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Indigenous communities in Brazil denounce products of deforestation

Indigenous people in Brazil have launched a new campaign targeting companies that they say are complicit in deforestation in Latin America.

O artigo está disponível em português aqui.

Brazil’s National Indigenous Mobilization (MNI) and Indigenous People Articulation (APIB) are calling for international solidarity in condemning those companies involved and are being backed by Extinction Rebellion (XR) in the UK.

MNI, a coalition of Indigenous leaders from more than 100 distinct peoples in Brazil, and APIB, an umbrella organisation for Indigenous communities in the country, say they are  responding to widespread environmental destruction and ongoing human rights abuses.

Their denunciation focuses on multinational soya and beef companies, as well as on the financial institutions that are funding them, identified in the recent Amazon Watch report we discussed in our feature on ‘Companies complicit in the Amazon rainforest fires’.

Amazon Watch stated: “Global solidarity with Brazil's movement for social and environmental justice is more critical now than ever. While we acknowledge the North's oversize role in environmental mismanagement, human rights abuses, and climate change, we believe that through informed choices, the European and North American private sector and engaged citizens in the region can considerably influence the destructive agenda of the Bolsonaro government.”

Companies complicit in the Amazon rainforest fires

Although big companies are unlikely to have started fires in the Amazon, which burned last summer and autumn (and which are thought to have been started by smaller producers), many of them source beef or soya from Brazil. Campaigners believe that some multinational corporations are therefore either indirectly implicated or have the power to do something about the situation.

Throughout Brazil, forest is being cleared for agriculture, primarily cattle and soya production. Most of the soya goes into animal feed, primarily exported to China. But significant quantities of beef and leather are also exported to the global North, including to the UK or for companies that operate there.

Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Coop, Asda, McDonald’s and Burger King have all been criticised for their links to Brazilian beef products. Major leather-using retailers have also been called on to use their power to address deforestation in Brazil.

Deforestation and wildfires

Deforestation in Brazil has been steadily rising since 2012, and has surged since Bolsonaro became president in January 2019. From January to August 2019, deforestation was at its highest rate in a decade, increasing by 75% compared to the same period in 2018.

It is destroying a vital carbon sink – and simultaneously increasing the risk of further destruction through wildfires. By reducing the amount of water transferred into the atmosphere through the trees, deforestation increases local temperatures. In disturbed forests, temperatures can be as much as 1.5°C higher during dry seasons than in those that remain intact.

Evidence suggests that just 3-4°C of warming will be a tipping point for the Amazon, beyond which large parts of the forest may become a savanna-like state. Considering that globally we have already reached over 1°C of warming, the extra 1.5°C poses a serious threat and shows how close we are to triggering terrifying feedback loops in these areas.

Threats to Indigenous land rights

Deforestation and fires pose a serious and immediate threat for Indigenous communities in the Amazon.

Recent research shows that deforestations and the construction of new highways could increase the wildfire risk in the Amazon by over 70% by 2100 – even inside protected areas and Indigenous reserves that have relatively intact forests. Already, the number of fires detected on Indigenous territories spiked by 133.5% in August 2019, compared to the previous year.

These fires threaten to destroy Indigenous land and forest that communities have relied on and lived in sustainably for centuries.

MNI has called for international solidarity. It highlights the need for global markets to moderate the behaviour of the agro-industrial sector, “as a means to halt Bolsonaro's assault, ultimately protecting and restoring environmental safeguards and human rights.”

Extinction Rebellion’s solidarity protests

In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has spoken out against complicit companies and has targetted McDonald's, Burger King, Aldi, Arla, ASDA, Danone, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks and Spencer.

Protestors also dumped ashes outside the headquarters of BlackRock. Amazon Watch’s report identified companies holding significant equity investments in Brazilian beef. XR protests targetted BlackRock in particular as the world’s largest asset manager and its biggest investor in coal.

XR stated:

“We, united citizens of Planet Earth, condemn the actions of the Brazilian State, the Brazilian Agribusiness lobby (Bancada Ruralista), and other criminally inactive governments and neo-colonial extractivist corporations throughout the Amazon Basin for their complicity in ecocide and destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, for the murders of environmental defenders, and for the cultural assimilation and genocide of Amazonia’s Indigenous peoples...

We call upon every human with a conscience to denounce the products created from this destruction, to economically disrupt governments and companies responsible for inflicting it, and to demand an end to their ecocidal and genocidal activities.”

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