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Olam investigating concerns over Laos coffee plantation development

In a statement issued on 8 June, Olam addressed a land dispute by local villagers regarding the granting of land rights in Laos where the international company operates a coffee growing subsidiary, Outspan Bolovens.

The statement followed a CorpWatch story published on 4 June, which reported on local delegations from Southern Laos who were challenging Lao authorities and the Singapore-based agribusiness, saying Outspan Bolovens has taken their lands. The CorpWatch report criticised Olam for commencing land development on the area beyond the 150 hectares that had been originally granted by the provincial government, before being given permissions in place from the 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 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 says in the statement. “Olam is now fully cognisant of the difference between national standards in Laos compared with international practices that we consider appropriate for our work.”

The statement notes that Olam has been looking at the issue since December 2011, when an international NGO brought some issues concerning this plantation to their attention. To investigate, the company says it appointed an international consultancy to define an approach, and as a result sent a team of three non-Olam personnel to carry out an audit. The team comprised of two Dutch consultants: one in natural resources to focus on land issues; one a social specialist on community based issues and the third a local consultant to ensure that cultural and gender considerations were handled appropriately.

Following a review with local stakeholders, comprising of the government, community leaders, local farmers and a representative NGO, Olam says it’s currently in a 12 week consultation period to seek resolution with the communities. Olam says that among the recommendations includes a reactivation of the provincial government-led committee, established in early 2011 to address potential local issues concerning plantation developments.

“This time we have recommended broader representation on the committee including Outspan Bolovens and a representative NGO,” the company says. “We are also actively recruiting a qualified, local community specialist to be based in Laos to ensure that we are able to build strong local relationships and contribute to economic development in the area.”

The company notes that it hopes to resolve community issues by the end of August and plans to make the outcome public.

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