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2020 Annual Report

Dropping The Keys

Dear Friends,

The past year impacted each and everyone of us. But it unleashed unprecedented challenge to those already marginalized and threatened around the world. The Indigenous, migrant workers, small holder farmers, and people of color faced the worst brunt — crushed simultaneously by COVID-19 and the pandemics of racism, fascism, climate crisis, and injustice.

At a time when our work to dismantle structures perpetuating inequity has never been more critical, we held firm to the four principles that drive our work: courage, rigor, agility, and accountability. Amidst smear campaigns and threats, hurled at us to intimidate and silence our research and advocacy exposing those profiteering from landgrabs, we proudly stood alongside land defenders and communities from Palestine, DRC, and Tanzania to Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua — resisting neo-colonialism and theft of natural resources. Partnering with impacted communities in their struggle for land, livelihoods, human rights, and protection of the environment, we are unafraid to hold powerful governments, international financial “development” institutions, and corporations accountable.

Our work starts at the request of communities from around the world who seek the Institute’s support in their struggles. We take on issues that are far outside of the public eye, up against powerful actors that will not be easily won, or easily funded. Despite these odds, our persistence and tenacity has led to momentous wins for communities.

In the following pages you will read about the struggles our committed team is part of. Driven by conviction and the truth, we stand up, speak up, mobilize, and take action. I hope our annual report will uplift you by reaffirming that regardless of the odds, victories against injustice are always within reach.

“The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage, who has to duck her head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.”

— Hafez

Deep gratitude to our friends and allies for making this possible!

Anuradha Mittal speaking at McDonald’s worker protest June 2020. © Brooke Anderson Anuradha's Signature

Anuradha Mittal
Executive Director

Protest against illegal logging in Pomio, PNG, 2011

Rigorous, Independent, and Fearless

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank bringing fresh ideas and bold action to the most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues of our time. We do this by combining meticulous research with creative communications strategies and advocacy campaigns to bring change around the world. Our work often starts at the invitation of local communities to assist their struggles. We are proud to work strategically and collaboratively with these partners!

Hold Powerful Actors Accountable

Our work holds governments, corporations, and international institutions accountable for their actions and policies. We publish reports based on our research and analysis, organize advocacy campaigns, testify at hearings, and much more.

Dismantle False Solutions

The Institute’s research and advocacy exposes and challenges the false solutions put forward by governments and corporations to fight hunger, climate change, and bring about development.

Strengthen Land Rights and Livelihoods

In partnership with impacted communities, we document threats to land rights, livelihoods, and natural resources and develop communications and advocacy campaigns to support and elevate these struggles in both the local and international arena.

Support Sustainable Farmer-led Food Systems

We support sustainable farmer-led food systems and work to build a farm economy from the bottom up. Our research is bringing forward blueprints and evidence of what these systems can look like and what policy changes are needed for them to flourish.

Stand by our Partners in the Face of Criminalization

The Legal Defense Fund we started in 2015 to support land rights defenders continues to assist individuals and groups around the world.

Elevate People’s Voices

Underlying all the work of the Oakland Institute is our strong commitment to elevate the voices of farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, and all communities who are ignored, marginalized, and repressed in the name of development. After all, the poor are the experts on poverty; the oppressed are the experts on human rights; and peasants, farm workers, and rural communities are the experts on agricultural development.

People protesting in front of an Army camp in Keppapulavu in the Mullaithivu District demanding the release of their lands.

2020 Highlights

Alert on Land Privatization

USAID project mapping and titling land in Petauke, Zambia in July 2018

While the privatization of land is being touted as a development imperative, our report Driving Dispossession debunked this myth, sounding the alarm on the unprecedented wave of privatization of natural resources that is underway around the world. The report reveals the myriad ways by which governments — willingly or under the pressure of financial institutions and Western donor agencies — are putting more land into so-called “productive use” in the name of “unlocking the economic potential of land” while threatening millions of livelihoods around the world. At the request of partners, the report’s central themes were condensed into an educational resource that has been translated into several languages to help communities protect customary land.

