IFC Official to Start Mediation Between Families, Rubber Firm

The ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has finished reviewing a complaint Cambodian families have filed against the organization over its financing of several controversial rubber plantations and will now mediate efforts to help the two sides settle their dispute.

The group of 17 ethnic minority communities in northeastern Ratanakkiri province complained to the IFC—the World Bank’s finance arm—in February due to its continued financing of a Vietnamese firm, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), which owns several Cambodian rubber plantations accused of stealing their farmland and cutting down their sacred ancestral forest.

HAGL has denied the allegations and insists it has followed all local laws.

In a brief report released Tuesday, the IFC ombudsman lays out the claims of both the families and the company and states that both have agreed to let it facilitate negotiations to settle the dispute. It offers no timeframe but says the negotiations will start once it sets the ground rules for the talks.

“This will include agreements regarding…where and how meetings take place, questions of representation, and confidentiality,” the report says.

“The parties will also need to agree on the issues that they would like the dispute resolution process to address.”

At the ombudsman’s request, HAGL agreed to temporarily stop cutting down trees on its land concessions near 13 of the 17 communities that filed the complaint as of May 1.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, one of the NGOs that helped the families file their complaint, said the suspension did not go far enough but at least signaled HAGL’s willingness to negotiate.

“The actual mediation process is not started yet, but so far the company is showing some good faith by stopping the clearing,” he said.

A representative for the families who filed the complaint, however, Sol Noeuy, said a HAGL subsidiary near his community in Andong Meas district has been logging throughout the month.

Mr. Noeuy said he was worried HAGL would try to convince the families to accept compensation for the land it has taken from them but he insisted they would accept nothing short of getting their old land back.

“We want the land back because the living standards of the villagers depends on the farms,” he said.

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