Brazilian indigenous peoples propose boycott

Coalition of indigenous groups calls for boycott of companies that invade and exploit protected Brazilian lands.


The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) is calling a boycott of companies that include invaders of protected areas in their supply chains. 

To support this call the group has disclosed a list of foreign companies that have engaged in trade with Brazilian agribusiness agents accused of acting in areas of indigenous land conflicts and extracting resources from protected areas.

Besides the boycott, APIB's intention is to submit the data to the European Parliament and ask it to take action.

Human rights

Eloy Terena, APIB's legal counsel, said: "Traders in Europe and North America can help by cutting ties with these bad Brazilian actors, thus sending a clear signal to Jair Bolsonaro that the rest of the world will not tolerate his policies."

"If these companies continue to support Brazilian companies, they must also be blamed for the destruction of tropical forests and the abuse of indigenous peoples."

Sonia Guajajara, indigenous leader and executive coordinator of APIB, said: "We understand that sanctioning the products that are produced and bought in areas of indigenous conflicts is the only thing that can guarantee the rights constituted here in Brazil. 

"We have to charge those foreign countries and demand respect for territorial, environmental and human rights."

Illegal deforestation

AFIB's report lists investments made between 2017 and 2019 by European and US companies and analyses the main fines for illegal deforestation committed by 56 Brazilian companies, which were collected by the governmental agency IBAMA from 2017 to 2019.

Twenty-seven foreign companies importing commodities were identified as doing business with loggers, slaughterhouses and soy farmers, as well as donations to political parties linked to agribusiness.

A study published by the scientific journal Public Library of Science points out that between 2011 and 2012, 78 percent and 54 percent of logging in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso, respectively, were illegal.

Between 2017 and 2018, businessman Arnaldo Andrade Betzel, owner of the timber companies Benevides Madeiras and Argus, was fined $570,000 for illegal deforestation in Pará. Benevides Timber exported a total of 1,754 tons of timber to companies in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The APIB report also cites Tradelink Madeiras, a subsidiary of Tradelink Group based in Brazil, which was fined in 2016 for the sale of illegal timber. In 2017, the company was fined 11 times for irregular deforestation, totaling $ 260,000.

In the same year, the group was still reported for using slave labor in its supply chain. Between 2017 and 2019, Tradelink exported 2,203 tons of Amazonian timber to importers from Denmark, Canada and the United States.

Livestock and soy

Among the cattle farmers mentioned in the report are Agropecuária Santa Barbara Xinguara (AgroSB), Agropecuária Rio da Areia LTDA and the three main beef processors in Brazil: JBS, Marfrig and Minerva.

AgroSB is owned by an international fund managed by banker Daniel Dantas, and received the largest fines for illegal deforestation in the Amazon in 2017, totaling $20 million. The company was fined again in 2018.

Between 2017 and 2018, another company named Agropecuária Rio da Areia was fined five times for the same reason, totaling US $1.2 million. The triad cited accounts for more than half of all slaughtered cattle in the Amazon.

According to Greepeace and Chain Reaction Research, the main drivers of deforestation in the Amazon are the livestock and soy industries.

Five companies bought about 3,000 tonnes of soybeans and other grains from farms previously embargoed by IBAMA in Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia in April 2018. They are: ABC Indústria e Comércio SA, JJ Samar Agronegócios Eireli, Uniggel Proteção de Plantas Ltda, Cargill and Bunge. Called "Operation Shoyo", the lawsuit applied R $ 105.7 million in fines to companies and rural producers.

Indigenous rights

According to Funai, there are more than 400 demarcated indigenous territories across the country, or 12.2 percent of the territory, with some 500,000 inhabitants. The majority of them are located in the Amazon region and some live totally isolated.

Under Brazil’s constitution, indigenous people are not allowed to practice commercial farming on their reserves and mining is only permitted with congress’s approval.

Bolsonaro has threatened to change this. He wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased.

The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories.

The Brazilian president was elected with their help, vowing to freeze demarcations of new indigenous reserves, revoke the protected status of others, and free up commercial farming and mining on others.

Epic proportions

Deforestation in Brazil has reached such epic proportions that an area equivalent to 1 million football pitches was lost in just one year, according to Greenpeace.

Deforestation in Brazil has major implications for the balance of CO2 in the global atmosphere. A major study released in 2015 found the amount of carbon being absorbed and stored by the Amazon rainforest had fallen by around a third over the previous decade.

Another recent study found large carbon losses in Brazil and elsewhere are contributing to tropical forests turning from a global sink to a global source of emissions.

Deforestation increased by almost 14 percent with an area of 7,900 sq km (3,050 square miles) of forest cleared between August 2017 and July 2018, according to the governmental institution of special investigations.

Amazon restoration

The Amazon rainforest represents more than half of Earth’s remaining rainforest and covers an area of 5.5 million sq km, about 60 per cent of which is in Brazil. 

The Amazon is under threat from illegal logging as well as farming, in particular from soybean plantations and pasture land for cattle.

LULUCF accounts for around a fifth of Brazil’s emissions. Illegal and legal deforestation, driven by cattle ranching, soy production for livestock feed and logging for timber and charcoal, continues to be a significant problem in Brazil today.

Brazil pledged in its NDC to achieve “zero illegal deforestation” in the Amazon by 2030. However, this represented a step backwards from its proposal in 2008 to achieve “zero net deforestation” by 2015.

Brazil has also promised to restore 12m hectares of deforested land by 2030 – the biggest commitment of its kind ever made by a single country. But these pledges will only become reality when agribusinesses stop invading and depleting the rainforests. 

Environmental crimes

The Bolsonaro government transferred the responsibility for demarcation of indigenous reserves to Brazil’s agriculture ministry, which is controlled by members of a powerful farming lobby that has long opposed indigenous land rights.

Bolsonaro also handed control of Brazil’s cash-strapped indigenous agency Funai to a new ministry of women, family and human rights presided over by a conservative evangelical pastor.

Bolsonaro and his environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, have both publicly attacked Brazil’s environmental protection agencies and what they call “an industry” of environmental fines.

The president - who has said the indigenous communities are being exploited and manipulated by non-governmental organisations - and his Environment Minister have also strongly criticised the environmental protection agency, Ibama, in charge of policing the Amazon to stop deforestation.

Bolsonaro has said he will reduce the power to inspect and punish environmental crimes. If he does that, Amazon deforestation could explode into an unimaginable situation. 

This Author

Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from AFIB. 

Image: Jay, Flickr

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