Earlier this year, Global Witness scored international headlines with a telling report on illegal land grabbing in Cambodia and Laos by Vietnamese companies and the extraordinary damage these companies had inflicted on the environment from which they profited.
The report, Rubber Barons, claimed that Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) and another Vietnamese company, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), were the biggest offenders and that both were partially supported by Deutsche Bank through Vietnam-based funds.
HAGL also has investment from the International Financial Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of the World Bank. Both Vietnamese companies have denied any wrongdoing. Deutsche Bank and the IFC said they would study the findings.
However, Global Witness now says HAGL has failed to keep to commitments to address environmental and human rights abuses in its plantations in Cambodia and Laos and it now poses a financial and reputational risk to its investors, including Deutsche Bank and the IFC and recommends they divest.
“HAGL has been very good at making commitments but very bad at keeping them. It’s been busy telling us and everyone else it’s serious about changing its ways, but the evidence indicates that logging is still carrying on and the people whose farms were bulldozed are still struggling to feed themselves,” said Global Witness spokesman Megan MacInnes.
Both companies are state-backed by the Vietnamese government, which was also raising eyebrows this week after it was elected to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council despite its own atrocious record on the issue.
Vietnam was not the only dubious appointment and Hanoi will take up the three-year posting on January 1 alongside China, Russia, Algeria and Cuba – casting doubts on the United Nations and its ability to meet its own charter on human rights.
Given Vietnam’s negative attitude toward dissent, directed at bloggers in particular, their appointment should be the cause of acute embarrassment for the world body and the countries that do their best to adhere to international standards on human rights.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said he believed Vietnam could only play a negative role.
“I hope the government of Vietnam will prove me wrong, but up to date we haven’t seen any sort of indication that the government of Vietnam is going to change its policies because (of) the election to the Human Rights Council,” he told Voice of America.
Given Hanoi’s attitudes to its own companies – like HAGL and VRG – and the shenanigans they’re responsible for on the international business front, groups like Human Rights Watch and Global Witness have good reason to be cynical about Vietnam’s appointment to the coveted seat.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.