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Earth Institute Research Projects

Land Contracts and Transparency in Land-Based Investment

Lead PI:

Unit Affiliation: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)

Unknown start date - Ongoing
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DESCRIPTION: Large-scale investments in agriculture and forestry hold diverse and far-reaching implications. Despite their significance, these investments are often negotiated and approved behind closed doors, and governed by contracts that are difficult to access and understand. This status quo is particularly concerning in countries where land contracts play a pivotal role in allocating risks and determining the benefits of land-based investment, including for those affected who lack a voice in the negotiation process.

An emerging consensus is increasingly evident on the need for greater transparency in land-based investment, particularly in the contracting process. To catalyze greater transparency in practice, contribute to the development of a coherent narrative on the roles of stakeholders, and ensure that greater transparency leads to positive outcomes on the ground, CCSI is developing tools, conducting research, and facilitating dialogue.

OUTCOMES: Tools
- OpenLandContracts.org serves as the first global online repository of publicly available contracts for large-scale land, agriculture, and forestry projects. It includes the full text of contracts; plain language summaries of each contract’s key social, environmental, human rights, fiscal, and operational terms; and tools for searching and comparing contracts. Launched in 2015 with support from the UK Department for International Development, the repository is continually updated with new contracts, summaries, and additional resources.
Research and writing
- CCSI is undertaking research to explore whether and how international law requires disclosure of investor-state land contracts and the implementation of transparent contracting processes. This research focuses in particular on international human rights law, and the extent to which guidelines for responsible large-scale land-based investments, which encourage greater transparency, accurately reflect existing host and home state obligations.
 CCSI is exploring how FPIC and consultation processes can be integrated into investor-state contract negotiations, taking into account the practicalities of contract negotiations, to better safeguard the land rights and human rights of members of project-affected communities.
CCSI’s work on transparency in land-based investment builds on and is informed by our work on contract transparency in natural resource investments.