Private sector investment affecting land in developing countries often leads to disputes between companies and local communities over land rights and land use. Since 1999, the private-sector arms of the World Bank Group (WBG)—the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)—have had an accountability mechanism to help address community grievances and disputes over environmental and social impacts of projects that the WBG funds.
This summer, the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) has issued a retrospective of lessons from its investigations. Since 2000, CAO has handled over 150 disputes, 76 of which (52%) have been over land. CAO’s annual caseload has increased from 3 cases, in 2002, to 54 cases, in 2014, representing not only an increase is complaints, but also increased complexity of cases, according to the report.
Specifically, these cases involve communities and their defenders challenging the methods and objectives of the WBG partners in land acquisition, land compensation, resettlement, land management, biodiversity, land contamination, land productivity and land access.
Resettlement has been an issue in 23% of CAO’s total caseload [sic: 34.5 cases?], with 69% of those claims arising from “involuntary resettlement,” a WBG euphemism for forced eviction. Meanwhile, 48% of those [16.56?] raise concerns about the inadequacy of the projects’ resettlement process.
A pattern of problems emerged from this CAO retrospective overview, highlighting also four country-specific project cases from: (1) Philippines hydro-dam and mining, (2) Indonesia oil-palm sector, (3) Uganda timber plantations and (4) the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project. CAO’s report acknowledges that the case pattern delivers several lessons:
Communities are rarely brought to the negotiating table, and even less likely to be in a position to leverage positive project benefits and/or prevent their harm.
Impacts on land have the potential to touch multiple aspects of life for communities (e.g., land degradation affecting community health, increasing disease vectors, diminishing land productivity and access for livelihoods).
Land pollution and biodiversity decline are not only localized, but involve long-term impacts to ecosystems.
Communities are not always homogeneous, neither are their views uniform about private sector investment and local development.
Inconsistencies between national and customary laws can create conflict.
Livelihoods of rural farmers may be destroyed as traditional land rights systems conflict with national government land-acquisition policies that serve private-sector development interests, especially where WBG catalyzes private-sector investment in fragile and emerging markets.
The WBG has set out two ambitious goals [Arabic] for the next 15 years: ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. In this light, it is surprising that the new CAO report makes no recommendations about preventing these problems in the first place. For example, it says nothing about stopping investment in large-scale agricultural concessions and, instead, investing in smallholder farmers, which Rome-based UN agencies and others consistently advocate in the wider context of food security and climate change. The report also does not address the repression of freedoms of information and expression that accompanies the very cases it cites. For those aspects of the story, readers can turn to other sources.
CAO, Advisory Series Lessons from CAO Cases: Land (June 2015)
Brettenwoods Project, “CAO to assess two new Dinant complaints” ()29 September 2014)
CAO, “How to File a Complaint” [كيفية تقديم شكوى]
Global Witness, New law could muzzle Cambodians’ criticism of government and shut down democratic debate, warns Global Witness (13 July 2015)
Global Witness, And who protects us from you? Uganda threatens to silence civil society activists (10 July 2015);
Nazdeek, Minimum wage violations perpetuate modern-day feudalism on Assam`s tea plantations (2013) and CAO, CAO Assessment Report Regarding labour concerns in relation to IFC’s Tata Tea project (#25074) in Assam, India (November 2013);
Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh, Controlled Impact Assessment, Impact and Benefit Agreements and World Bank Policies on Indigenous Peoples. Briefing Paper for the Bank Information Centre Community (2013);
OXFAM, Land and Power: The Growing Scandal Surrounding the New Wave of Investments in Land, Briefing Paper 151 (2011).