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.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    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.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora