Bills being processed in the Brazilian Congress, with irreversible consequences to the Amazon forest and indigenous peoples, could bring serious risks to the operations of financial institutions. An alert from the Coalition and other partners adds to the agenda of denunciations by indigenous peoples.
Brasília, August 19, 2021 – In a letter sent today to 80 international and Brazilian financial institutions, Forest & Finance Coalition, together with the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB), the Climate Observatory, and 45 allied organizations, warn about the risks of investments in Brazil in light of a suite of legislative changes being currently pushed in the Brazilian Congress. If approved, these bills will result in irreversible consequences for the protection of critical ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and the guarantee of the rights of Indigenous peoples, posing serious risks for many financial institutions operating in Brazil.
The coalition’s alert aims to pressure these financial institutions to publicly and forcefully position themselves against this regressive agenda, spur change within the industry and warn companies that operate in Brazil and rely on their financing.
“The Forests and Finance Coalition has been pressuring financial institutions for some time to take action in relation to their investments that threaten forests and the rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil. These measures include clear criteria for excluding companies that commit these violations from its portfolio and the adoption of policies against deforestation and for the protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples,” says Merel van der Mark, coordinator of the Coalition. “But faced with a threat of this magnitude to the legal protection of the environment, we need concrete action now, a very clear position that these institutions will not be accomplices in further destruction, deforestation and degradation of Brazilian ecosystems and the violation of rights of indigenous peoples,” she highlighted.
Among the legislative threats described in the letter are Bill 2633/2020, also known as the Land Grabbing Bill (PL da Grilagem); Bill 3729/2004, which loosens the rules for environmental licensing in Brazil – both approved by a great majority in the Chamber of Deputies, awaiting consideration in the Senate; Bill 191/2020 which frees up mining and other extractive activities within Indigenous lands and removes the veto power of these communities; Legislative Decree 177/2021, which allows Brazil’s withdrawal from Convention 169 of the ILO; and Bill 490/2007, which may revert constitutional protections to Indigenous Territories, making new demarcations unfeasible and threatening the ones already in place.
The letter reinforces the agenda of mobilizations by Indigenous peoples and organizations between the months of August and September in Brazil. On Monday, August 16t, the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) published an international dossier of complaints to draw attention to the offensive against Indigenous peoples and the environment led by the Bolsonaro government and its allies. APIB signed the letter led by the coalition, in addition to 45 other organizations.
“With this letter, we join hundreds of Indigenous leaders and environmental advocates that are now marching to Brasília to defend their territories and forests. If approved, these measures will have catastrophic results not only for Indigenous people but to the entire social and environmental protection apparatus in Brazil – which is already dismantled by the current administration – and because of the rainforest’s role in our climate, for the world,” said Rosana Miranda, campaign adviser at Amazon Watch, member of the coalition. “These changes threaten the financial sector itself, as it represents an increase in the social, legal, environmental, and climate risks involved in operating in Brazil. They need to act,” she concluded.
Read the full letter below:
Ref.: Letter from the Forest & Finance Coalition and allies to International Financial Institutions on the Risks of Legal Setbacks in Environmental Protections in Brazil
August 19th, 2021
Under Bolsonaro’s administration, Brazil is experiencing unprecedented assaults on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and rollbacks on environmental protections. Throughout his term, we have witnessed a consistent dismantling of environmental governance and the stepping up of his government’s anti-environmental policy, rolling back enforcement, harassing civil servants, cutting environmental agencies’ budgets, halting the collection of environmental fines, despite rising levels of deforestation.
This has resulted in alarming rates of deforestation with figures in 2020 the highest for 12 years, and growing unchecked in 2021. In June this year, Brazil’s National Space Research Agency recorded the most fires in the Amazon region and in the Cerrado for 14 years, raising concerns about devastating fires to come amidst intense drought and emboldened loggers using ‘slash and burn’ clearing. Scientists have warned that, due to deforestation, degradation and fires, the Amazon rainforest is at a dangerous tipping point as it has started to emit more CO2 than it can absorb for the first time, which will invariably accelerate climate change and lead to increasing extreme events. This adds to an escalation of violence against Indigenous communities in the Amazon resisting mining and extractive activities on their lands, and against environmental defenders, already targeted by intimidation attempts by the Federal government.
As your financial institution is a major investor in/financier of companies operating in Brazil, you must take action to ensure you are not complicit in the deforestation and degradation of the Amazon ecosystem – critical to global carbon sequestration – and the violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
We, members of the Forest & Finance coalition and allied organizations, would like to call your special attention to a set of legislative changes being currently pushed in the Brazilian Congress, with support of Bolsonaro’s government and its allies, which will have irreversible consequences to environmental protection and Indigenous peoples’ rights, and which represent serious risks to your operations in Brazil. This agenda, moved forward without proper public consultation, is strongly opposed by Brazilian civil society and the national Indigenous movement. Indigenous leaders in Brasilia, peacefully protesting against these legislative proposals were met with tear gas and rubber bullets by the police forces.
- Bill 490/2007, which would roll back constitutional protections on Indigenous lands. It is considered by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) as a “genocide attempt”;
- Bill 191/2020, which aims to allow industrial and artisanal mining, hydroelectric generation, oil and gas exploration, and large-scale agriculture on Indigenous territories, virtually removing their veto power from decisions that impact their lands;
- Bill 3729/2004 (now in the Senate as bill No. 2159/2021) that weakens the requirements for the licensing of infrastructure and extractive projects, exempts 13 types of impactful activities from licensing, and allows for “self licensing” for an array of projects;
- Legislative Decree 177/2021 that would allow Brazil’s withdrawal from Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) (the main instrument in international law for the protection of Indigenous rights);
- Bills 2633/2020 and 510 which pardon the occupation of public land in Brazil and would lead to a massive land grab of public lands, putting at risk some 620 thousand km2 of forest that does not have any legal protection. According to studies, grabbing of public lands in Brazil represents a third of all deforestation.