Shattering the Silence on Indigenous Human Rights Crisis in Nicaragua

The Oakland Institute's research team visiting impacted Miskitu communities living beside the Rio Coco River.

While Nicaragua is seen as exemplary in granting land rights to Indigenous communities, our report Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution, shattered this notion, detailing the incessant violence facing the communities in the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions. It uncovered the actors involved — foreign gold mining firms, national and international actors in logging and cattle ranching industry, as well as prominent Nicaraguan officials. Two follow up investigations dragged the major players across mining and forestry into the spotlight and showed the true impact of their resource pillaging on local communities.

The widespread media coverage and advocacy campaign following the report led the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to conduct a public hearing where alongside partners, the Oakland Institute shared its findings with officials from the Americas, including the Nicaraguan government. Additionally, taking stock of our findings, the resolution on Nicaragua at the 46th session of UNHRC in March 2021 called for “accountability for violence against the Indigenous, Afro-descendent and Environmental Human Rights Defenders; and for the state to take effective measures.”

Close to Slavery Conditions in the US Guest Farmworker Program

Poplar, CA 2020, Maria Madrigal picks persimmons in a field near Poplar

Dignity or Exploitation — What Future for Farmworker Families in the United States? was published as an educational and advocacy resource at the time the Biden Administration was weighing various immigration policy reforms. We exposed the systematic abuse of workers in the H-2A program and its impact on the resident farmworker communities. Contract workers under the program face living and working conditions that are “close to slavery,” with their basic rights denied by their status. COVID-19 exacerbated an already dire situation, with high infection rates due to congregate housing, pressure to continue working while sick, lack of care, and no access to relief measures. We continue to echo calls for an immigration system based on family reunification, community stability, and human dignity, while protecting the wages, rights, health, and housing rights of farmworkers.

Changing the Narrative on “Development” in PNG

Logging camp in Fergusson Island, Milne Bay. Credit: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

Building on our work on the impact of extractive industries in Papua New Guinea since 2011, we co-published a new report analyzing PNG's development performance since its independence. While PNG has relied on the large-scale extraction of abundant minerals, timber, and other natural resources under the illusion it will improve the lives of its citizens, by most indicators PNG is faring worse than its Pacific neighbors. Any progress achieved does not reflect the huge cost of the resources extracted. Revealing how multinational corporations externalize social and environmental costs and repatriate their profits, From Extraction to Inclusion called for important policy shifts to end the plundering of resources and put people and the environment first. Our work has played a critical role in securing several monumental victories. The PNG government has taken major steps to crack down on tax evading logging companies and drastically increase taxation on logging companies. Rimbunan Hijau, the largest logging company in PNG — exposed by the Institute for massive tax evasion, announced it was ceasing logging activities in the country as a result of these measures.

Elevating Voices of the Forgotten in Sri Lanka

Police warning communities protesting in front of an army camp demanding release of their land in Keppapulavu, Mullaithivu.

Since 2015, we have remained one of the few international organizations to denounce the continued repression of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Amidst the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2021, Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka, brought forward shocking evidence on the extent of the continued persecution of the minority Tamil population. Providing a timely update on the extent of land grabbing and the impact of militarization on the Tamil population — one military personnel for every six civilians — our advocacy led to new UNHRC resolution that holds the government accountable for human rights abuses and increases the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to monitor violations of international law for future prosecutions.

Exposing Investors Bankrolling Land Theft in DRC

Recently planted oil palm plantation near Lokumete in February 2020; modified with additional graphic.

Community efforts to reclaim 100,000 hectares of ancestral land — seized over a century ago for oil palm plantations — face violent repression and even killings. In February 2021, as communities peacefully protested a delegation from PHC plantation owners, security forces cracked down, violently arresting over a dozen protestors. In light of this, In King Leopold's Steps, unmasked the universities, pension funds, and philanthropic foundations bankrolling the plantations. Media coverage and advocacy following the report helped fuel the global outrage garnering nearly 125,000 signatures to a petition calling for the release of villagers. While securing the return of ancestral land will not be easy, we continue to amplify the voices of our partners while pressuring the high-profile investors to withdraw from the plantations.

