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China’s Global Dam Builders: Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk?

In recent years, the global hydropower market has changed dramatically. Once the province of Western firms, these days large new companies from China and other countries are dominating the market. In a remarkable turn of events, these new companies have committed to following national laws, World Bank policies, UN guidelines and other standards as they construct their projects. What does this mean in practice? Which companies perform best, and which are lagging behind? At International Rivers, we decided to find out by conducting an extended research project...

For practical reasons, we focused the first stage of our research effort on the seven most important overseas dam builders from China [Datang, Gezhouba, Huadian, Huaneng, Sinohydro International, PowerChina Resources, and Three Gorges], who collectively play a very strong role in the international dam building sector. We hope to expand this exercise to companies from other countries in the future...

Over an 18-month period, we discussed the questionnaire with the management of all seven companies. The companies took the process seriously. In numerous meetings, their managers went through policy documents with us, clarified field observations, and investigated grievances we had uncovered in our field work. In some cases, our meetings were the first encounter these companies had ever had with civil society groups.

Discussing policy commitments at corporate headquarters in Beijing was just the start. We identified typical projects for each company in Cambodia, Malaysia, Ecuador and other countries, and investigated what the various commitments meant in practice. Staying for an average of nine days, our researchers talked with local communities, government officials, workers, and company managers. Based on this research, we prepared two reports: a 26-page summary of our findings, and a detailed, 60-page compilation of our evidence.