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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid