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HAGL called out at the UN

Numbered logs sit inside a rubber concession belonging to a subsidiary company of HAGL in Ratanakkiri province
Numbered logs sit inside a rubber concession belonging to a subsidiary company of HAGL in Ratanakkiri province. GLOBAL WITNESS

HAGL called out at the UN

A DELEGATION of Cambodian NGOs to the United Nations last week used the stage to shame the World Bank’s financial arm for failing to adequately monitor investments in a Vietnamese rubber giant accused of illegal logging, forced evictions and sexual harassment.

Representing 17 indigenous communities in Ratanakkiri that filed a complaint against Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in February, the Cambodian delegation requested immediate suspension of the foreign concessionaire’s activities.

“We want to see the World Bank to immediately intervene and, through communicating with the affected community, ensure the indigenous people will be given a resolution regarding their land,” said Hok Menghoin, one of the delegates.

Speaking at the 13th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in New York last week, the delegation blamed the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) for a lack of due diligence after acquiring a 5.5 per cent holding in investment fund VEIL, which invests in HAGL via intermediary Dragon Capital Group.

Last year, Global Witness reported that HAGL held at least 47,000 hectares of economic land concessions – almost five times the legal limit. The IFC’s internal watchdog, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, launched an investigation into the firm following villagers’ land-grabbing complaints.

Yesterday, representatives from IFC in Cambodia said the ombudsman acts as an independent accountability measure, and denied that they had allocated funding specifically to HAGL.

Rights groups working with the investigation said the dispute is just one of many involving indigenous people being forced off their land.

“They are always under attack because they are living on natural resources that companies want and will pay for, and the government will not enforce the peoples’ rights,” Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, said.

But the delegation hoped it had at least raised the issue with a more receptive audience.

“Our government will not listen to us, the companies will not listen to us, but we think they might listen to the UN,” Vichet Mong, director of Indigenous Peoples Health Action, said.

Representatives from HAGL did not return requests for comment.

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