Lawmakers in Laos are urging the government to be stricter on foreign business entities in the country in an effort to protect the environment and protect the livelihood of the people.
Khamsaphone Xayavong, a member of parliament from Oumxay district, Oudomxay province in northern Laos, called for extra scrutiny on foreign companies at a provincial assembly conference last week.
He cited several cases in which foreign-owned businesses have polluted or engaged in unfair business practices.
These include Chinese banana plantations and factories that have polluted streams and rivers in northern provinces, Chinese companies which did not pay for products ordered from Laotian farmers, pig farms that violated contracts, failing to pay workers on time or failing to pick up the pigs that were ready to be sold.
Nith Phothivanh, a law maker from La district in Oudomxay, said that Chinese investors did not pay for beans that they ordered from 100 local farming families in his district.
Xayavong indicated that the government should not so readily give concessions to investors.
“Investment from foreign companies in either banana farming, mineral exploration or infrastructure building has negatively affected the livelihood of the people by polluting streams and rivers,” he said.
“[These companies] do not deserve concessions,” he said, adding, “The provincial governments should be stricter in the future.”
Xayavong put special emphasis on banana plantations, as bananas are farmed heavily in 14 of Laos’ 17 provinces, including the six northern ones. Other crops such as sugarcane, melon, cabbage and lettuce are also widely farmed, and sources say they all use polluting chemicals.
In May, Lao authorities granted special concessions to a Vietnamese company growing bananas in Laos’ Savannakhet province. The farm is said to use polluting chemicals and government assurances of protection from chemical pollution at plantations in the south are widely doubted, sources say.
Illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Lao workers exposed to chemicals on foreign-owned farms, with many suffering open sores, headaches, and dizzy spells, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Chemical run-off from farms has also polluted many of the country’s water sources, killing fish and other animals and leaving water from local rivers and streams unfit to drink, sources say.
Chemicals released into a river by a Chinese-owned banana farm near the Lao capital Vientiane killed over 300 kg of fish in November, prompting warnings by authorities to local villagers not to bathe or fish in the polluted stream, sources say.
The Chinese Sun Paper Company polluted rivers in Sepon district, Savannakhet province and sources say that there has been little to no improvement in the area since.
Xayavong urged the Oudamxay provincial government to set strict rules and regulations for new investors before giving concessions.
He proposed that business entities perform impact studies before they can be allowed to develop the land for economic use.
He said that in the past there had been six Chinese companies given concessions to plant bananas in many thousand hectares of the province, mostly in Hune district.
Those companies were not required to undergo any inspections or impact studies. As a result of their economic activities, the local environment was severely damaged due to the heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
There are total of 36 of foreign-invested projects in Oudomxay province, with 29 projects by Chinese companies, four from Malaysia, two from Vietnam and one from South Korea.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya, Written in English by Eugene Whong.