Mechanisms to mitigate disputes with local communities, can reduce risk for companies seeking to profit from forest use while at the same time helping protect rights of forest people, argues a new report published today by the The Forests Dialogue (TFD), an international group of forest experts from business, environmental, academic and human rights groups.
Conflict has long plagued the forestry industry, but questions over land conflict have been renewed by emerging interest in REDD, a proposed mechanism for compensating land holders for preserving forests. In places where rights are poorly defined, REDD could increase the risk that forest-dwelling communities and indigenous people will lose access to lands for which they have no formal title but have occupied for years or generations. Many groups fear that the scheme could cause them to be further disadvantaged, depriving them of land and resources as well as leaving them out of carbon payments.
The new report argues that the well-being of local people is of direct interest to forest businesses since conflict can increase costs and project risk, jeopardize reputations, and reduce employee moral. Thus the report urges companies to take the lead in resolving existing conflicts and avoiding new ones.
“Most companies in the forest sector have no formal systems to address conflict, despite there being clear ethical and business cases for doing so,” says Emma Wilson, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and author of the report. “Forest certification schemes often require companies to have systems for local stakeholders to raise grievances, but very few companies are certified and those that are tend to have systems that are ad hoc or in their early pilot stages.”
The report, titled Company-Led Approaches to Conflict Resolution in the Forest Sector, says “a range of mechanisms and flexible, locally tailored approaches” are needed to address conflicts:
A range of mechanisms and flexible, locally tailored approaches are required to address conflicts. This poses a challenge to the development of industry-wide and company-wide mechanisms, tools, standards and guidelines. Solutions need to be designed for the local context and in close collaboration with local stakeholders (government, communities, local enterprises and civil society). However, this does not preclude the need for industry-wide sharing of experience and knowledge, and the development and testing of broadly applicable principles and methodologies.
“This report draws on established best practice to show how companies can take the lead in resolving conflicts and pursuing fair and equitable outcomes,” says TFD co-leader Stewart Maginnis, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “It shows that even where national legislation to protect poor people’s rights is woefully inadequate, private sector relations with local communities do not have to be held hostage to the lowest common denominator but can live up fully to the aspirations of good corporate social responsibility.”
The report says that companies will need to engage a wide range of groups – including indigenous peoples, forest owners and user groups, unions, other businesses, civil society organizations, community leaders and government – to address environmental and social concerns. While companies need supportive local policies and laws, the report notes “the potential for good practice in company-led approaches to influence the local policy environment through demonstration.”
Wilson, Emma (2009). Company-Led Approaches to Conflict Resolution in the Forest Sector. [PDF 298K] The Forests Dialogue, Connecticut, USA.