Transnational corporate interest in land-related investments in the global south has exploded in recent years, as the food, energy and financial industries relentlessly pursue new resources and markets. This rush for land has resulted in a tenure insecurity crisis manifested in forced displacement and dispossession on a staggering scale. Every year, millions of people are forcibly driven from their lands, homes and farms to make way for oil and gas pipelines, hydropower dams, high-end real estate development, large-scale agro-industrial plantations, and other mega-development projects.
While these projects can bring much-needed economic development, all too often the benefits are not equitably distributed and poor and marginalized communities end up shouldering the costs. Displacement of local landholders and destruction of natural resources has led to devastating and multi-faceted human rights impacts, including destroyed livelihoods, food insecurity, diminished access to schools and healthcare and the breakdown of social networks and cultures. Instead of contributing to a country’s development, ill-conceived investments can undermine people’s rights to food, water, housing and decent work.
Improving accountability is essential in ensuring that the investment process responds to local needs and aspirations and respects human rights. Yet many deals struck between companies and governments to establish such investments are not fully transparent, making it difficult for the public and local communities to scrutinize projects before harms materialize on the ground.
International human rights law and best practice requires that these projects be transparent, allow the public to participate, and fully respect the rights of local communities. In practice, this often fails to happen. When negative impacts have occurred, impacted communities may struggle to have their voices heard or hold the company or the government to account.
Despite these challenges, many people have been able to hold companies and governments to account. For this to happen, local communities and the organizations that support them have to get organized, get informed and be strategic.
Helping affected people get organized so that they can collectively challenge or influence a project is essential to any successful campaign. Success can take a long time – sometimes involving years of struggle – so ensuring strong community solidarity is key. Communities should be aware of their rights and what laws, regulations and policies are in place to protect their rights. An organized and informed community can then begin to devise a sophisticated advocacy strategy to achieve its goals.
In most cases, the first step is to take complaints directly to local authorities, national authorities or the business operating on the ground. But when these approaches have limited success, communities and their supporters should not give up. There are other strategies that can be tried that reach beyond the borders of the project and the country where it is located.
Behind most large-scale investment projects is a web of global actors that make the project possible. These actors include banks and investors that are funding the project and the companies that are buying what is being produced. All of these actors are necessary to a project’s success, and all are aiming to earn a profit from it in one way or another. They all have a relationship with the business operating on the ground and have the ability to influence it. All of these actors have some responsibility to ensure that the project does not harm local people.
Knowing who is financing a project, who is buying the product or raw material, and who else is making the project possible and profitable – in other words, following the money – opens up a range of opportunities for improved accountability. We call the web of actors involved in a project an investment chain. Within this chain there are pressure points. If affected communities can identify the strongest pressure points and take actions directed at effectively influencing key actors in the investment chain, they are more likely to achieve their goals.
Understanding investment chains and pressure points, and effectively making use of them, can prove difficult. This website provides information, practical tips and exercises detailing how to map an investment chain behind a project, identify the strongest pressure points along the chain, and then devise effective advocacy strategies that leverage those points. It explains what you need to know, the challenges you may face, and the strengths and weaknesses of a range of advocacy options. Examples are provided from cases around the world where communities have tried to follow the money and have used a number of strategies to hold investors and governments to account.