Land-grabbing firms beware: cost of ignoring people's rights is rising | Jonathan Glennie

From Global development | The Guardian Mon Feb 18 2013, 07:00:01

Communities have more hope than ever of seeing off companies trying to acquire their land, with support from media and NGOs

A new report on land acquisition by the Munden Project/Rights and Resources Institute brings an important angle to the land "grab" debate. Rather than focusing on the ethics of land grabbing, the report makes the business case for working with local communities, arguing that failure to inform or fairly compensate affected locals heightens the risks to investors. Why? Because affected communities start to make life difficult for abusive or lazy companies, leading to massive unexpected costs or even an eventual full-scale retreat.

The key risk, perhaps not emphasised sufficiently by the report, for companies considering acquiring land overseas is the probability of local people mounting a successful defence of their land. Where there is little likelihood of resistance or where, more probably, resistance can be easily quashed and a company or government thinks it can get away with it, there is no real business case for doing the right thing.

And that is where campaigning comes in. Without national and international support, even the most organised and persistent communities have found it hard to defend their rights and interests. But campaigner support can swing the balance in favour of the community at risk.

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