Land Rights and Forest Communities: New Declaration

Thursday, 20 March, 2014

An inter-continental gathering on Deforestation and Rights of Forest Peoples has called on “governments, the private sector, financial institutions, international agencies and the international community” to “halt the production, trade and consumption of commodities derived from deforestation, land grabs and other violations of the rights of forest peoples”.

The declaration comes amid rising concerns over ‘carbon grabs’ from industries needing to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing ‘carbon credits’ in the form of carbon sequestering forests.

Deforestation is one of the largest ecological and land issues today, and the NGO Global Forest Watch launched an interactive map in February that documents forest cover losses and gains in real time. The conference took place in Indonesia, which has experienced one of the fastest rates of forest decline in the past 15 years.

Despite improving CSR and community engagement from private and public sectors, frustration and anger clearly persists from forest communities, and the gathering accused the extractive industries for being responsible, demanding a stop to “the invasion of forest peoples’ lands and forests by agribusiness, extractive industries, infrastructures, energy and “green economy” projects that deny forest peoples’ fundamental rights”.

One of the major problems identified at the gathering was an “implementation gap”. It’s a phrase frequently heard in CSR circles, and is related to the phenomenon of ‘greenwash’: an exaggeration or lie about environmental or social achievements from a company.

An implementation gap similarly sees much commitment and concern for issues, whether in legislative or spoken manner, but little actual implementation:

“The conference highlighted that governments frequently fail to respect the customary rights of forest peoples by issuing permits and concessions to companies on their lands without free, prior and informed consent.”

Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is also an expanding concept within CSR, and companies are increasingly trying to ensure the communities they operate alongside have been fully informed and consent to operations taking place in their vicinity, or on their land.

In the extractive industries, the ICMM’s document on FPIC provides a comprehensive toolkit or ensuring genuine consent is achieved.

The issue of deforestation is part of the larger growth in competition for resources and industrial development. The competition is putting huge strain on land rights and indigenous livelihoods. Whilst most accept the need for industrial projects to alleviate poverty around the world there is a lack of transparent and democratic processes, which leads to an unjust model of industrial development, built on force rather than cooperation.

If the demands of today’s release are to be met, then stronger global implementation by governments will need to be achieved, which will require greater capacity, and the private sector will need to increase supply chain vigilance and FPIC implementation, ensuring that operations are based in democratic procedure, and that its products are not sourced from unknown destruction.