A new report has been released by environmental group International Rivers that benchmarks and ranks Chinese overseas dam builders, and investigates the industry’s performance on social and environmental responsibilities.

The report follows two years worth of study and had participation from 90% of the hydropower companies contacted, International Rivers said.

The group’s Co-Director of Programs, Grace Mang, said the work had several goals; first, to find out how the social and environmental policies of the new actors from China compare with international best practices; then, using empirical research, discover whether the policy commitments were borne out in the actual projects, and gather more evidence regarding project impacts on ecosystems, local communities and workers; and advocate for improved policies and practices and encourage companies to compete for a strong environmental track record.

The first stage of the research focused on seven overseas dam builders from China, who collectively play a strong role in the international dam building sector – with International Rivers hoping to expand this to companies from other countries in the future.

Research took the form of detailed questionnaires, which were then discussed with the management of all seven companies. Typical projects for each company in Cambodia, Malaysia, Ecuador and other countries were also identified, and International Rivers investigated what the various commitments meant in practice. This involved talking with local communities, government officials, workers, and company managers.

The main findings of the report, Mang said, are:

  • Generally, companies that build projects as contractors perform better than companies that invest in and own their projects. Among the various Chinese companies, Sinohydro International had the strongest record, and Huaneng and Datang had the weakest.
  • Companies performed strongest at the project site if they were forced to do so by the laws of the host country.
  • At the policy level, companies scored highest for dam safety measures. In actual practice, companies performed better when implementing environmental standards than standards relating to host communities, workers and general risk management.
  • There are still significant gaps between policy commitments and performance on the ground.

"We plan to continue our monitoring and accountability efforts, and hope to expand it to dam builders from other countries," said Mang. "We want companies to know that they are being watched and scored for their projects, and that they have an opportunity to strengthen their standards and practices and get credit for it."

To view the full online version of the Benchmarking Report, visit www.hydroscorecard.org.