Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Olam statement in response to granting of land rights in Laos

Olam International coffee plantation in Paksong, Champasack Province.

Olam International coffee plantation in Paksong, Champasack Province.

Olam International, Oct 3, 2012

This statement details the background and actions taken with regard to a dispute by local villagers, over the granting of land rights in the Paksong District, Laos, where Olam operates a coffee growing subsidiary, Outspan Bolovens. Olam is committed to growing our business responsibly, applying the highest international standards of best practice in surveying and assessing the social and environmental impact of cultivation of land under our stewardship. A survey of the land in question was conducted according to national laws and regulations and we commenced our development in the belief that there were no issues outstanding. However, in December 2011, an international NGO brought some issues concerning this plantation to our attention so we acted promptly to investigate.

We appointed an international consultancy to define a comprehensive approach and methodology so that we could conduct a thorough audit of the alleged situation. As a result, a dedicated three person team of non-Olam personnel was dispatched to carry out this audit on the ground. The team comprised two Dutch consultants: one in natural resources to focus on land issues; the other a social specialist on community based issues; and the third, a local consultant, to ensure that cultural and gender considerations were handled appropriately.

This team conducted a full review with all local stakeholders, comprising the Government, community leaders, and local farmers. Following the conclusions and recommendations of this stakeholder review, we are currently in a consultation period to seek resolution with the communities. We had hoped this would be completed in 12 weeks but to ensure all voices are heard the consultation is still ongoing. Amongst the recommendations, we sought the reactivation of the provincial Government-led Committee, which had been established in early 2011 to address any potential local issues concerning plantation developments. This has subsequently been made effective and a local NGO is also advising farmer representatives on the Committee.

In addition, we have appointed a qualified, local community specialist to ensure that we are able to build strong local relationships and contribute to economic development within the area. This includes recently meeting with a local NGO to better understand community perspectives; during that session we were able to respond directly to a number of farmers who had been invited by the NGO. Our community specialist is now visiting each village to listen to individual concerns. Queries and claim submissions can be made directly to Olam, which helps to avoid the often lengthy national government grievance procedures. A clear deadline for our response is given to all enquiries and submissions.

Permissions regarding land development

A specific criticism has been levelled at Olam – that land development commenced on an area beyond the 150 hectares originally granted by the provincial Government, before we had the permissions in place from national Government to plant a larger area. It had been our understanding that this was the accepted practice – that the decision as to the grant and use of land is made at local level where a survey is done and a map produced and, if no reservations are expressed, it is sent to national Government in order that a certificate can be formally issued. i.e. in local practice, possession of the certificate is merely a formality once the provincial recommendation has been made. Olam is now fully cognisant of the difference between national standards in Laos compared with international practices that we consider appropriate for our work.

It is our sincere hope that the reactivated and enhanced committee which we have pro-actively facilitated and supported will be able to conclude by the end of December at which time we will make the full outcome of the review and its recommendations public.

Moderator’s note: Additional information on the Olam cofffee plantation can be found in the LIWG website section “Cases from the field”.

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