Land-Resource Sell-Out: Companies becoming more powerful than Countries

The winners of globalization, international trade agreements, privatization, neo-liberal economic capitalism are none other than the multinational corporations. They are least bothered about religion, ethnicity, culture, or preservation of history or heritage. Everything is looked at from a commercial & profit making angle. All they desire is profit at any cost and where they select to be based will depend on the laws, red tape & facilities they can win for themselves from any government they are dealing with. Their power is rising on account of corruptions by politicians and the bureaucracy through which these multinationals are able to secure stakes. Politicians overwhelmed by greed ignore the outcome for the country & citizens resulting in a destabilized country with citizens suffering immeasurable consequences. With political campaigns dependent on funding, invariably it is these companies that decide who voters should elect as their leader & well-funded PR election campaigns help steer voters towards this end goal. The subtle means through which these corporates/NGOs/think tanks/secret societies operate to secure global wealth & denationalize sovereignty of nations unto themselves should be monitored & counter measures taken as a national policy.

Some companies have more employees than entire populations of countries, some companies have revenues that countries can never dream of achieving. Sovereignty of countries are having to be compromised to accommodate some of their demands and they end up paying lesser taxes, enjoying tax holidays, obtaining duty-free permits, enjoying cheap labor & forcing countries to deregulate labor laws to suit them. Not stopping there, these multi-national corporations are also insisting on holding stake or lease in key strategic areas often where the best natural resources of a country rests. Many of these companies recharge the local offices for various infrastructure investments which invariably means that the money generated in local offices is subtly siphoned back to the company’s head-quarters. Many companies also evade taxes in their own home countries by placing their accounts in tax-free offshore havens. The power these private corporates hold is affecting national sovereignty of countries & denationalizing many third world developing countries as well. It is not surprising that they are encouraging the creation of newly independent states or the alternate option of creating federated solutions where they carve out new provinces/states dividing the natural resources which they plan to secure on the guise of foreign investment & development programs through aid /grant programs under the control of donor agencies like World Bank, IMF etc.

From the manner the Berlin Conference resulted in the Scramble for Africa the greed to grab natural resources has remained the hallmark of every action sugar coated in fancy terms to hide the obvious & ultimate objective. Colonial rule was all about plundering wealth of nations & neocolonial liberal policies are no different. With the increase in population, the need for water & food increases and demand to grab ownership of the world’s natural resources & agricultural lands has resulted in a quest against those seeking to protect their resources from those using subtle methods to acquire them.

Land has been sold in secret without transparency & shielded by corrupt host governments & officials without consulting locals & totally disregarding customary land rights, ignoring consequences to the local communities who are bound to face water & other resource shortages as well as the loss of land to sustain their livelihood & families. DR Congo has more displaced people because of these land grabs than by civil conflict! Eventual outcome is the country relying on import of food items that could easily have been grown domestically. In many instances these land grabs have left entire villages displaced, biodiversity affected while the oft hyped development, employment, improved local economies have not been seen.

Land grabbing in Africa and Asia for export and biofuel crops is keeping populations malnourished and hungry. 66% of land deals are in countries where the populace are in poverty. These are all lessons for Sri Lanka.

According to political analyst Guylain Gustave Moke a new form of colonialism (imperialism) is taking place across the third world. Liberia’s arable land is 100% under foreign ownership,


Arable land in the hands of foreign owners result in local farmers forced to produce cash crops not for their consumption but for export & having to be ‘forced’ to work for low salaries on their own ‘lands’!

In 2011, the FAO released guidelines urging investors to think about the rights & needs of people & communities where land is located.

Corrupt illegal” land sales across Africa & Asia are generating public outcry, violent protests were seen in Madagascar against a South Korean company (Daewoo) purchasing 1.3m hectares of land (half of Madagascar’s agricultural land) to produce corm & palm oil.

A study by Paolo D’Odorico of the University of Virginia has provided some shocking facts.

