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Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of global greenwash

By Amy Dickens | Ecologist | September 23, 2015

In Paraguay’s vast Chaco region, the familiar sounds of the forest are being drowned out by the rumble of heavy machinery. “Where jaguars once trod, now there are just the tracks of bulldozers”, protests Porai Picanerai, a member of the Ayoreo tribe.

His people are being chased from their ancestral lands by Brazilian corporation Yaguarete Pora. While some Ayoreo remain hiding in the forest, living in fear and isolation, those forced out are vulnerable to disease and illness.

The Chaco is experiencing rapid deforestation thanks to companies like Yaguarete Pora, who are illegally clearing vast swathes of land for cattle ranching. Ironically, having promised a small, protected nature reserve, they continue to oust the forest’s most accomplished conservationists, its tribal people.

In spite of this, the company proudly flaunt the logo of the largest corporate responsibility initiative on the planet, the United Nations Global Compact.

This voluntary agreement advocates ten fundamental corporate responsibility principles, including the provision that “businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.”

Though Yaguarete clearly defy this responsibility, the Compact’s lax membership requirements allow corporations to engage in bad practices while sporting the UN seal of approval.

Such is the hypocrisy of 21st century greenwashing. With pressure mounting on companies to endorse high standards of corporate responsibility, many are failing to deliver. To mask the truth, companies frequently greenwash their activities by participating in seemingly eco-friendly ventures that disguise the true extent of the environmental and human damage they are causing.

With conservation and intergovernmental organisations cosying up to big business, the greenwash is increasingly sophisticated, posing an ever-greater threat to the lives of tribal peoples. Because their livelihoods depend on their unique local environments, this greenwashing poses a grave threat to their survival.

Corporate greenwashing is destroying tribal peoples

The Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO) in Casiguran, the Philippines, is a 12,923 hectare area currently being developed into a self-sufficient commercial hub and special economic zone.

The project promises to bring “modernity with a touch of green” to Casiguran, boasting plans for eco-friendly features including a Marine Sanctuary and Mangrove Development Zone. For all this talk, the situation on the ground tells a dramatically different story.

If completed, APECO will strip 3,000 small farms and indigenous Agta households of their land. The Agta have reported intimidation, interrogation and assassination attempts relating to the project, which are further jeopardising a population already plagued by malnutrition and homicide.

What’s more, APECO’s ‘green’ promises appear entirely forgotten, as mangrove destruction and illegal logging are destroying the local ecosystem. The Agta’s message is simple: “The most important thing here is our land. If we don’t have it, then we won’t survive.”

Conservation organizations – the ultimate greenwash

Regrettably, corporate greenwashing at the expense of tribal peoples is widespread and recurrent. As if this wasn’t bad enough, an even more worrying trend has emerged.

Increasingly, well-known conservation groups are collaborating with companies to establish ‘green’ projects like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

RSPO, an association of palm oil industry stakeholders, was established with the objective of making sustainable palm oil the international norm. It is backed by prominent conservation organizations including Conservation International, the World Resources Institute, and founding member WWF.

Despite these reputable [sic] credentials, there’s a catch. Among RSPO’s members is Wilmar International, whose former subsidiary PT Asiatic Persada is responsible for the forced eviction of the Batin Sembilan from their homes in Jambi province of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The tribe have been arrested, attacked and murdered as their ancestral lands give way to palm oil plantations. Accusations of Wilmar’s bribery blighted negotiations to settle the dispute and culminated in the sale of PT Asiatic Persada, leaving the Batin Sembilan without recourse for their suffering.

Wilmar’s participation in RSPO shows that companies who feign social responsibility are still welcome in ‘green’ initiatives. Indeed, by cosying up to big businesses, which push for lenient responsibility standards, conservation groups enable companies to mask exploitative practices whilst gaining credibility for participating in sustainable projects.

This brand of greenwashing spells danger, not only for tribal peoples but also for conservation groups, who run the risk of guilt by association. So long as these organizations remain indifferent to corporate deception, their loyalty and integrity is called into question.

Hypocrisy at the highest level

Greenwashing can even implicate the institutions and funding bodies responsible for global development. Though these international organizations advocate sustainability, they frequently support projects that undermine this ethos.

As a case in point, in the early 1990s the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a newly-established World Bank program, struck an agreement with the Cameroon government to conserve a 6 million acre area of rainforest. Yet as one indigenous Baka man observed, “those who now claim they are conserving the forest are the same people pillaging our forests.”

This agreement masked a hefty World Bank loan to fund the logging of a further 3.5 million acres of forest. For the Baka hunter-gatherers and their neighbours, this proved disastrous. Unable to claim their land rights, and prohibited from entering the protected forest to gather resources, they have struggled to survive. In Republic of the Congo, the Baka and Mbenjele suffered a similar fate at the hands of another GEF project.

Such institutional double-dealing delivers a damaging twin blow to tribal peoples – first, their environment is destroyed by commercial activity, and then conservation projects deny them access to their surviving lands and resources.

The World Bank’s conflicted sponsorship doesn’t end there. Today, the Bank is set to profit from its investment in the controversial UN REDD+ scheme, which encourages carbon offsetting to maintain a global equilibrium. Simultaneously, billions of dollars are lent to companies in the extractive industries, the most highly polluting sector.

This has led some to dub the World Bank a ‘climate change profiteer‘.

What next for tribal peoples?

