By Infoamazonía* EL ESPECTADOR, October 29, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
A report prepared by Amazon Watch identifies BlackRock, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard, Bank of America, and Dimensional Fund Advisors as financing businesses being investigated for land theft, violence, deforestation, and other violations of the rights of indigenous communities.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the increase in deforestation and the rise in the price of gold that increased mining in the Brazilian State of Amazonas, a new report by Amazon Watch connects six large finance firms in the United States with the destruction of the jungle, thanks to investments of millions of dollars in companies that have been questioned publicly for their abuses of resources and of the indigenous communities.
The report, which had the participation of the Brazil Association of Indigenous Peoples, identified the United States firms BlackRock, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard, Bank of America, and Dimensional Fund Advisors that, according to the investigation, had invested more than 18 billion dollars in new companies involved in the process of deforestation and environmental degradation between 2017 and 2020.
The investigation describes the complicity of these firms in procedures of land invasion, violence, deforestation, and other rights violations such as obstruction of land titling procedures and of prior consultation. “The big businesses in the financial sector ( . . . ) are using their clients’ money to permit heinous actions by companies connected to violations of the rights of the indigenous people and to the devastation of the Amazonian jungle,” stated the Program Director of Amazon Watch, Christian Poirer.
The document investigated the investments of these United States firms in Brazilian and multinational companies identified as having committed abuses in the Amazon, including the Vale and Anglo American mining companies, the industrial agriculture companies Cargill and JBS, and the Electronorte energy company. JBS, the largest meatpacking company in the world, was investigated for having obtained cattle from ranches that had invaded the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and Kayabi indigenous reservations in the Brazilian Amazon. For its part, the giant mining company, Vale, is facing accusations of having contaminated water supplies, and of activities on indigenous land, according to the investigation. And the energy company Energisa Mato Grosso electrifies the settlements of illegal occupiers in land belonging to the native peoples.
The indigenous people, who accompanied the investigation process, explained that these activities are an attack on the rights of the communities that live in Amazonia and protect it. “The flow of foreign investments to companies that operate in Brazil has expanded until it has become an intricate international network. As those projects move forward, the indigenous people are often treated like ‘obstacles to development’ and their lands are invaded, occupied, sacked, and destroyed. Those conflicts arise from the pressure to open new exploitation operations in indigenous territories. That leads to total attacks by those who are hogging the land and by other local actors, accompanied by the systematic failure to respect the legislation that protects the land and indigenous rights,” added Eloy Terena, the attorney for the APIB.
In defending against the investigation, a spokesman for BlackRock stated that deforestation also was affecting their investments. “Deforestation and the rights of the indigenous people are critical questions; they also bring risk to the return on the investments. We have relationships with companies in this and other ESG (environmental, social, and government) risks, and when they are not managed well, or when progress is insufficient, we (as stockholders) take measures against the management,” he told Agence France Presse.
What is certain is that, according to the investigation, BlackRock has had 16 opportunities since 2010 to vote in favor of stockholder resolutions, a mechanism for investors to halt the deforestation, but they have not done it. “They exercised their power to do that only one time when they joined recently with other stockholders to demand that Procter & Gamble increase its transparency efforts in confronting deforestation and degradation of forests in their supply chains. Even though that vote was an important step, it was an atypical case and was not based on a new measurable policy,” added Amazon Watch.
For Amazon Watch, “the financial sector’s complicity with destruction contradicts the commitments to the climate and to human rights that some of those businesses proclaim. It exposes their investors to high risks and contributes dramatically to the recent global crisis in biodiversity and climate.”
*Infoamazonía is a journalism alliance between Amazon Conservation Team and EL ESPECTADOR.