Oakland Institute

Reframing the Debate Inspiring Action

Publications

Reports

Waiting to Return Home Cover
Threatened and despaired, a group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka petitioned the Oakland Institute to help them return home. This inspired the Institute’s latest report, Waiting to Return Home: Continued Plight of the IDPs in Post-War Sri Lanka. Backed by extensive field research and interviews, the report highlights a harsh reality—amid United Nations resolutions, task forces, and numerous promises made by the Sirisena administration, tens of thousands of IDPs in Sri Lanka still await resettlement, seven years after the end of the civil war.
The Unholy Alliance Report Cover
The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture, exposes how a coalition of four donor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is shaping a pro-business environment in the agricultural sector of developing countries, especially in Africa.
Moral Bankruptcy: World Bank Reinvents Tainted Aid Program for Ethiopia
Moral Bankruptcy: World Bank Reinvents Tainted Aid Program for Ethiopia exposes the shameful reinvention of one of the Bank’s most problematic programs in Ethiopia. The report also reveals that the US Treasury violated congressional law when voting in favor of this program.
The Great Timber Heist Cover
The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea, exposes massive tax evasion and financial misreporting by foreign logging companies, allegedly resulting in nonpayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.
Report Cover
Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, authored by lawyers from leading international law firms, provides an in-depth and damning analysis of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The report examines how the law, enacted in 2009, is a tool of repression, designed and used by the Ethiopian Government to silence its critics.
Peru has remained in the good grace of the World Bank. In 2015, it ranks 35th in the Bank’s Doing Business survey, with the second highest score in Latin America, indicating that the government has “created a regulatory environment conducive to business.” In 2008, Peru requested help from the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) advisory services for the design of a new reform agenda launched in 2009. As a result, the World Bank’s Doing Business survey recorded 15 pro-business policy reforms ratified between 2010 and 2013, including fast-track procedures at the land registry, cuts in workers’ social benefits, and tax reductions for private companies. Following the reforms, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) doubled from $5.5 billion in 2007 to $10.2 billion in 2013. However, improving Peru’s business climate to attract foreign investment has had a severe toll on people, workers, and the environment, resulting in rising social conflicts.

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Kilombero Plantations Ltd (KPL) is a 5,818 hectare (ha) rice plantation located in the heart of the fertile Kilombero Valley, Tanzania. In addition to developing a large-scale rice farm, KPL works with local smallholder farmers through an outgrower model based on System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technologies. The investment project receives considerable financial and technical support from various development institutions including the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and USAID. This report presents the findings of an investigation carried out in Tanzania between 2011 and 2015 of KPL’s investment venture, focusing on the impacts experienced by surrounding communities.
In December 2014, the Oakland Institute carried out research and fieldwork in Sri Lanka in order to understand and document the state of land conflicts and displacement amid accusations of land grabs experienced by the Tamils and other minorities at the hands of the Sri Lankan army and the government. While investigating the land grabs, the research team witnessed discrimination, harassment by the police, and horrors of the civil war that continue to torment minority groups, especially the Tamils, even today.
The bloody civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for 26 years officially ended in 2009 with the defeat of the minority Tamil separatists, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The conflict, in which the LTTE opposed the government led by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists, killed around 200,000, led to the displacement of more than a million people, destroyed infrastructure across the country, and took a heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of the population of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

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My Home, My Land is a graphic representation of much of the Oakland Institute's work on land grabs. Illustrated by the Institute's Intern Scholar, Abner Hauge, this publication dismantles the many myths promoted by so-called donor countries, development agencies, and corporations about the positive effects of foreign direct investments through large-scale land acquisitions.

