Nine communities from the Democratic Republic of Congo have this week filed a complaint to the German Development Bank (DEG) over a century-long land conflict which they say has deprived them of not only their land but of their ability to adequately feed and house their families.
The communities’ land was unilaterally granted as part of a 1 million hectare concession in 1911 to British businessman Lord Leverhulme, who, with the support of the Belgian army, used forced labour to grow palm oil, which was then transported to the UK to make soap products. The land was later acquired by Unilever’s subsidiary PHC, which has now been bought out by the Canadian company Feronia Inc.
The complaint was filed on November 5th with the Independent Complaints Mechanism of the DEG, a joint initiative with the Dutch Development Bank (FMO), with legal support from GLAN and other NGOs across those countries where development banks have financed Feronia and PHC’s operations. GLAN's Dr Tomaso Ferrando, also participated in a visit to Feronia’s offices in Germany.
Most villagers work as labourers for PHC, but the wages are extremely low, working conditions are poor and lack of access to their land has led to them being unable to source enough food, leading to severe malnutrition. PHC operates the plantations with finance from several development banks across the world, including those in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and the US, with some also providing finance and/or holding shares in its parent company Feronia. This has been done in full knowledge of the historic land conflict.
The communities now seek to use the complaints mechanism to hold the banks accountable for making investments which finance land rights violations, to examine the credibility of their policies on how to resolve such issues and establish a dispute resolution process with the companies, enabling the villagers to seek redress for the harm suffered from losing their land, with the aim of reclaiming it.
The communities are represented by the Congolese civil society organisation RIAO-RDC.
You can read more in depth about the case in this official communiqué here, as well as more background information via this link. You can also download the complaint submitted to the DEG here.