Keeping a Watch on the World Bank and the IMF in COVID Times

Community volunteers from Chilla Khadar, an informal settlement of tenant farmers and agricultural laborers in the Yamuna floodplains. Credit: Vikram Singh/ Basti Suraksha Manch

While the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have promised billions of dollars in loans to help countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been on the forefront of analyzing the conditionality that accompanies this “assistance.” The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the pre-existing economic inequities and imbalance of power around the world. By taking on the monitoring of lending conditions and the identification of detrimental policy prescriptions imposed to governments, our work keeps citizens better informed and able to take action when necessary. In Kenya, the citizens’ movement against the IMF loans to the country exemplifies how the power of truth in the hands of the people can stop to the wrongdoings of their own governments and of the financers who bankroll destitution and exploitation.

Standing up to the Corporate Takeover of the UN Food Systems Summit

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu meeting with Ms Agnes Kalibata, Secretary General Special Envoy for Food Systems Summit.

In January 2020, the Oakland Institute sounded the alarm around the appointment of the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as the United Nations Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit. With over 820 million people hungry and an escalating climate crisis, an initiative serving the interests of agro-chemical corporations to lead the summit is outrageous.

We coordinated the mobilization of 176 organizations from 83 countries, to challenge the corporate take-over of the summit and have continued our advocacy in partnership with civil society groups from around the world. Hundreds of organizations have since stepped forward to challenge the Food Systems Summit leading to a widespread boycott of the Summit and counter mobilizations to defend the interests of the people and the planet.

Call on the UN to End Business with Bolloré Group

Protest against SOCFIN in Pujehun District, Malen Chiefdom, Sierra Leone.

Signed by 40 organizations from 16 countries, a letter coordinated by the Institute called on all United Nations (UN) entities, agencies, and programs to cease all business relationships with the France-based Bolloré Group and its different subsidiaries. Between 2015 and 2019, UN entities signed over 200 contracts with the Group for over a quarter billion dollars. In addition to providing logistics, the Bolloré Group is also involved in rubber and oil palm plantations through its 39.4 percent shareholding of the Luxembourg-based SOCFIN Group, which controls close to 400,000 hectares of concessions for plantations in Asia and Africa.

For years, SOCFIN has been accused of land grabbing and widespread human rights violations. After losing their lands to the company for oil palm and rubber exploitation, local communities in Africa and Asia have been subjected to violence, intimidation, and severe distress. The advocacy campaign continues to pressure the UN to end its relationship with Bolloré and abide by its guiding principles. The letter has been widely echoed in major French and African media outlets, dragging the business relationship of Bolloré and the UN into the spotlight.

Woman walking on a path into Nogoli, PNG Highlands.

Having an Impact

Underlying all our work is our strong commitment to elevate the voices of farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, and communities who are marginalized and repressed in the name of development. We believe that the poor are the experts on poverty; the oppressed are the experts on human rights; and peasants and rural communities are the experts on agricultural development.

  • “Thank you — as always! — for doing such urgently necessary work, endlessly uncovering and calling out injustice!”
    Rachael Knight, Senior Associate, International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED)
  • “The Oakland Institute’s work continues to shine a spotlight on the human rights and eco-cultural crisis that the Indigenous and the Afro-Descendant communities are facing in Nicaragua. You exposed the link between the government offering more land to foreign extractive companies, resulting in violence and land grabbing for the Indigenous communities. This work has been a ray of sunshine telling the world the truth of our situation.”
    Lottie Cunningham, 2020 Right Livelihood Laureate and Founder of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN)
  • “The Oakland Institute exposed that foreign logging companies have been evading corporate income taxes by manipulating their financial reporting. This revelation fueled our struggles and led the government to raise taxes on timber exports. This move by the government has driven down logging and increased fiscal revenue.”
    Eddie Tanago Paine, ACT NOW!, Papua New Guinea
  • “Your commitment to telling the truth about the war history, colonial style settler displacement, forced camps, thousands of men who were killed leaving widows and children — all heart breaking with details and real stories — begs the obvious question of where is the UN and how can international law be broken with no consequences? Much gratitude for the important and urgent work that you do in the name of peace and justice.”
    Sara Hess Individual Donor
  • “This report will be widely disseminated to the authorities and civil society in DRC. We hope that it can be used as a model of the fight against land grabbing in our country and across Africa.”
    Jean-François Mombia Atuku, Réseau d’information et d’appui aux ONG (RIAO-RDC), Democratic Republic of Congo
  • “Thank you to the Oakland Institute for debunking the World Bank’s vision for agriculture reform in the Philippines and amplifying the ongoing struggle of the Filipino peasant movement.”
    Kathryn Manga, Project Coordinator for Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), The Peasant Movement of the Philippines