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Over the past six years, the Oakland Institute has been at the forefront of exposing the social, economic, and environmental impacts of foreign land grabs in Ethiopia. This work has been based on extensive fieldwork and research on human rights abuses against and forced evictions of indigenous populations in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions; detailed briefs on the impacts of specific land development projects, such as the Saudi Star Rice Farm and the Malaysian Koka plantation in Lower Omo; studies on the intersection between forced evictions and foreign aid by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and the World Bank; and more. These reports have led to numerous media articles, galvanizing public attention towards these issues, and legislative “wins” in the US, including specific language in the 2014 and 2015 Appropriations Bill that ensures US development funds to Ethiopia are not used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Gambella and lower Omo.
Recently dubbed “Africa’s Lion” (in allusion to the discourse around “Asian Tigers”), Ethiopia is celebrated for its steady economic growth, including a growing number of millionaires compared to other African nations. However, as documented in previous research by the Oakland Institute, the Ethiopian government’s “development strategy,” is founded on its policy of leasing millions of hectares (ha) of land to foreign investors. Implementation of this strategy involves human rights violations including coerced displacement, political repression, and neglect of local livelihoods, and places foreign and political interests above the rights and needs of local populations, especially ethnic groups who have historically been marginalized and neglected by the government.
In recent years, there has been a significant trend toward land acquisition in developing countries, establishing forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution generated in the Global North. Badged as “green economic development,” global carbon markets are often championed not only as solutions to climate change, but as drivers of positive development outcomes for local communities. But there is mounting evidence that these corporate land acquisitions for climate change mitigation—including forestry plantations—severely compromise not only local ecologies but also the livelihoods of the some of the world’s most vulnerable people living at subsistence level in rural areas in developing countries.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) intervention in developing countries’ national policies, through aid conditionality and austerity programs known as Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs), triggered a wave of global resistance against the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). in the face of growing criticism that these policies increased poverty, debt, and dependency on rich countries, saps were eventually withdrawn in 2002; however the World Bank, through renewed means, continues to pursue and impose its neoliberal agenda on the developing world.

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From rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the current obsession for agricultural land borders on speculative mania as private companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign wealth funds join the land rush looking for lucrative deals in the developing world. An estimated 500 million acres, an area about ten times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased in the developing world in the last decade. The social, economic, and environmental impacts of this trend have been extensively researched and made public by the Oakland Institute.

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Policy Briefs

In March 2014, the multicontinental campaign Our Land Our Business was launched to demand the end of the World Bank’s Doing Business project and Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) initiative, recently renamed Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA). Bringing together over 260 NGOs, farmer groups, grassroots organizations, and trade unions, Our Land Our Business condemned the World Bank business indicators, which rank countries on their investment climate for pushing a one-size-fits- all model and facilitating large-scale land grabs in developing countries.
Today, on the heels of Ukraine’s new cabinet appointments, the Oakland Institute (OI) is releasing a new brief detailing western agribusiness investments in the country. In Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict, a report released in July 2014, the Oakland Institute exposed how international financial institutions swooped in on the heels of the political upheaval in Ukraine to deregulate and throw open the nation’s vast agricultural sector to foreign corporations. This fact sheet provides details on the transnational agribusinesses that are increasingly investing in Ukraine, including Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont, and how corporations are taking over all aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural system. This includes circumventing land moratoriums, investing in seed and input production facilities, and acquiring commodity production, processing, and transportation facilities.
In its 2013 Growing Africa report, the World Bank argued “wider uptake and more intensive use of improved seed, fertilizer, and other inputs would go a long way to closing the African ‘agricultural performance deficit.’” The report goes on to advocate policy and regulation reforms claiming, “policy and regulatory barriers, including import restrictions and rigid, lengthy processes for releasing new varieties are slowing the adoption of agricultural inputs.” According to the World Bank, growth of the private sector is the best way to bring about agricultural development. Assuch, the Bank’s Doing Business (DB) project “encourages countries to compete towards more efficient regulation,” resulting in deregulation of the sector.
Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a mountainous, land-locked state, identified as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDC). Since the year 2000, Laos has undergone an unprecedented transformation in rural land use, as government reforms facilitate growth through market-based economic strategies. The goal of the Laotian government is to graduate from LDC country status by 2020.
Since Cambodia was first ranked 145th in the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) ratings in 2008, it has only inched up slightly, moving to 137th in 2014. This deceptively low score belies the country’s deep deregulation in the hopes of attracting foreign investment. In 2014, the World Bank recognized Cambodia for being the South East Asian country most open to foreign direct investment (FDI), as well as the second largest recipient of FDI in agriculture in the region.
Uganda was the second best performing economy of the East African Community (EAC) in the 2013 Doing Business report, and the country is a good ally for the World Bank in the region. It was recently chosen as one of the pilot countries to test the Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) indicator, a project that aims to “help policy makers strengthen agribusiness globally, enabling the farm sector to participate more fully in the market.” With this project underway, the Bank will assist Uganda in creating an environment that supports the establishment of more private agribusinesses in the country, despite concerns that agricultural investments in Uganda have provoked land grabbing and dispossession of local populations.
Although it is among the world’s resource-richest countries, the DRC ranks at the bottom of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking (183rd out of 189 economies ranked in 2014), with the US Bureau of Business Affairs qualifying the country as “a highly challenging environment in which to do business.”1 Invasions sparking consecutive conflicts in 1996-1997 and 1998-2003, fueled by foreign interests over Congolese resources, have played a big role in destabilizing the economy and governing institutions.

