A giant Vietnamese rubber company that has faced repeated accusations of illegal land and forest grabbing in Cambodia has been stripped of its accreditation as a sustainable forestry product supplier by the world’s leading forest certification body.
In a damning report, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) claims Vietnam Rubber Group has been involved in “illegal activities”, which include converting about 50,000 hectares of evergreen forest into rubber plantations without public consultation, ignoring land claims from local people, allowing illegal logging and destroying wildlife sanctuaries.
While converting forest to rubber plantations, VRG destroyed thousands to tens of thousands of resin trees, which are an important source of income for indigenous communities, without providing adequate compensation, the report says.
The company has also been involved in extensive human rights violations with the collusion of the Cambodian government, according to the FSC complaints panel that investigated VRG’s operations.
“The panel collected evidence regarding a number of cases in which the violation of human and traditional rights had occurred,” the report says. “During the process of securing land, it is alleged that armed government agents intimidated and used violence against protesters.”
The report adds that land given over to VRG was reclassified from public to private land while it still had significant public value, and that the government received only a tiny amount of the money it should have gained in return for the land concessions.
“The amounts of royalties collected from companies who cleared forest appears to have been a very small fraction of the required amounts,” the report says.
The report also pulls no punches when it comes to role of the government.
“To a large extent VRG is the victim of failures by the Government of Cambodia to implement and enforce its own laws,” the report says.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan insisted the government was making sure companies complied with regulations, and said locals themselves were partly to blame.
“Before we give the land concessions, we make sure there are no people living there,” he said. “But the people sometimes clear and occupy the land that has been given to companies.
To solve this problem, the government orders the companies to give some of the land, including land titles, to the people, irrespective of whether it has been legally or illegally occupied.”
But opposition CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay was unsurprised by FSC’s findings.
“Nearly every land concession is violating the rights of the original owners and indigenous people, and we certainly don’t get revenue from these land concessions”, he said. “I don’t know why the government closes its eyes to this business.”
Chhay added that he had visited a VRG rubber plantation in Ratanakkiri province where the company had chopped down many of the indigenous trees.
“It was called a land concession, but in fact, there had been a lot of forest there as well,” he said. “There were a few logs left after it had been cleared, but the company would not let the local people use them, and burned what was left over instead.”
VRG could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PECH SOTHEARY