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Villagers walk through recently cleared forest inside a HAGL rubber plantation
Villagers walk through recently cleared forest inside a HAGL rubber plantation. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Bank exits rubber firm: NGO

Global Witness, a United Kingdom-based NGO, has alleged that Deutsche Bank has dropped the majority of its holdings in a Vietnamese company that operates rubber plantations in Cambodia, amid accusations the firm is involved in land grabbing and illegal logging.

In a statement released today, Global Witness says the German banking giant has informed the NGO that it has divested from Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), which operates on economic land concessions in Ratanakkiri province.

“In an email to Global Witness dated 27th November, Deutsche Bank confirmed information that it no longer held any significant stock in HAGL, retaining only ‘minor residual holdings’,” the statement says.

Deutsche Bank spokesman Michael West said the bank does not comment on specific transactions but “the small shareholding referred to was through funds managed by a third party on behalf of external investors”.

“Deutsche Bank upholds the highest standards in the area of sustainability,” he wrote in an email.

Following a Global Witness report in May that was critical of HAGL’s practices and Deutsche Bank’s alleged involvement in the company, the bank told the Post that it did not provide any financing at all to HAGL.

“Deutsche Bank provides clerical trustee services to HAGL as it does to many thousands of listed companies globally,” a spokesman said at the time.

But Global Witness alleges that Deutsche Bank has invested in HAGL “for many years”.

“Its subsidiary (Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas) acted as HAGL’s depository bank when the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2011,” the statement says.

In May’s report, titled Rubber Barons, Global Witness accuses HAGL of illegally logging outside concession areas and being in possession of at least 47,000 hectares of economic land concessions – almost five times the legal limit.

Despite HAGL claiming it would address these issues, Megan MacInnes, from Global Witness, told the Post last month that little had changed and “logging is still carrying on and the people whose farms were bulldozed are still struggling to feed themselves”.

“In a press statement issued on 14th November 2013”, today’s statement continues: “Global Witness said that HAGL now represented a reputational and financial risk to investors, and that its financial backers should
divest from the company”.

MacInnes said in the statement that the bank had refused to explain why it had dropped its stake in HAGL.

“[But] this move sends a clear message to HAGL and other companies that lack of action to stamp out this kind of abuse is unacceptable and poses a financial and reputational risk to investors,” she said.

Representatives of HAGL told Post reporters last week that it owned only three companies that held ELCs in Cambodia.

Although those companies were in possession of almost 30,000 hectares in total, the representatives, who did not want to be named, said HAGL was doing nothing illegal.

They said the companies were “independent” and the Cambodian government had approved of what they were doing.

Nguyen Van Thu, a company representative, asked for emailed questions last night but did not reply by press time.

Rubber Barons says many villagers affected by HAGL’s activities had lost their livelihoods without compensation and seen sacred forests destroyed.

Eviction protesters had been victims of intimidation and violence, the report adds.

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