Which commodity is most linked to illegal land grabs?

5 November 2021

Palm oil has been ranked as the highest risk commodity association with land grabs, according to a study.

Verisk Maplecroft’s Human Rights Outlook 2021 examined a list of commodities to assess the likelihood of people being illegally forced from their homes and land so it could be farmed or mined.

The study found palm oil and cobalt are the two raw materials posing the greatest risk of land grabs globally.

Minerals critical to the energy transition such as silicon, zinc, copper and rare earths, as well as less obvious commodities such as coconuts, garlic and yams, are also associated with land grabs.

The research also highlighted the link between land grabs and the loss of natural capital such as clean air and water, pollinating insects, and soil quality.

The index measured the risk of land expropriation across 198 countries and 170 commodities by assessing the legislation protecting citizens, adherence to international structures, enforcement of laws, and the severity and frequency of violations.

Palm oil is ranked highest risk for land grabs of all hard and soft commodities, largely because the greatest risk lies in its biggest producer, Indonesia, which produces more than half the world’s palm oil. The report cited the Consortium for Agrarian Reform’s figures recording 241 land conflicts across Indonesia in 2020, 10 times the number recorded in 2008.

Malaysia, the next largest producer, is rated as “high risk”. The two countries account for around 85% of global production of palm oil.

Cobalt is also rated as “extreme risk” for land grabs. The study said communities faced frequent evictions, poor compensation, and almost non-existent consultation with negligent mining companies and corrupt officials.

Materials crucial for energy transition, including silicon, zinc and bauxite, all originate from a small number of “extreme risk” countries, according to Verisk Maplecroft.

The study concluded corporations and investors are exposed to reputational damage and regulatory and legal threats because of a failure to understand the influence of poverty, corruption and weak rule of law on land grabs and natural capital degradation.

The report said: “As the world’s population expands, the demand for more land to produce the commodities we need grows with it. This comes at a cost.

“The reality on the ground is that thousands of people are illegally forced from their homes each year so miners and farmers can move in. What is produced on this land can, and does, find its way into the vast volumes of commodities traded by investors, and then into the food and the goods we consume.

“Unless threats to human rights in the supply chain like these are addressed by companies and investors, it will be increasingly hard to justify labelling the likes of EV’s, lithium-ion batteries and solar panels as ‘clean’ technology.

“Corporates, investors and banks must be prepared to determine if their purchases of these goods are linked to expropriated land or the destruction of ecosystems, otherwise the backlash could be considerable.”

The commodities most exposed to land grabs are:

1. Palm oil

2. Cobalt

3. Coconut

4. Garlic

5. Silicon

6. Germanium

7. Yams

8. Tungsten

9. Bauxite

10. Sisal

11. Magnesium

12. Rare earths

13. Zinc

14. Tea

15. Cocoa

16. Copper

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