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In the years following the 2001 economic crisis, the World Bank has used Uruguay as the poster child of an economy that has become stronger after following its development model. The Bank pushed for financial sector changes, including developing capital markets (the buying and selling of long term debt and other mechanisms) to improve the investment climate in the country. At the 88th position out of 189 countries, Uruguay enjoys a “good” score in the 2014 World Bank Doing Business rankings. This ranking reflects Uruguay’s efforts to follow the directives of the Bank’s investment climate team, which provides advisory services to the country.

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In 2008, the World Bank’s Doing Business program named Kenya one of its 10 Top Reformers, after the country had implemented a number of pro-business reforms. However, since then, the weakening investment climate and an “unsupportive” fiscal environment contributed to the Bank reconsidering Kenya’s inclusion in the Top Reformer group. Kenya dropped from 122nd out of 189 countries in the 2013 Doing Business ranking to 129th in the 2014 evaluation.
International financing has played a significant—although not always reported—role in the current conflict in Ukraine. In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

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In 2013, Mali was classified among the African countries that made the most effort to improve their business climate since 2005 by the World Bank. Undeterred by the 2012-2013 political crisis, the country retained its top ranking out of the eight West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) nations in the Doing Business 2013 report. In 2014, Mali lost this leadership, coming at the 155th place, just behind Burkina Faso. The country, however, remains a good student of the World Bank in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Foreign direct investment in the country has more than doubled in past years, and the World Bank has been actively promoting foreign investment in the agricultural sector despite the numerous health, social, and environmental problems associated with industrial plantations in Nicaragua. One of the most damaging activities is the production of sugarcane for ethanol. The crop is in high demand, as is the manual labor for cutting cane, but the rise of sugarcane production comes at a steep cost in terms of human lives.

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Despite unreconciled tensions following the three-decade-long civil war, militarization of the state, human rights violations, and more than 200,000 civilians in displacement camps, the World Bank generously increased Sri Lanka’s ranking in the Doing Business assessment in recent years. During and after the war, the Sri Lankan military seized large tracts of land through forced evictions and by occupying land abandoned by civilians fleeing violence. Many of the lands were deemed “High Security Zones” during the war, but are now being converted into “Economic Processing Zones” for foreign investors rather than being used for resettling displaced populations. The Bank’s measurements do not factor in this theft of resources nor the overwhelming human rights violations, affording the country a high ranking.
According to the World Bank, Guatemala is one of the countries most open to foreign direct investment (FDI). It is among the top ten global reformers, and the only country in Latin America to appear on the Doing Business 2014’s top reformers list. In the past four years, the government has made significant reforms to attract FDI. In the agricultural sector, increased FDI—due in part to the adoption of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR)—has led to land grabs by large sugarcane and palm oil producers, resulting in the massive and violent displacement of thousands of people.

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The Philippines is now hailed as a top ten reformer as a direct result of making economic, regulatory, and administrative policy changes following the advice and direction of the World Bank. As a result of these changes, in 2013 the Philippines became the third most popular destination for foreign investment in land in the world, with 5.2 million hectares acquired since 2006.

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