Reframing the Debate

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2020 Financials

2019 financials breakdown pie chart
  • Programs
  • Legal defense fund/ partner support
  • Fundraising
  • Administration

As this chart shows, 79% of every dollar raised goes directly to our programs, partners, and legal defense fund. For detailed information on the Oakland Institute's finances, please see our annual 990 forms.

Full Annual Report

Community meeting on the court hearing in Santa Fe, November 2018.

Power Our Work

Since 2004, the Oakland Institute has supported the struggles of communities around the world for their land and livelihoods. In the face of repression, corruption, and injustice we raise the voices of the most impacted, reframe the debate, and mobilize for change.

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Please support our work by making a one-time, or monthly tax-deductible donation. These donations allow us to be bold: we research critical issues, run campaigns, and provide the essential advocacy and support that sparks action and ensures accountability.

We ensure our independence by not accepting any government or corporate funding. With your support, we can continue to win major victories on behalf of pastoralists and fisherfolk, the Indigenous, and smallholder farmers.

Oakland Institute 2020 Annual Report

PHOTO CREDITS

In order of appearance:

Pangas, wooden boats used by the Indigenous, for their livelihoods on the Rio Coco. © The Oakland Institute

Anuradha Mittal speaking at McDonald’s worker protest June 2020. © Brooke Anderson

Miskitu villagers on the banks of Rio Coco. November 2018. © The Oakland Institute

People protesting in front of an Army camp in Keppapulavu in the Mullaithivu District demanding the release of their lands

USAID project mapping and titling land in Petauke, Zambia in July 2018. © Sandra Coburn. Modified with illustration from xresch from Pixabay

The Oakland Institute's research team visiting impacted Miskitu communities living beside the Rio Coco River. © The Oakland Institute

Poplar, CA 2020, Maria Madrigal picks persimmons in a field near Poplar, in the San Joaquin Valley, in a crew of Mexican immigrants. Many workers wear facemasks or bandannas as a protection against the coronavirus. © 2021 David Bacon

Logging camp in Fergusson Island, Milne Bay. © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Police warning communities protesting in front of an army camp demanding release of their land in Keppapulavu, Mullaithivu.

Plantation de palmiers à huile récemment plantée près de Lokumete en fdaévrier 2020 ; modifié avec un graphique supplémentaire. © Oskar Epelde

Community volunteers from Chilla Khadar, an informal settlement of tenant farmers and agricultural laborers in the Yamuna floodplains prepare and distribute food kits funded by private citizens and corporate social responsibility (CSR) groups. One of the changes to the Companies Act, that has been diluted for the ease of doing business, includes a relaxation in CSR obligations. Image: Vikram Singh/ Basti Suraksha Manch.

10 February 2020, Rome, Italy — FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu meeting with Ms Agnes Kalibata, Secretary General Special Envoy for Food Systems Summit, FAO headquarters. © FAO/Giulio Napolitano.

Protest against SOCFIN in Pujehun District, Malen Chiefdom, Sierra Leone.

Protest against illegal logging in Pomio, PNG, 2011 © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Community meeting on the court hearing in Santa Fe, November 2018. © The Oakland Institute