For a detailed description and assessment of these legislative threats, in addition to other violations committed against the environment and indigenous peoples by the Brazilian State or by representatives of private interests, please refer to the International Complaints Dossier, produced by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, launched on August 16th.
In addition to the various and serious problems contained in these bills, their approval, even if analyzed from the strict perspective of the more immediate interests of financial institutions, should be seen by the financial sector as a threat, reversing into an increase in social, legal, environmental and climate risks for the sector’s institutions. For example, bill No. 2159/2021, which weakens environmental licensing, establishes that financial institutions have no supervisory duty in relation to the projects they fund, contrary to all the most recent discussions and guidelines on the subject. This will greatly expand not only social, environmental and climate risk factors, but will impose on financial institutions a more arduous and costly task of monitoring and managing exposures to such risks.
The weakening of social and environmental rules in Brazil also hampers compliance with current and proposed legal requirements related to due diligence in export markets such as the EU and the UK, with impacts in Brazil’s ability to export deforestation-linked products to Europe. It violates the terms of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, jeopardizing its negotiation. In the face of such risks, in May, a group of 40 international grocery, food supply, and investment companies wrote an open letter to the Brazilian Congress with threats to boycott all Brazilian agricultural products if “measures that undermine these existing protections [of the Amazon] become law’.
But this is not yet enough to create change. Given this escalating crisis, we believe that banks and investors like your institution have a responsibility to use their position and influence to take concrete action against these setbacks. Thus we strongly recommend your financial institution to take a hard line, in public and private, against this regressive legislative agenda put forward by the Bolsonaro administration and its allies in the Brazilian Congress. That includes taking a public stance against all bills that weaken protections for forests and Indigenous peoples, calling the attention of the political and economic actors behind them to your commitment to eliminating deforestation and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities; and to encourage your peers and companies that rely on your funding to do the same.
This call adds to other standing recommendations by our coalition and its allies to commit financial institutions to move away from investments that threaten forests and the rights of Indigenous peoples, and thus not contribute further to deforestation and human rights violations in Brazil (see below).
We look forward to a rapid response from you on these matters.
Forest & Finance Coalition
Rainforest Action Network, TuK Indonesia, Profundo, Amazon Watch, Repórter Brasil, BankTrack, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Friends of the Earth US
With the endorsement of:
Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil – APIB
Ambiente, Desarrollo y Capacitación – ADC
Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira
Associação Taoca (Switzerland)
Articulação das Pastorais da Ecologia Integral do Brasil
Biodiversity Conservation Center (Russia)
Blue Dalian (China)
Centro de Inteligência Urbana – CIUPOA
Centro de Trabalho Indigenista – CTI
Coletivo Por Um Brasil Democrático – Los Angeles (USA)
Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT
Comissão Pró Índio Acre – CPI Acre
Comitê Internacional pela Democracia no Brasil (Switzerland)
Comitê pelos direitos humanos na América Latina, CDHAL, (Canada)
Conectas Direitos Humanos
Conselho Nacional das populações Extrativista – CNS
Ecological Center Front
FAOR – Fórum da Amazônia Oriental
Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro – FOIRN
Fundação Brasileira para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável – FBDS
Green Longjiang (China)
Grupo Ambientalista da Bahia – GAMBA
Instituto de Defesa do Consumidor – IDEC
Instituto de Pesquisas e Formação Indígena – IEPÉ
Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza – ISPN
Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas – IPÊ
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
KoBra – Kooperation Brasilien e.V. — Kooperation Brasilien e.V. (kooperation-brasilien.org)
Mater Natura – Instituto de Estudos Ambientais
Movimento Marajó Vivo
Movimento Tapajós Vivo – MTV
Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre
Observatório do Clima
Operação Amazônia Nativa
Rede de Cooperação Amazônica – RCA
Scholar Tree Alliance (China)
Snow Alliance (China)
Socio-ecological Union International (Russia)
Sociedade de Pesquisa da Vida Selvagem e Educação Ambiental – SPVS
SOS Mata Atlântica
Swiss Indigenous Network (Switzerland)
Uma gota no oceano
Zero – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável (Portugal)
- Ramp up company engagement with clear and transparent criteria for exclusion. Follow the lead of Storebrand and push companies active in the Amazon rainforest (find a list of key companies in this report) to stop engaging in activities that drive Amazon deforestation and Indigenous rights abuses.
- We urge you to go above and beyond Storebrand’s actions by refusing to purchase bonds issued on the primary market from these firms until they prove that they are no longer engaging in Indigenous rights abuses nor deforestation.
- Publicly share the engagement strategy you will take with the leading commodity companies tied to deforestation and Indigenous rights abuses in the Amazon, including the questions that your team asks of senior leadership and boards at target companies.
- Adopt and implement policies and due diligence procedures against deforestation and that protect the rights of Indigenous peoples, traditional peoples and local communities— ad hoc engagement isn’t sufficient.
- Financial firms with investments in companies driving deforestation and abuses of Indigenous and traditional peoples’ rights in the Amazon must have policies to address their financial links with these abuses. Such a policy should include concrete expectations of companies, time-bound requirements, and consequences for inaction (see here for guidelines on such a policy).
- Adopt policies that channel finance to projects that create revenue from the standing forest