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Vietnam rubber firm reaches accord with Ratanakkiri ethnic villages

Burial grounds on land in Ratanakkiri province owned by the Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai, which will grant villagers access to the site as part of commitments signed last Wednesday.
Burial grounds on land in Ratanakkiri province owned by the Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai, which will grant villagers access to the site as part of commitments signed last Wednesday. Photo supplied

Vietnam rubber firm reaches accord with Ratanakkiri ethnic villages

In an agreement mediated by the International Finance Corporation’s watchdog mechanism, a controversial Vietnamese rubber firm has reached a deal with 11 ethnic minority villages affected by its Ratanakkiri operations to return nearly 20 community “spirit mountains”, restore streams filled or polluted by its activities and repair roads and bridges.

The deal between the locals and the Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) rubber company was brokered by the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), and remains tentative pending government approval.

Sat Vannak, a senior Ratanakkiri Provincial Hall official who attended the meeting, said authorities would only approve the agreement once a provincial hall task force demarcated the boundaries of the land HAGL promised to return to the communities.

“But until now, provincial hall has not received a request relating to this case yet,” said Vannak.

HAGL representative Nguyen Van Thu declined to comment, while Sarak Duong, IFC’s head of office in Cambodia, simply said “we hope the dispute will be resolved for the benefit of all stakeholders”.

Meanwhile, Sorl Neuy, 63, a Kachork ethnic villager from Kanat Thom village who attended the meeting last week, expressed satisfaction with the agreement and said he hoped the government would sign off, noting that villagers had “lost the forest, resources and forestry benefits because of the company”.

The IFC and the World Bank have come under fire over allegations that IFC funding for companies like HAGL contributed to human rights abuses, land grabbing and illegal logging. HAGL and its subsidiaries were granted a total of 47,000 hectares of economic land concessions in Ratanakkiri.

A report published this year by the NGO Inclusive Development International states that HAGL “grabbed land from indigenous communities and decimated ancient forests” in Ratanakkiri. The IFC, said the report, had investments in HAGL via several Vietnamese equity funds.

An earlier report, published by Oxfam in 2015, said the IFC had little accountability for billions of dollars it channelled through financial intermediaries.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of NGO Equitable Cambodia, said representatives from the IFC and HAGL held four meetings with the communities after more than 2,000 families filed a complaint to the IFC for investing in HAGL via an intermediary fund in 2014.

Inclusive Development International Managing Director David Pred, meanwhile, called upon the IFC to take greater responsibility rather than delegating compliance to the CAO mechanism. “We hope to see the IFC actively engage in the next phase of this process and contribute financial and technical assistance to the remediation of the serious harms suffered by indigenous communities in Ratanakkiri.”

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