The involvement of European corporate and financial entities in land grabbing

  • 08th June 2016
  • by secretary

Land grabbing and human rights: The involvement of European corporate and financial entities in land grabbing outside the European Union.
Saturnino M. BORRAS Jr. (International Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands), Philip SEUFERT (FIAN International, Germany), Stephan BACKES (FIAN International, Belgium), Daniel FYFE (FIAN International, Switzerland), Roman HERRE (FIAN Germany, Germany), Laura MICHELE (FIAN International, Germany) and Elyse MILLS (International Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands)

In early research on land grabbing, the initial focus was on foreign companies investing abroad, with a particular focus on those based in countries such as China, Gulf States, South Korea, and India. In recent years, it has become evident that the range of countries land investors originate in is far broader, and includes both North Atlantic – and EU-based actors. In this study, we offer both quantitative and qualitative data illustrating the involvement of EU-based corporate and financial entities in land deals occurring outside of the EU. 

This study also analyses the global land rush within a human rights framework, examining the implications of particular land deals involving EU-based investors and their impact on communities living in areas where the investments are taking place. The research presented here builds partly on Cotula’s 2014 study on the drivers and human rights implications of land grabbing, but differs in that it focuses explicitly on particular cases of possible, actual or potential human rights abuses and violations, in the context of activities involving European corporate and financial entities. In our conclusions, we offer a series of recommendations on how the EU can more effectively address these issues.


During the earliest wave of research on land grabbing, the initial focus was on foreign companies, with emphasis on a set of foreign players (China, Gulf States, South Korea, India, and others). (page 12)

The reality is more fluid and complex than what available databases tell us partly because: (a) land grabbing cannot be understood in a static, technical and restrictive way; (b) land grabs are multi-layered and complex processes, in which a land deal involves many actors via investment webs implicating diverse types of public and private actors (which cannot be clearly separated), and “nationality” of land deals is never a straightforward issue; and (c) EU actors are involved in land grabs and related human rights violations at different points in investment webs. (page 7)

There has been comparatively less examination of the role that EU Member States play in the global land grab (19), likely partly because many EU-based investors and companies have multiple foreign subsidiaries that make it difficult to trace their roots directly to the EU. However, companies registered in the EU are engaging in numerous land deals, that, when aggregated, add up to vast amounts of land in developing countries. As shown in Annex 1, companies registered in France and the United Kingdom have been involved in 40 to 124 land deals, respectively – as a result, gaining control of 629 953 to 1 972 010 hectares of land in various countries outside the EU. Corporations registered in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy are not far behind, with 20 to 21 deals each, involving a total of 251 808 to 615 674 hectares of land. (page 14)

It is more adequate to talk about investment webs rather than investment chains. As a result, attributing responsibilities for human rights violations to each of the countries involved becomes a substantive challenge for those in charge of determining accountability and providing remedies (including parliamentary, quasi-judicial and judicial mechanisms). It also hampers the advocacy work of CSOs, grass roots communities and their advocates seeking justice. (page 20)