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Villagers walk through a cleared forest inside a HAGL rubber plantation in Ratanakkiri last year
Villagers walk through a cleared forest inside a HAGL rubber plantation in Ratanakkiri last year. HAGL’s operations in Ratanakkiri have been suspended due to a pending World Bank investigation. GLOBAL WITNESS

World Bank deflects claims

As 10 cities around the world stage protests denouncing the World Bank’s agriculture investments today, the organisation has responded to accusations that its policies have helped fuel land grabs in Cambodia.

The UN-associated financier is under fire for findings, including by its own internal inspectors, that its $35 billion worth of investments in developing countries have done little to alleviate poverty, and instead may help undermine the livelihoods of rural communities.

“The World Bank Group shares concerns over large-scale land acquisitions anywhere and believes securing access to land for poor people around the globe is critical for development,” the bank told the Post by email. “All World Bank Group initiatives are designed to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity around the world.”

But in Cambodia, protesting communities locked in land disputes with foreign investors and local elites point to the bank as a catalyst for their eviction.

It also helps to shape the investment climate in countries like Cambodia. Bank-backed reforms in 2003 “included cuts on certain import duties, renewable land leases of up to 99 years and no price controls on goods or services produced by investors”, according to Anuradha Mittal, policy director at the Oakland Institute, an environmental think tank. A decade later, 76 per cent of Cambodia’s arable land is in the hands of concessionaires.

“The World Bank Group opposes speculative land investments or acquisitions which take advantage of weak institutions in developing countries or which disregard principles of responsible agricultural investment,” the bank said.

However, the bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has also been linked to land takeovers. Vietnamese rubber giant Hong Anh Gai Lai (HAGL), for example, has received $16.4 million in funding from IFC through intermediary Dragon Capital.

The rubber company, which allegedly holds more than five times the legal limit of economic land concessions, stands accused of land grabbing, logging outside its property, sexual assault, using child labour and destroying state property. HAGL’s operations in Ratanakkiri have been suspended until the end of November amid a pending World Bank investigation.

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