Stora Enso to investigate land use dispute over tree plantations in China
The pulp and paper manufacturer Stora Enso is sending Song Wangqiu SVP, Stora Enso China, to Guangxi Province to investigate claims that local residents have suffered beatings after coming out against the establishment of eucalyptus plantations on land in the area.
The plantations are to provide raw material for a nearby Stora Enso pulp and paper mill.
Lauri Peltola, Stora Enso’s head of corporate communications, says that Song will go through all of the complaints of the villagers. “He will go into the villages to meet the people and find out what has happened”, Peltola says.
On Sunday, Helsingin Sanomat reported that residents of the southern Chinese city of Hepu have been deprived of farmland after Stora Enso took it over.
The villagers say that they have been given inadequate monetary compensation, and that opponents of the plantation, and the lawyer who has tried to plead their case, have been beaten.
“We take this very seriously and we are looking for answers to all matters of dispute. We need to get information in a few days”, Peltola says.
Land disputes with local residents are familiar to Stora Enso, as they are to many other forest companies. Last year Stora Enso was the target of criticism in Brazil when it acquired land for its forest plantation. Another Finnish forest giant, UPM, has had problems in Indonesia, after its partner April was accused of destroying rain forest. Metsä Botnia continues to be embroiled in a dispute over its pulp mill in Uruguay, on the Uruguay River, which forms the border between that country and Argentina.
“Land use and land ownership are big issues. That is why there will always be conflicts. They cannot be averted”, says Eija Pitkänen, Stora Enso’s Head of Sustainability.
Pitkänen says that Stora Enso always conducts an assessment of environmental and social impact before it establishes a plantation. In some countries, such as Brazil and Uruguay, such assessments are required by law.
The assessments are made by an independent party - often a consultant firm.
“We have tried to develop the assessment to be as balanced, public, and transparent as possible. We find out what kinds of environmental and social effects the establishment of the plantations might have on the area. They are issues that we need to take into consideration”, Pitkänen says.
The assessment concerning Southern China was completed in 2006, and it was conducted mainly by the United Nations Development Fund.
The environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Finland says that when making the impact assessments, wood processing companies usually do not consult with local residents at all.
“For instance, in Brazil, Stora Enso works only with those organisations that take a conciliatory view, and are certain to cooperate. In China, professional businesses and organisations are often under so much pressure that they do not dare bring forward any negative sides”, says Noora Ojala, Vice President of Friends of the Earth Finland.
Dr. Jussi Pakkasvirta, of the Renvall Institute at the University of Helsinki, says that forest companies making impact assessments do not sufficiently consider the political and social impacts of their activities. The focus of Pakkasvirta’s own research is Latin America.
“In Uruguay, Botnia did good research on land ownership conditions. However, the company failed to sufficiently assess how construction in a border zone would affect political and social relations between a small country and a big country”, Pakkasvirta says.
The story is covered in greater detail in our weekly section - see link below:
Previously in HS International Edition:
Partners of Finnish companies accused of felling rain forests in Indonesia (7.5.2008)
World Bank Group grants loan for Botnia pulp mill in Uruguay (22.11.2006)
Argentine opponents of Botnia pulp mill bring case to Finland (30.8.2006)
Chinese farmers lose land to Stora Enso tree plantations (26.4.2009)
Friends of the Earth Finland