Conflicts over land in Asia
by Richard Welford [email protected]
(Note: Report only available to subscribers of CSR Asia)
CSR Asia has published a new report on Conflicts Over Land: A Role of Responsible and Inclusive Business. The report examines the rise of “land grabs” in Asia and how this impacts on poor and vulnerable people in the region. Recent years have seen significant increases in land deals across Asia and there is increasing pressure on land for investments in extractive resources, aquaculture, biofuels, infrastructure, real estate development and, in particular, demand for agricultural land to grow food for export. The rising demand has further fuelled land investments, speculation and illegal and unethical transfer of lands, small and large.
Uneven distribution of land ownership and discrimination along lines of gender and ethnicity have limited economic opportunities for disadvantaged groups and have, at times, led to social conflict and human rights abuses. However, land rights issues are complex and attempts to create change is often fiercely resisted by vested interests.
While commercial investment in land has the potential to contribute to economic development opportunities, it is often a major source of controversy and conflict over land tenure. The recent increase in large scale land deals in Asia has benefited domestic elites as well as foreign investors. However, development opportunities have often been missed or even reversed where land acquisition has disadvantaged local communities and especially the poor, indigenous peoples, women and other vulnerable groups.
Weak land governance systems, powerful elites, corruption, inequality and power imbalances feed into practices where communities are evicted from land, customary land use rights are ignored, community land is sold and compensation is inadequate. Poor, marginalised and vulnerable people and communities often lack the power to advance their interests and have little recourse to grievance mechanisms. Moreover, it is not only large scale land deals that impact on poor people but also smaller scale “land grabs” that have disregarded smallholders when their land is taken away.
The new report argues that the private sector has a role to play in helping to protect the land rights of vulnerable and marginalised people and in ensuring that human rights associated with land tenure issues are not abused. Businesses can play an important part in protecting smallholders and communities along their value chains through more inclusive business practices. In so-doing they will benefit from a healthy and secure supply chain.
By being part of the solution to strengthening land rights, businesses can be part of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable. The role of smallholders and fair practices in integrating small producers in value chains is a key focus for sustainable business practices in both agriculture and aquaculture where small producers often lose out to big business over land and resource rights.
As part of a commitment to the protection of land rights for local communities, initiatives to make value chains more inclusive can help to give communities, local indigenous peoples and women a greater role in determining land use and changes in that use. Responsible and inclusive business practices should therefore consider land rights, including sustainable natural resource use, efforts to counter land grabbing practices, the effective management of business impacts on land and the risks associated with conflicts.
The report makes the case for proactive business engagement in respecting land rights and ensuring responsible and inclusive practices associated with land use, access to natural resources and development opportunities. It outlines key challenges, provides an overview of existing instruments that can help companies address issues related to land, and points to practical entry points for improved business practices.