As investors deeply concerned about the catastrophic social and environmental damage being wrought by forest fires in the Amazon region, we are writing to urge companies with operations and supply chains connected to the Amazon rainforest to take immediate action to safeguard the human rights and ecosystems that are being devastated by deforestation.
It is not an overstatement to say that protection of the Amazon is critical for our world’s survival. It is home to nearly 500 indigenous communities. It’s a highly biodiverse ecosystem, and a key component of Earth’s climate system -- the vast Amazon region is critical for carbon sequestration.
Harm to indigenous communities
There have been 43,421 fires in the Amazon region reported in the first 7 months of this year, more than double during the same period last year. Weak environmental protections by local government is seen to be at least partially to blame for persisting fires, as deforestation rates, mainly for the purposes of agricultural production, are being permitted to increase almost three-fold versus prior years. Further, the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture reports that 90% of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal.
Weak rule of law in Brazil and rampant deforestation have been directly connected to serious human rights abuses including incidents of forced labor, land grabs and egregious attacks on Indigenous communities and human rights defenders. Brazil’s National Space Research Institute estimates 3,553 fires are now burning on 148 Indigenous territories in the region.
According to Amazon Watch’s report, Complicity in Destruction: The attacks on Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, and traditional communities such as quilombos, are both political and physical. Brazil is the world’s deadliest country to be an environmental and human rights defender, with indigenous peoples paying a particularly severe toll. The government’s apparent indifference to the plight of forest peoples sends a chilling sign that violence and murder will go unpunished, encouraging further cycles of brutality.
Impact on climate
Commercial agriculture accounted for over 70% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012. The double tragedy of the current crisis is that, at the same time the fires are destroying millions of carbon-capturing trees, they are generating large amounts of carbon dioxide, accelerating the greenhouse effect and climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report, halting deforestation and restoring landscapes and forests is one of the best, most cost-effective options available to keep temperatures under 1.5°. As a result, many of the world’s largest companies have made eliminating deforestation from their supply chains an important component of their Paris-compliant climate strategies.
Loss of biodiversity and risk of food shortages
Deforestation is also a leading culprit in biodiversity loss. The loss of native vegetation impacts the human right to water and food. Disruptions to rainfall and water cycles could have severe consequences for agricultural production – notably soy and beef – and worldwide food supplies. In the Cerrado, shifting rainfall patterns caused by land clearing and deforestation have resulted in regional declines of soy yields of up to 40%.
Impact on human right to health
As it is estimated that 25% of the pharmaceutical drugs sold in the U.S. are derived from 40 Amazon plants, deforestation is this region represents a global public health risk.
Considering the impacts on human rights and the environment, we are calling on:
All investors to:
- Engage their portfolio companies to address the human rights and environmental impacts associated with deforestation;
- Support shareholder resolutions that call for greater transparency around, and respect for, human rights, forest protection, and/or compliance with the Paris Climate Accord.
All companies with operations and supply chains connected to the Amazon rainforest and other ecosystems that are being devastated by deforestation to:
- Make a public statement in support of sustainable forestry including respect for human rights, the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, land tenure standards, and rigorous enforcement of forestry protection of the Amazon, and demand evidence from commodity suppliers that their operations and supply chains are not sourcing from illegally deforested areas of the Amazon;
- Set commodity specific, time-bound goals for eliminating deforestation and protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through Free Prior and Informed Consent, linked to their operations and supply chains;
- Establish and implement a zero-tolerance policy for attacks on environmental and human rights defenders and civil society advocates;
- Strengthen company due diligence, compliance, monitoring and reporting mechanisms, including human rights impact risk assessments, to uphold human rights, prevent land grabs and help resolve long-standing land conflicts, and;
- Provide evidence of proactive implementation efforts, such as time-bound plans, third-party verification processes, clear non-compliance protocols that include immediate supplier suspension policies for violations and regular public reporting on company human rights and zero deforestation policies.
- Join industry-wide mechanisms to monitor and stop destruction of native ecosystems across South America.
All financial institutions with lending, underwriting or investments in companies operating in the Brazilian Amazon to:
- Commit to a zero deforestation policy including public traceability of supply chains to the point of origin;
- Require all agribusiness companies with whom you do business to adopt and implement a zero tolerance policy for violence against environmental and human rights defenders;
- Require agribusiness clients to map all suppliers and to report any investigations, indictments or fines issued for deforestation and/or land grabbing;
- Adopt a due diligence policy, including a transparent stakeholder engagement mechanism, to monitor agribusiness companies operating in sensitive forest ecosystems for any evidence of deforestation, and take immediate action to suspend business in cases of non-compliance;
- Cease the financing or underwriting of clients complicit in deforestation.
The dangers presented by the fires in the Amazon threaten the lives of indigenous communities and imperil the world’s largest rainforest. We urge both companies and investors to use all means necessary to halt the reckless deforestation that has intensified this crisis, and will be engaging with relevant companies we own to urge immediate, forest positive action.