A study has revealed that 454billion cubic metres of water is grabbed annually by corporations which is equivalent to 5% of the water annually used globally. 60% of this water has been taken by 7 countries – US, UAE, India, UK, Egypt, China & Israel. He says that before 2008 total international agricultural land deals totaled 9million acres annually which in 2009 shot up to 138million acres. 44% of land has been grabbed by foreigners in Africa while 337% of land in Asia have been grabbed by foreign investors since 2000 by mostly 5 countries – US, UK, China, UAE & Malaysia (Land Matrix). US company Nile Trading & Development bought 1,482,632acres of land in Sudan for $25,000 with rights to do whatever it liked including sub-leasing. US mining firm BHP Billiton owns 877,000 acres in Indonesia, Ted Turner of AOL/CNN owns 111,000 acres in Argentina, US investor Cargill owns 775,000 acres in Brazil.

According to Land Matrix, since 2000, 1217 land deals have transferred 205m acres of land into foreign hands. 62% of these deals were in Africa. Water scarcity has resulted following ownership of a plantation in Ethiopia by a Saudi billionaire which diverted water from the Alwero River denying water to thousands of farmers & fishing families. In Sudan too the local populations became dependent on food aid & food subsidies as a result of foreign land grabs & being pushed out of their farming villages.

Foreign investors & Child labor

Australian banks financing companies accused of land grabs, illegal logging and child labour

According to the United Nations, 1.3 billion people in the world today lack access to clean water while 2.5 billion do not have adequate sewage and sanitation.  By 2040, according to a World Resources Institute (WRI) report, 36 countries are predicted to face extremely high” levels of water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity.”

By privatizing water and sewer systems, countries & their local government officials abdicate control over a vital public resource. Water in the hands of Multinational water corporations who are accountable not to the general public but ONLY to their stake holders is dangerous. To meet this threat companies are trying to privatize ownership of water. In February 2015, Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, signed a law green-lighting the privatization of municipal water systems. The bill, called the Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), allows municipalities to sell their water systems to private companies without a public referendum. A similar bill was proposed by Republican state legislator at the behest of Aqua America to privatize Wisconsin’s municipal water systems. Though state law requires a referendum for public water system to be sold the bill proposes to make the referendum optional not mandatory!

A June 2016 report by Corporate Accountability International found that water privatization, in the form of public-private partnerships (PPPs), not only fails to solve the problem of fixing public water systems to ensure safe and clean drinking water but actually exacerbates it. One example is Flint, Michigan, which since April 2014, continues to face lead contamination in its drinking water.”

Africa: trapped in water privatization

Why Nestle is one of the most hated companies in the world

The 1st big water war erupted in Bolivia when the World Bank refused to renew a $25m loan unless water was privatized to Bechtel, a US corporation after which water prices were increased in 2000. The people took to the streets & Bechtel was forced to flee the country. But Bolivia was slapped with a $25m lawsuit claiming compensation.

In Peru, the poor have to pay & carry contaminated water at $3 for 1 cubic foot of water while the rich pay 30 cents for clean tap water! South Africa’s 15m poor black people are denied clean water while the white farmers consume 60% of water.

According to Foreign Policy journal 10 biggest banks still control almost 50% of assets under management worldwide”. According to the same journal these 25 companies are more powerful than countries.

Sri Lanka’s annual revenue (2017) as per Ministry of Finance was Rs. 1,839,562million

Walmart: Retailer

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenues $488bn, no. of employees: 2.2m;

population of Slovenia: 2.1m


Exxon Mobil: Oil & Gas Company

Head Quarters: USA

No of employees: 75,300 across 6 continents

Annual Revenues $269bn,

Finland’s GDP: $267bn


Royal Dutch Shell: Oil & Gas Company

Head Quarters: The Hague, Netherlands

Annual Revenues $265bn,

Greece’s GDP: $242bn


Apple: Tech Company

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue $234bn, economic output (2014) $87bn;

