Legal tools for citizen empowerment
Can a half-acre of dry earth be more precious than gold? To farmers in some of the world's poorest countries, the answer is very literally yes. Goldmining, agribusiness and other interests are pushing farmers off the land they need for crops, and polluting their waterways.
Getting a better deal from natural resource investment
Effective use of legal rights can be a powerful tool in helping local people get a better deal. This is the aim of ‘Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment’, a collaborative initiative to strengthen local voices and help communities benefit from natural resource investment in low-income countries. Led by IIED, Legal Tools is put into practice together with a range of partners.
Since 2006, the Legal Tools initiative has researched issues of direct relevance to people’s lives, strengthened people's capacity to use legal tools through training and to share their experiences, and advocated for better laws.
In low-income countries, most rural people depend on land and natural resources for their livelihoods. Yet, access to those resources is changing fast. Local production systems are becoming more integrated in the global economy, large-scale commercial agriculture is gaining ground, and private investment is growing, particularly in natural resource-based sectors like petroleum, mining, tourism and carbon credits.
Natural resource investment can bring capital, jobs and technology. But it can also exacerbate competition for more productive and hence valuable land.
As land competition increases, disadvantaged groups are losing out, particularly where their land rights are insecure, their capacity to exercise them is limited, and major power imbalances shape relations with government and incoming investors.
Innovative legal solutions
As natural resources come under growing pressure, people must be able to defend their rights over the lands they have used for generations, have more voice in decisions affecting their lives, and get a better deal from incoming investment.
In many cases, the law is against local people. For example, in some countries it is perfectly legal for a government to give out large areas of land to incoming investors without much local consultation. International law protects foreign investment, but is less effective at defending the rights of people affected by investment projects. And transnational contracts between governments and companies are negotiated behind closed doors and may not adequately address social and environmental issues.
Tackling these challenges requires rethinking the legal frameworks that regulate investments. Changing the law is a difficult process. But much legislation also contains legal hooks that, if used to their full potential, can help people have greater control over their lives. For example, some laws require governments or investors to negotiate with local people before land can be leased for investment projects.
The Legal Tools initiative advocates for legal reform and pushes the boundaries of existing legal entitlements by
- scrutinising the law and the contracts regulating investment, to identify what works where, what doesn't and why, and to promote informed policy debate
- strengthening local capacity to make better use of existing law, and sharing experience of ways to do this