Mapping the Midstream
An investment chain is the connection of actors and relationships that are involved in any one investment project. The different actors make an investment project possible.
The heart of the chain – referred to as the midstream part of the chain – is where the investment project physically exists. At the upstream end are parent companies, investors and lenders. At the downstream end are buyers who purchase products produced by the business.
Mapping an investment chain involves finding out and recording who the actors are and what relationships they have to other actors in the chain.
The midstream part of the investment chain is where you find the company carrying out activities on the ground. This is where the relationships – good and bad – between the business and communities take place, and where the government and business interact. This is a good place to start mapping a project, as it is the most visible part of the investment chain. Because it is so visible, you may already know much of this information – or have easy access to it. If not, these online resources can help fill in the gaps.
Using the table in WORKSHEET 1, start documenting what you already know or can easily find out about the midstream part of your investment chain. Once the table in WORKSHEET 1 is filled in you will be able to use the information to start creating your investment chain map. The diagram in WORKSHEET 2 can be used as a template for your map.
1) The business that manages the project, information about that business, and the names of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and any other important company officials, for example the Chief Financial Operator (CFO) or Chief Operating Officer (COO).
2) The relevant government agencies and ministries in the host country.
3) Any brokers who have played a role in facilitating the deal, for example by liaising between the government and the company or the community and the company.
4) Any contractors providing services or inputs that allow the project to operate. For instance, a coal-fired plant will involve one or more construction companies that are building the project’s infrastructure, and there will be additional companies that are providing specialized equipment such as turbines. These actors might be physically present at the project site.
You are likely to already have some knowledge that you can use here. For example, you may know the name of the business operating on the ground. You should start by recording all the information that you already know about the project, such as the name of the company and the type, size and location of the project. If the project has already begun operating, community members may know this sort of information from interactions with company workers or local government officials.
There might also be signs posted around the project site that provide some of this information – even an office address.
You may know – or be able to find out from colleagues – which government ministries or departments would need to be involved in approving particular aspects of the project. For example, with a rubber plantation, the Ministry of Environment might need to approve an environmental impact assessment, and the Ministry of Agriculture may need to approve the lease over the land and the type of rubber trees that can be grown there.
Local communities might have had interactions with brokers. For example, a local person may have brought company personnel to look at the site, or someone might have come to speak with the communities to try to get their support for the project. The community might have seen companies or individuals carrying out particular services or delivering inputs for the project – these could be contractors.
Where to Look: Midstream Information Resources
Some information in a project’s investment chain – particularly midstream – will already be visible to people on the ground. For information that is not readily accessible, online tools can help.
As you research midstream actors, keep a detailed record of all sources, either by listing them in Investment Chain Worksheet 1 or on an Excel spreadsheet. Be sure to note the source, date accessed, author and date of publication, as you might want to return to these at a later stage.
If you find a useful document online, remember to save it, as sometimes web pages are deleted or changed. You can either take a screenshot of the page or save the entire document to your computer’s hard drive. This guide explains how to do both.
These online tools can help you find information on midstream actors:
Internet search: A search on Google or a search engine in your home country can help fill in the gaps of your investment chain map. It can be useful to search both in your language and in English.
Use the information you have already recorded to start searching. You can start with a very broad search and then begin to narrow it down as you search for specific actors or as you find more information. For a broad search, you may want to simply enter a few keywords associated with the project. For example, you might enter the name of the business, the country or place where the investment is taking place, and the product being produced (e.g. Mega Coal Power Limited Myanmar electricity).
These searches might reveal media reports, company announcements, NGO reports and other sources of information online. It’s worth reading carefully through all of these and recording any information that can help as you map the investment chain.
When searching for names, remember to use all possible spelling variations and abbreviations. For example, when searching for the Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai, you should also try the acronym HAGL. For languages with non-Roman alphabets, such as Burmese and Mandarin, you should search for multiple spellings of a name, as transliteration into English is often inexact and inconsistent. For example, the Ann Din coal plant in Myanmar is also transliterated as Inn Din.
Company website: The business running the project may have a website. Here, you might find information about the project and key people, such as the CEO. For example, in the case of a palm oil project in Liberia, the company has published key facts and figures on its website, as well as a link to its concession agreement.
The website might also contain information about environmental, social and human rights policies, which will be very useful for advocacy. Sometimes there will even be maps and photographs of the area that can help you to identify exactly where a project will be developed.
Government websites: Many government ministries and departments have websites. These sites can be useful resources for information on companies operating projects or land concessions. For instance, the Cambodian government’s Ministry of Commerce has a website allowing users to search for information on companies registered in Cambodia. The site provides details on a company’s directors, board minutes and addresses. If a government entity does not have a website, it can be useful to make an appointment to meet a relevant government official to ask for information.
Company financial reports: Annual and quarterly financial reports can be a very important source of information. These reports contain information on a company’s activities, key individuals, operational structure, financial status and shareholders. These reports can be found on company’s websites or by searching online (for instance, typing in the name of the business and annual report).
Most large, public companies are required to produce and publish annual reports. Try to find the most recent version available, although older reports might also contain useful information. Note that sometimes only the parent company will produce and publish a report. For example, Unilever’s annual report can be found by doing a Google search on Unilever and annual report.
LinkedIn: This career-based social networking website can be a useful source of information regarding people connected to a project, such as a CEO. Some companies also have LinkedIn profiles. It might give you an idea of that person’s involvement with other controversial projects or companies. Facebook and Twitter can also be useful for making these connections.
Contracts: Contracts between the parent company or the business and the host government are sometimes made publically available. These can be excellent sources of information for identifying other actors. A contract might, for example, list the different government agencies or ministries involved in a project.
These contracts may be available on the website of the relevant government department or ministry. Typing the government department, ministry name or investor name into Google or another search engine should bring up the website. You can then use the search function on these websites to search for a contract. Try searching with different keywords. For example, search the name of the business, the product, the region of the country or, if you know it, the parent company.
NGOs are sometimes able to access contracts and make them available online. For example, the NGO Grain set up a website called farmlandgrab to collect leases for agribusiness projects in Africa and Southeast Asia. Another example is OpenLandContracts, which is the first searchable online database of publicly available contracts for large land, agriculture and forestry projects.
NGOs and civil society organizations: Some organizations write articles or reports about projects or businesses, especially those that have had negative impacts on communities or the environment. These reports can be important sources of information about a project.
If you know the name of NGOs or civil society organizations that have investigated the business that you are researching, it is worth contacting them directly. Speaking to these organizations might reveal additional information that you can then follow up on. Try searching the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre database of companies to find out if the business has been involved in other problematic projects.
Open data sites: A number of websites have been set up to collect and catalogue information related to harmful investments in land. These sites adhere to the principle of open data, which asserts that information should be freely available to everyone without restriction.
Some useful open data sites include:
- Open Corporates, which is the largest publicly accessible database of companies in the world. Though information varies from company to company, the site generally gives details on the company’s directors, its sector, any previous names and the registered address and jurisdiction. Some company profiles may even list company accounts.
- The Land Matrix is an online database that compiles information on land deals around the world. You can search by the country or region where the project is taking place, the investor, crop type, or sector.
- Open Development Mekong provides information on companies and concessions in the Mekong region. Originally, the site focused only on Cambodia, but it was recently expanded to include Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.