Oman’s economic output $82bn


Glencore: Commodity Trading & Mining Company 

Revenue $221bn,

Qatar’s GDP: $202bn

Glencore has the power to make or break countries – in 2015 it temporarily closed down a mining factory in Congo which produced 20% of copper

Annual Revenue: $221billion


Samsung: Tech company

Head Quarters: South Korea

Value of brand $45bn,

value of national brand of Croatia $32bn

Annual Revenue: $163billion


Amazon: E-Commerce Company

Head Quarters: USA

Number of Amazon active users 244m,

Population of Brazil 204m

Annual Revenue: $107billion


Microsoft: Tech Company

Head Quarters: USA

1.2bn users, 107 languages spoken;

Cyprus 1.2m population, 2 official languages (Greek/Turkish)

Annual Revenue: $94billion


Nestle: Food & Beverage Producer

Head Quarters: Switzerland

330,000 employees/447 factories in 86 countries & sells products in 196 countries

Revenue $93bn,


Google/Alphabet: Tech Company

Head Quarters: USA

Market cap of $547bn, world’s most valuable public company

Annual Revenue: $75billion


Uber: Hiring Service

Head Quarters: USA

Car fleet 1.1m;

US government vehicle fleet 633,851

Annual Revenue: $62.5billion


Huawei: Telecommunications company

Head Quarters: China

Services available in 170 countries

Annual Revenue: $60billion


Vodafone: Telecommunications company

Head Quarters: England

No of customers 461m,

US population 323m

Annual Revenue: $60billion


Anheuser-Busch InBev: Beverage Company

Head Quarters: Belgium

Has a 46% market share in the US

Annual Revenue: $47billion


Maersk: Shipping company

Head Quarters: Denmark

Ships 11million containers to nearly every port in the world

Has enough containers to equal 8,550 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other

Annual revenue: $40billion


Goldman Sachs: Investment Banking company

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $34billion

Its assets $1.2trillion while Russia’s international reserves are $368billion


Halliburton: Multinational company

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $33billion

Capital expenditure $3.3billion /Czech Republic military expenditure $2billion


Accenture: Consulting firm

Head Quarters: Ireland

Annual Revenue : $31billion

Employees work in over 200 cities across 55 countries


McDonalds: Fast Food Chain 

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $25billion

Employees work in over 200 cities across 55 countries


Emirates: Airline 

Head Quarters: UAE

Annual Revenue : $24billion

Average age of an Emirates plane is 6 years, average of Canadian airforce fighter yet is 27.5years


Facebook: Social Media company 

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $18billion

Facebooks energy use in 2013 was 822m kilowatt-hours, Bermuda’s total energy use for same year was 664m kilowatt-hours.


Alibaba: Ecommerce company 

Head Quarters: China

Annual Revenue : $12billion

One-day online sales in November 2015 was $14.3billion while Chad’s annual GDP is $14b


BlackRock: Investment company 

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $11billion

UK currency reserves – $108b

US currency reserves – $434b

Japanese currency reserves – $1.3trillion

Blackrocks assets under management – $4.65trillion


McKinsey & Company: Consultancy 

Annual Revenue : $8billion

Its employees are conversant in 120 languages


Twitter: Social Media company 

Head Quarters: USA

Annual Revenue : $2.2billion

Twitter revolutions – 5

US revolution – 1

The takeaway from all this is that the national sovereignty is adversely affected as a result of foreign governments/corporate land grabs (sale or lease). In all of the cases across South Africa, Africa & Asia not many have been success stories.

Countries had their citizens forced off their land, relocating to areas where they found no employment, families left in poverty, children ending up engaged in illegal activities as a means of livelihood to survive, a surge in illegal immigration, undocumented families resulting in conflicts and those protesting against illegal land grabs are often dealt with full force of the law by politicians & cronies who were responsible for the sale.

However, in September 2016 the International Criminal Court has called land grabs as a crime against humanity & this is an area that Sri Lanka’s lawyers are advised to further look into. Whatever country is grabbing the land, land handed over to foreigners is wrong & should cease.

Shenali D Waduge

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