose of confusion – to come.

FAO Voluntary Guidelines on land, fisheries and forestry governance near approval

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has announced the recent conclusion of a lengthy negotiation process to shape a set of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. The resulting final draft will soon be published and is meant to be adopted at a special session of the body’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in mid-May. Afterwards, it is expected that the document will provide authoritative guidance to governments in drafting laws and policies in this area, with its legitimacy derived from the inclusiveness and extensiveness of the three year drafting process.

The scope of the voluntary guidelines is broad, and includes “promoting equal rights for women in securing title to land, creating transparent record-keeping systems that are accessible to the rural poor, and how to recognize and protect informal, traditional rights to land, forests and fisheries.” While numerous recent cases of abuse of state prerogatives over customarily held land demonstrate the needs for such guidelines, the experience of actors such as the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) counsels a degree of caution. As noted by the IDLO’s Erica Harper in these pages, prescriptive approaches to customary systems have tended to be counterproductive in the absence of an intimate understanding of local context:

…what works in a given country context is situation-specific and contingent upon a variety of factors, including inter alia, social norms, the presence and strength of a rule of law culture, socio-economic realities, and national and regional geopolitics. In order to make strategic decisions on what is likely to yield sustainable and positive impact, development practitioners need to possess in-depth knowledge of the target country, its people and its customary legal systems, as well as the theories and practicalities pertaining to legal development and customary justice programming.

At the same time, the scope of the new guidelines is limited in certain interesting respects. For instance, the FAO PR notes that they “come within the context of intensifying competition for land and other natural resources resulting from a variety of factors, including population growth, urbanization and large-scale purchases of farmland in the developing world by both overseas interests and domestic investors.” However, unlike the FAO, IFAD, UNCTAD and World Bank Principles for Agricultural Investment, the new guidelines provide only indirect guidance on addressing the ‘global land-rush‘.

In fact, the FAO has a separate drafting process underway to address large-scale land investment. As reported in TN last January, the FAO commissioned a project team to examine the issue of land tenure in the context of international investments in agriculture, developing recommendations for the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the CFS. The issue had been discussed at a policy roundtable at the CFS’ 2010 session (contrast the erudite overview provided by ILC with the Quatar National Food Security Program’s impenetrable defense of responsible investment). With the issuance of a July 2011 report and further side-event discussion at the October 2011 CFS session, the process seems to be underway.

However, the foreword to the July 2011 report clarifies that the issue is to be handled in a separate standard-setting process, resulting in “the elaboration of principles for responsible investments in agriculture with due consideration to the framework of the Voluntary guidelines on the tenure of land, fisheries and forests.” Muddying the waters slightly, the FAO also cooperated with Transparency International to develop a December 2011 working paper on how corruption in the context of weak governance undermines both land access and development. As reported here in TN, pervasive corruption in transnational land investment may be the crucial damning factor that has swung development opinion against the practice in recent months. In its press release, however, FAO referenced the forthcoming voluntary guidelines as its response to bad governance practices without mentioning the expert group on international investments.

More broadly, the new FAO guidelines will provide new material for the ongoing debate over corporate social responsibility approaches to land and natural resource exploitation, as well as non-state actor abuses more broadly. Two years ago, Chris Huggins posed the basic question of whether the lengthy and uncertain route of punitive enforcement measures should be chosen over the more forthcoming but less tested route of voluntary compliance. This question arguably remains as debated today as it was then. However, it is worth noting that Peter Spiro recently waxed optimistic in Opinio Juris, raising the possibility that Apple’s recent accession to the Fair Labor Association standards and auditing process could be “the biggest thing ever to happen in the world of private, rights-related codes of conduct” and “a major test case for the efficacy and legitimacy of non-governmental rights regimes.” So, onward FAO, and let a thousand voluntary standards bloom!

Week in links – week 42/2011: land disputes in Bolivia, India, Kyrgyzstan and the UK

This week, we have a few updates on recent stories covered in TN:

First, the indigenous protesters marching against the construction of a road through the Tipnis national park in Bolivia have reached the capital La Paz and are settling in to force the Government to negotiate on the issue. Nicholas Fromherz of Foreign Affairs provides an analysis of the tremendous damage the mishandling of this issue has done to President Evo Morales’ credibility.

Having recently taken China to task for its stereotypically stilted response to public outrage over crooked land takings, as well as its stereotypically draconian response to community resistance to being evicted, I am now presented with the classic counter-stereotype in India, where public acquisition of rural land to facilitate large-scale investment is also a pressing issue. Having adopted a new ‘light footprint’ policy on facilitating purchases of land for industrial use after protests last spring and summer, the government of the Uttar Pradesh province now faces a court decision ordering the return of previously acquired land and compensation for parcels investors already built on. Without taking a position on the actual case, it is a classic instance of the great BRIC dichotomy, with India a trickier business environment than China, but frequently for the right reasons.

More dispiriting follow-up to the ethnic mayhem in Kyrgyzstan last year, this time in OpenDemocracy. First, Bruno de Cordier gives a bleak overview of structural violence in Central Asia in the form of rentier politics and patronage societies. Then Elmira Satybaldieva portrays how these patterns are reflected in the fragmented and untransparent politicking in the leadup to Kyrgyzstan’s 30 October elections. With the land disputes and other grievances underlying last year’s violence still unresolved, the prognosis is worrisome.

FAO has described how Sweden, notwithstanding its past ambiguity on the right to water, is funding a highly innovative scheme to help farmers in eastern Kenya develop greater resilience in the face of climate instability, in part through better water management techniques. IRIN, for its part, reports on how poorly Kenya fares in general in advance mitigation of disasters, whether of the natural variety or man-made examples such as last month’s appalling pipeline fire.

And just to recall that housing and land issues remain relevant in the Global North, the New York Times reports on the messy beginnings of the eviction of a traveler community from the Dale Farm encampment they have occupied for years in Essex, UK – while the Guardian documents the surprisingly peaceful end of the process. On OpenDemocracy, Justin Baidoo-Hackman explores the issue of whether the evictions qualify as ethnic cleansing (my take: forced evictions are already plenty bad).

Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.