A Vietnamese firm behind several Cambodian rubber plantations accused of rampant land grabbing and illegal logging has bowed to a request from the International Finance Corporation (IFC)—which helps fund its operations—to temporarily suspend forest clearing at some of its local subsidiaries.
In an April 28 decision, obtained Wednesday, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) says it will suspend all “reclamation,” or clearing, activity at three of its seven rubber plantations in Cambodia between May 1 and November 30.
Following a monthslong investigation, environmental rights group Global Witness in 2013 accused HAGL’s Cambodia plantations of breaking a raft of laws, stealing land from local communities and logging illegally both inside and outside of their concessions. The IFC, which invests in an equity fund that holds HAGL shares, accepted a complaint from 17 of those communities in February accusing it of breaking its safeguard policies.
In its decision to suspend clearing, HAGL says the move followed a meeting with the IFC’s compliance ombudsman in Phnom Penh on April 2.
“During the reclamation suspension period, the subsidiaries are only allowed to tidy up and to collect the branches of trees in the already reclaimed areas prior to 28 April 2014,” it says.
Nguyen Tan Anh, assistant to HAGL chairman Doan Nguyen Duc, said HAGL had agreed to the suspension to show the IFC that it was willing to resolve the dispute in good faith.
“According to the suggestion of the [ombudsman]…we are volunteering joining the resolution process between the company and the complainants,” he said. “We show our willingness in this process.”
He said HAGL decided to suspend operations until November 30 because it hoped to have the dispute resolved by then.
Sal Noeuy, one of the villagers who filed the complaint with the IFC, said his community was never informed of HAGL’s decision and only learned of it by noticing that the plantations around it had stopped clearing forest in April.
He said the move did not go far enough and that the plantations should immediately mark their boundaries.
“We are still worried about losing our farmland if they don’t mark their boundaries clearly,” he said.
Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, one of the NGOs that helped the communities file their complaint, also said the move fell short of what HAGL ought to do.
“This is a positive step, but…there are only 13 villages where they agree to stop,” he said. “But there are 17 who submitted the complaint…and 23 affected.”
He said HAGL should suspend all work, including planting trees on land it has already cleared, on all the rubber plantations involved in the complaint until the dispute is fully settled.