It’s evident that greenwashing is evolving, and with it the challenges that tribal people face. As conservation and development organizations collaborate with irresponsible corporations, the distinction between protector and perpetrator becomes blurred.

This results in indigenous rights violations going unpunished, while organizations that should be working with tribal peoples to protect the environment are discredited. If green initiatives are to live up to their word, they must respect the land ownership rights of tribal peoples and legally obtain free, prior and informed consent.

Environmental groups must also insist on greater transparency among corporate participants. Until then, greenwashing will continue to mask the destruction of the world’s last refuges for tribal peoples.

September 26, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduras: Expanding Palm Oil Empires In The Name Of ‘Green Energy’ And “Sustainable Development”

Written by Rights Action, Rainforest Rescue, Biofuelwatch, and Food First | August 6, 2013

From 6th-8th August, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is holding its 4th Latin American Conference on so-called sustainable palm oil in Honduras [1]. Environmental and social campaigners have been shocked to learn that one event sponsor is the palm oil company Dinant Corporation, owned and controlled by Miguel Facusse, the largest landowner in Honduras. They are calling on World Wildlife Fund WWF and three other organisations to withdraw from and denounce the conference being held in Honduras due to the Dinant’s sponsorship of the event and the serious human rights implications [2].

Mr. Facusse was a key supporter and beneficiary of the June 2009 military coup in Honduras [3], has been associated with narco-trafficking [4], and, along with other large oil palm growers, has been linked to the targeted killing of more than 88 members and supporters of peasant organisations since June 2009 in the Aguan Valley [5], one of the main palm oil producing regions in Honduras.

Annie Bird from Rights Action states: “By holding its conference in Honduras and by allowing Dinant Corporation to sponsor the event and hold a stall, the RSPO is turning a blind eye to systemic and severe human rights abuses, including forced evictions of entire communities and over 88 killings for which palm oil companies, especially Dinant, are responsible. The RSPO Conference serves to reinforce the impunity with which the large-scale palm producers operate.”

RSPO is overwhelmingly dominated by the interests of large corporations like Nestlé, Rabobank and Unilever—all linked to cases of “land grabbing” in Asia, Latin America and Africa.” [6]

According to Tanya Kerssen, Research Coordinator for Food First, “The case of Dinant is emblematic of how large, elite-controlled companies use palm oil to expand their control over land and other resources. The RSPO is merely window dressing for this continued corporate expansion, which—whether classed as ‘sustainable’ or not—necessarily means the replacement of forests, biodiversity and food production with a large-scale monoculture crop for biofuel and unhealthy edible oils.” [7]

Guadalupe Rodriguez from Rainforest Rescue adds: “WWF and the three other organisations involved in this RSPO conference must pull out of and denounce this process. They must not, however indirectly, associate themselves with palm oil businessmen involved in repressing, evicting and killing peasants in Honduras’s Aguan Valley.”

The European Commission considers all biofuels from RSPO-certified palm oil to be sustainable and thus eligible for government support [8]. This is despite growing evidence by a large number of organisations, which shows that the RSPO has not been enforcing its own standards on its member companies and cannot guarantee environmental or social sustainability of palm oil [9].

Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch states: “The RSPO Secretariat’s decision to hold a conference in Honduras and allow Dinant Corporation to contribute sponsorship and hold a stall further undermines any pretence that the RSPO’s aim is to make palm oil sustainable. Far from addressing any of the most serious impacts of palm oil production, the RSPO continues to serve as an instrument of greenwashing for the industry”.

NOTES

[1] The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a stakeholder forum which provides voluntary certification for palm oil. The great majority of RSPO members represent industry interests. (Conference website: http://rspo2013.com/)

[2] See http://rightsaction.org/action-content/open-letter-world-wildlife-fund-solidaridad-network-snv-netherlands-development for an Open Letter to WWF, Solidaridad, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and Forest Ethics on this issue.

[3] In June 2009, the democratically elected Honduran government of Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by a military coup.  Manuel Zelaya’s government had begun listening to and acting on the demands of peasant organisations for land reform, including in the Aguan Valley region.  The land reform process was ended by the military rulers after the coup.  Since then, Dinant Corporation and their armed security forces have been collaborating with military forces and police forces in repressing local communities who have been trying to reclaim land controlled by Dinant.  See for example: http://www.enca.org.uk/documents/ENCA56_Sep_2012.pdf .

[4] Published Wikileaks Cables revealed that the US embassy in Honduras has had evidence linking Miguel Facusse to drug trafficking since at least 2004 and that several aeroplanes with drugs have landed on his private property.  See http://www.thenation.com/article/164120/wikileaks-honduras-us-linked-brutal-businessman#

[5] For a report by Rights Action about killings and other human rights abuses in the Aguan Valley, see http://rightsaction.org/sites/default/files/Rpt_130220_Aguan_Final.pdf .

[6] See, for example: “The bloody products of the house of Unilever” Rainforest Rescue, 2011. https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/mailalert/747/the-bloody-products-from-the-house-of-unilever

[7] For more on the link between palm oil expansion and corporate control, see Kerssen, Tanya. Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras. Food First Books, 2013.

[8] See http://www.rspo.org/news_details.php?nid=137

[9] Previously, over 250 organisations condemned the RSPO for ‘greenwashing’ of palm oil: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2008/rspo-declaration-english/ . More recently, the RSPO has been denounced for example by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth; http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2008/rspo-declaration-english/

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Environmentalism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment