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Still banking on land grabs: Australia’s big four banks and improper land acquisitions

“They did not give us any warning ahead of time they just came and cleared the land…people tried to stop the bulldozer.” “Makara”, Kampong Speu Cambodia.

 

Almost two years ago, Oxfam’s Banking on Shaky Ground report revealed that Australia’s big four banks – the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac – were connected to companies facing credible allegations of improper land acquisitions. A new Oxfam report Still banking on land grabs examines the banks’ response and the current situation for communities affected by land grabs who were profiled in 2014.

Although all four banks claim to have responded to the issue of improper land acquisitions, the report reveals that nothing has changed in the day-to-day lives of communities in Cambodia, Brazil, Indonesia and PNG facing land grabs. Rural communities continue to face food shortages, poor livelihoods, polluted water and inadequate housing as a result of losing lands. They continue to face threats and violence, and women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

So what have the banks done? NAB and Westpac have issued new land-related policies that indicate that the banks do take the problem seriously. However neither CBA nor ANZ have developed targeted policies to address the issue. No bank has gone far enough, all four falling short of the adequate transparency and accountability needed to respect communities’ rights to know who is seeking to profit from agriculture and timber activities on their land.

All four banks have failed to disclose additional connections to well-reported land grabs. This includes the banks issuing loan facilities to agribusiness firm Cargill, after reports that its subsidiary used 36 shell companies between 2010-2012 to buy land in a remote region in Colombia. (Cargill has since spun off the subsidiary in 2016, after reporting poor performance in much of its financial services arm). These purchases circumvented local laws in place at the time that aimed at avoiding land concentration, and keeping land in the hands of small-scale producers as an attempt to alleviate the country’s extreme land inequality. Australian banks have also neglected to disclose to shareholders and communities their connection to case studies profiled in Banking on Shaky Ground.

Shona Hawkes is the Sustainable Food Advocacy Coordinator at Oxfam Australia.

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