HCM CITY (VNS)— Doan Nguyen Duc, chairman of Hoang Anh Gia Lai Corporation, has rejected all accusations made against his company of deforesting and appropriating land in Laos and Cambodia by the NGO Global Witness, calling them "groundless."
The organisation recently released a report titled "Rubber Barons" – apparently a play on "robber barons" which refers to unscrupulous American magnates of the late 19th century — in which it says Vietnamese companies and international financiers are driving a land grabbing crisis in Cambodia and Laos.
It accuses Hoang Anh Gia Lai and the State-owned Vietnam Rubber Group of acquiring vast tracts of land in the countries for their rubber plantations, and devastating the environment and local livelihoods.
Duc told reporters and investors in HCM City yesterday: "After its report was published, we invited representatives of Global Witness and the media — including CNN and BBC, to which the organisation sent its press release — for a fact-finding tour of our projects in Laos and Cambodia, but it refused."
Global Witness only wanted to meet him in Viet Nam, he said.
"But what is the point since people should come to see with their own eyes the truth about our investments there," he said, adding he had offered to pay for the trip.
The report alleges that the firms have ignored environmental and social safeguards while overseeing the destruction of high-value evergreen and semi-evergreen forests and the seizure of people's land and livelihoods.
Duc said the governments in Laos and Cambodia had a very stringent process for providing land to investors that included investigation by local and central authorities before giving approval.
They also required guarantees that there would be no negative impacts on the life of local people, he said.
Before his company invested in the poorest Lao province, Attapeu, in 2008 its per capita income had been around US$200, and the figure has increased now to $1,200, he said.
Besides, HAGL spent more than US$30 million in the province, where it built a 200-bed hospital, schools, 2,000 houses, roads, bridges, and others, he said. Earlier, people there used to live in makeshift, not proper, houses, he said.
"No governments allow investors to do business in their country to cause hunger and poverty to their people.
"The governments in Laos and Cambodia want other investors to follow our business model."
As for allegations about HAGL illegally exploiting forests and bringing home timber, there is no possibility of bringing wood from overseas projects since wood from forests is owned by the country's government and has to be auctioned.
His company did not even participate in the auctions though they were profitable, he claimed.
But he had no intention of filing a suit against Global Witness, he said.
"As a large listed company, we always abide by the laws and regulations of countries where we do business, and we meet all the environmental criteria of Laos and Cambodia."
He promised to step up his company's environmental protection activities to world standards.
"We are well aware of the significance of environmental issues and have set up an environment working team in our company."
HAGL recently invited Bureau Veritas, a major global institution in testing, inspection and certification services, to assess the environmental impacts it causes, he said.
"We will also apply for an FSC (forest sustainability certification)."
HAGL, through its affiliates, has leased 27,000ha of rubber plantations and 10,000ha of sugarcane fields in Laos.It has another 14,000ha of rubber in Cambodia and 8,600ha of rubber in Viet Nam. — VNS