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More harm, more foul: Carbon crediting project exposes widespread human rights violations

Human rights violations committed against the Chong people in Cambodia are indicative of a wider malaise afflicting carbon crediting projects. Not only must the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities be safeguarded, they must also profit from fair benefit sharing arrangements.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) exposed egregious human rights violations against the indigenous Chong people associated with  Cambodia’s Southern Cardamon REDD+ carbon crediting project. This project was jointly developed by the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Alliance, a forest and wildlife conservation organisation.

The two-year investigation revealed widespread mistreatment of the Chong (also known as the Por) by both government authorities and the Wildlife Alliance. For example, the project conducted activities for over two years before consulting indigenous communities, thus violating their right to free, prior, and informed consent, a principle recognised under international human rights law in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Furthermore, various members of the community described being forcibly evicted by Ministry of the Environment rangers, gendarmes, and Wildlife Alliance staff from farmland they customarily relied on, HRW uncovered. Moreover, judicial records revealed that some were arrested and further detained for extended periods of time without trial. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that these kinds of  human rights violations and gross abuses of power by project developers and government officials have occurred. Late last year, for instance, the Kenyan government was accused of unlawfully evicting the Ogiek hunter-gatherer people from their ancestral lands to make money off of carbon crediting schemes. Eviction tactics included physically destroying the Ogiek peoples’ homes with “axes and hammers”. 

Lack of benefit sharing arrangements 

HRW’s findings also highlight the absence of a benefit sharing arrangement between the project developers and the Chong people. Benefit sharing arrangements, put simply, stipulate how monetary and non-monetary benefits will be distributed to stakeholders in or affected by the project, which includes indigenous peoples and local communities. 

In the case of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ project, HRW notes that at the time of its report publication, there was no benefit sharing arrangement in place with any of the communities connected to the project, despite HRW’s repeated insistence on remedying this glaring omission.  

This absence of benefit sharing arrangements and the lack of transparency around it are regrettably commonplace. This can be seen in a report we commissioned that investigates the occurrence, transparency and overall integrity of benefit sharing arrangements in the context of the voluntary carbon market (VCM) and, specifically, whether local communities and indigenous peoples get a fair share of benefits as a result of the revenue generated from the sale of carbon credits

The investigation reviewed project design documents from 47 projects and the results were incredibly disappointing. Only 15 projects were found to contain a reference to benefit sharing arrangements. Out of these 15 projects, only four were found to contain evidence of benefit sharing with local communities and / or indigenous peoples; five projects contained evidence of benefit sharing either only with the project implementers or it was not possible to ascertain whether other stakeholders received a share; and the remaining six projects did not contain any evidence of benefit sharing whatsoever beyond the cursory reference. 

Moreover, only one project was able to demonstrate that benefits were separate from payments for results. For other arrangements, indigenous peoples and local communities were required to actively deliver work or results in return for payment. 

Gain, not pain

This naturally raises the questions of whether such a practice is fair and in the best interest of these communities and if they are even aware of – or informed about –  the difference: getting paid for ‘work’ is not ‘benefit sharing’. These conclusions, combined with our findings showing a lack of transparency regarding the financial flows in the voluntary carbon market, demonstrate a serious lack of equity and shows how vulnerable indigenous peoples and local communities are in this regard. 

It is clear that indigenous peoples and local communities need stronger protection against abuse, corruption and general inequity, including with regard to benefit sharing. There is a lack of transparency around benefit sharing, and most projects either do not distribute any benefits, or do not disclose information about it. 

In addition to ironclad human rights safeguards, the global community must work together to fill this gaping hole, starting with – at the very least –  a requirement for projects to disclose whether they have active benefit sharing agreements in place covering their project, what these agreements contain and how much money actually reaches the people living in the vicinity of a project. If these arrangements prove unfair, they must be revised in favour of local communities and indigenous peoples.

Author

  • Lindsay Otis

    Lindsay is Carbon Market Watch's expert on global carbon markets, with a special focus on corporate climate responsibility.

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