Land equality: the linchpin to tackling climate change

Anna Triponel

October 28, 2022
Our key takeaway: “Land is the bridge between companies’ environmental and social sustainability agendas, and it is foundational to both” (Oxfam and the International Land Coalition). The importance of land—along with land tenure and tenure security—cannot be overstated when it comes to addressing climate change. Land in agricultural value chains is central to companies being able to implement their commitments on climate change, net zero emissions, human rights, women’s empowerment, and farmer livelihoods. Who controls the land? Who can access it? Who has rights to it? Who enjoys the benefits derived from it? Let’s place land equality at the core of company actions.

Oxfam and the International Land Coalition launched Doing Business on Uneven Ground: Advancing Land Equality is Key to Addressing Climate Change and Farmer Rights (October 2022). This briefing for companies focuses on the role of land in fulfilling corporate commitments on human rights, climate, women’s empowerment and farmer livelihoods. It complements International Land Coalition’s report from earlier this year on securing land rights to fight the climate crisis:

  • Why companies should focus on land inequality: The briefing offers three reasons why focusing on land rights is a linchpin of company action on other key social and environmental commitments. For one, “[a]dvancing equality in who controls and benefits from land will help your company make more durable progress” on these commitments. In addition, innovative agricultural production models that prioritise sustainability depend on land equality. Finally, unjust land conversion and acquisition often fuel conflict and human rights abuses, and can be linked to illegal practices like land grabbing and illegal deforestation. By focusing on land equality, companies can reduce not only their risks to people, but also their own risk of involvement in these practices. 
  • Eight essential issues for business action”: The briefing highlights eight essential actions in the three following categories. (1) Know, Assess and Address: Companies can “Publicly recognize the extent of the company’s land footprint; promote more local control of land; Know where harmful land acquisitions and land-use changes are at high risk of occurring; take steps to prevent them; [and] Ensure remediation for harms and effective grievance mechanisms, in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).” (2) Invest: Private sector actors can help support business models, climate mitigation solutions and landscape management approaches that address land inequality and promote land tenure of small-scale farmers and communities. (3) Engage and Enable: Companies can partner with other stakeholders to focus on securing land rights of vulnerable groups, like women and marginalised communities, and to protect human rights and environmental defenders. They can also work with governments and peers to influence high-level decision-making and policy on land inequality.
  • Roles for diverse actors along the value chain: Regardless of their place in the value chain, different stakeholders like food and beverage companies, agriculture companies and investors can all tackle the issue of land inequality from different angles. The briefing poses three core questions that apply across the value chain: (1) “Does your company own, lease or control land directly and/or have a direct sourcing relationship with farmers?” (2) "Does your company rely on land through suppliers?” (3) “Does your company invest in land as a financial asset?” Each of these questions within the briefing is accompanied by specific guidance and actions that can be taken to address land rights and ensure tenure security.

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