Corporación Dinant – one of the largest African Palm oil producers in Latin America and the recipient of a controversial $15 million loan from the World Bank – appears to have turned the corner in its campaign to rebuild its global reputation after years of fending off allegations that its security guards committed human rights abuses during the Honduran land conflicts.
Dinant has been at the center of a media storm ever since the 2009 loan from the IFC division of the World Bank drew international attention to the fact that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, partly fueled by a land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region in northern Honduras where Dinant farms thousands of acres of land to produce palm oil. In recent years, intervention by the Honduran government has reportedly reduced the overall level of crime in the area and in many other parts of Honduras and, at the same time, the heat on Dinant has started to subside.
Dinant spokesman Roger Pineda told Focus Washington, “After years of defending ourselves against unfounded allegations, I think most sensible people now believe that it is absurd to connect Dinant with vast numbers of deaths in the Aguán valley just because those tragic killings occurred in the same region in which Dinant owns land.”
However, in March of this year Earth Rights International, a Washington DC based NGO, lodged a complaint against the IFC in a U.S. federal court seeking compensation for the people of the Aguán who have allegedly suffered at the hands of Dinant’s private security forces.
“I have no doubt that Earth Rights’ intentions are honorable,” Mr. Pineda continued, “But they are wrong.”
Furthermore, “The International Criminal Court’s 2015 report on Honduras proves that. After a three-year independent investigation, the ICC found that criminal organizations and international drug cartels were responsible for a large amount of the alleged crimes in the Bajo Aguán, including unlawful occupations of land and robbery of African Palm fruit, in order to retain control of the region and to continue to operate in total impunity.”
So does Dinant regret applying for the IFC loan, given the negative media attention that resulted? Quite the opposite, according to Mr. Pineda: “Actually, the IFC achieved all of its social and economic objectives, and the loan enabled Dinant to modernize its operations and gain access to global markets.
The IFC’s loan to Dinant was granted to help us increase production capacity, expand and upgrade our distribution network, enhance the surrounding natural environment, and expand economic opportunities for the poor, particularly in rural areas like the Aguán. By all these measures, and more, the IFC’s loan to Dinant has been a great success. In fact, Dinant ended up investing over $20 million in exceeding the IFC’s Performance Standards to the benefit of many people, especially our staff from local communities who continue to have sustainable jobs with good wages.”
Under intense pressure from both the international community and the challenges in the Aguán region, Dinant has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, gaining international recognition for its environmental management systems (including a high-tech biogas recovery unit at its oil extraction mill in the Aguán, which has been registered as a Clean Development Mechanism project by the United Nations) and, most notably, removing all firearms from the security guards at its plantations and factories – a policy that was greeted initially with deep skepticism but that has since been copied by other companies in Honduras.
“These are exciting times for Dinant,” Mr. Pineda believes. “While Honduras can be a challenging place to do business, Dinant has proven that it is possible to do so successfully, honestly and transparently. The key to this success is engaging peacefully and respectfully with local neighboring communities.”
Dinant’s “White Book – The Facts About Honduras’ Largest Corporation” will be published later this month.