News / Asia

Paper Company Violates Chinese Farmers' Land Rights

Multimedia

Audio

A Scandinavian paper company is facing accusations that it illegally acquired rights to thousands of hectares of land in China.

Rights groups say it may be a taste of what's to come as companies increasingly turn to the developing world for the land needed to supply food, biofuels, wood and other natural products for a growing population.

These investments can be a boon to development in poor countries.

But Finland-based Stora Enso discovered it can also be a source of conflict when the rights of those who depend on the land are violated.


Stora Enso is considered the benchmark for sustainability and corporate responsibility in the paper industry. Beginning in 2002, the company began acquiring land for a eucalyptus tree plantation in southern China's Guangxi province. When completed, the 120,000 hectare plantation would supply a paper mill to be built nearby.

Investment wanted

"It's a poor region of the country, and the local government is very interested in attracting investment," says Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of groups focusing on forest development and human rights. He says when done right, projects like these can help to raise incomes and improve livelihoods in poor areas.

The local government in Guangxi's Beihai municipality set up a business to facilitate land deals between local farmers and Stora Enso. And that's where the trouble started, White says.

"The way in which the local government business acquired land in many cases contradicted the land law," he says.

Undoing collectivization

The Chinese central government has been working to turn over to individual households land collectivized under communist rule. That gives households the right to decide how to use the land or who to rent it to.

But the Beihai-government business often made its deals with the head of the collectives, not the individual households. That's illegal. And RRI found that some farmers who didn't go along were physically threatened.

In 2006, four year after its land acquisitions in Guangxi province began, Stora Enso invited civil society groups including White's to visit the project.  

Company informed

"At that time we notified Stora Enso managers of this issue of the illegality, if you will, of how the land has been acquired," White says. "And they said then that they had not been aware of that, and would look into it."

But apparently, they didn't.

Local farmers who depend on the land for their livelihoods were unhappy that their land was rented to Stora Enso without their consent -- and for far less than they believed it was worth.

Their frustration boiled over into street demonstrations that turned violent in 2009.

Mistakes were made

Stora Enso spokesman Lauri Peltola acknowledges the company's mistakes. He says Stora Enso is reviewing all of its nearly 2,300 individual contracts in Guangxi province. And he agrees Stora Enso should have acted faster on the land rights issues pointed out by White's group and others.

Peltola says it has been a learning experience for the company.

"We are not in China to teach. We are there to learn," he says, "and do things together. And together with our stakeholders, we really need to re-think the traditional ways of doing things and create something new that everyone can be happy and proud about."

Land running out

Experts note that the need to grow food and fiber is increasing, but the amount of land available is not. RRI's Andy White says Stora Enso's experience in China is not an isolated case. Other companies -- even those with good social responsibility records -- will run into problems in the developing world as they pursue the last remaining arable land.

He notes that the government of Madagascar was overthrown a year and a half ago in part because of opposition to a large land acquisition by a Korean company.

"I would say to these governments that the risks of conflict are very high and they're growing," he says.

He adds, that should serve as a warning that violating land rights for poor people can create serious problems for governments in the developing world, as well as to companies seeking to invest there.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid