Tag Archives: Oxfam

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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Oxfam on the global land rush – UPDATED

by Rhodri C. Williams

Update – One of the disadvantages of speed-blogging is that you sometimes post on new reports without remembering to link to them! (See also the PR here). I should also highlight the appended case-study on evictions in Uganda carried out in furtherance of a carbon credit program run by the UK-based New Forests Company. This item has received considerable media attention on its own merits (as here in the New York Times and here in the Guardian). The latter piece includes a quote from an NFC spokesman that shows just how easy it remains for many African states to bank on the inherited colonial legal fiction that land not held in formal title is the exclusive property of the state (previously discussed on TN here, at bottom): 

In a series of communications with Oxfam, the company says: “Evictions from government land – which go on in Uganda every day – are solely in the hands of the government and its designated authorities such as the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forestry Authority, and the Ministry of Lands. We are expressly prohibited from dialogue and interaction from any illegal encroachers.”

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Recent statements by Oxfam have strengthened the emerging consensus that large scale investment in developing countries’ land is both destructive of local livelihoods and a source of corruption and political instability. Oxfam itself has been a longstanding critic of this trend, as reflected in a brilliant little satire they produced on Glengarry Glenross. So what do their most recent statements add to the litany of international criticism?

First, as picked up on in the Guardian, Oxfam has alleged that the scope of the phenomenon to date may be significantly larger than previously thought:

The NGO has identified 227m ha (561m acre ha) of land – an area the size of north-west Europe – as having being reportedly sold, leased or licensed, largely in Africa and mostly to international investors in thousands of secretive deals since 2001. This compares withabout 56m ha identified by the World Bank earlier this year, again predominantly in Africa.

Second, as reported by the BBC, Oxfam has maintained its focus on the connection between the land rush and other global trends, inferring that the trend is likely to grow both more pronounced and more overtly problematic.

The organisation said that land grabs had accelerated especially since 2008, when soaring prices highlighted the issue of food security.

It said an increasing demand for food, combined with climate change and the increase of agricultural land being used to grow biofuels, meant that the number of such deals would be likely to only rise in the future.

It called on the EU to scrap its target of obtaining 10% transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020 – which has fuelled the planting of crops for biofuels – and asked investors and governments to implement policies to ensure land deals are fair and those affected are properly consulted.

A third important effect of Oxfam’s statements are to keep the debate alive. Although it is highly significant that consensus is forming regarding the destructive nature of the land rush in its current form, there is not the same degree of clarity about how the problem might be addressed. Meanwhile, the risk is that the global land rush becomes just another problem – like global warming – that lands in the ‘too big to handle’ category for policy-makers.