Activists are Dying for Your Food: Environmental Defenders Murdered in Record Numbers Last Year

I am grateful to Sandra Cuffe and to the progressive organisation Toward Freedom for permission to reproduce this article here. Although the article refers to environmental defenders in many parts of the world, it is also relevant to Central America where the abuses and threats suffered by environmental defenders are as bad as or worse than those suffered elsewhere in the world.

By Sandra Cuffe, July 25, 2018 

https://towardfreedom.org/archives/environment/activists-are-dying-for-your-food-environmental-defenders-murdered-in-record-numbers-last-year/

It could be your morning coffee, your bananas, your sugar, or the palm oil found in approximately half of all packaged products at your grocery store, including breakfast cereals. Land and environmental defenders were killed in record numbers last year, and for the first time, agribusiness is tied to more killings than any other sector, according to a report published Tuesday by Global Witness, a London-based NGO (https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/at-what-cost/).

The organisation documented 207 killings of land and environmental defenders in 22 countries around the world in 2017, a slight increase from 2016. However, the number of people killed while protesting large-scale agriculture in 2017 more than doubled.

“For the first time, agribusiness surpassed mining as the most dangerous sector to oppose, as 46 defenders who protested against palm oil, coffee, tropical fruit and sugar cane plantations, as well as cattle ranching, were murdered in 2017,” noted the authors of ‘At What Cost?’, the Global Witness report.

Last year also saw a rise in massacres, many of which were linked to agribusiness conflicts. Global Witness documented seven cases in which more than four land and environmental defenders were killed. In Brazil, three massacres had a combined death toll of 25, more than 40 percent of the total 57 defenders killed last year – the most killings Global Witness has ever recorded in any country.

In the Philippines, killings of activists and community leaders skyrocketed. “President Duterte’s aggressively anti-human-rights stance and a renewed military presence in resource-rich regions are fuelling the violence. Almost half of the [48] killings in the Philippines were linked to struggles against agribusiness,” according to the report.

On the southern island of Mindanao, an indigenous village leader engaged in a heated struggle against the expansion of a coffee plantation, and four of his relatives, and two other residents were all killed by soldiers on December 3. The government claimed the deaths were the outcome of fighting between the army and leftist guerrilla forces, but there was little evidence to support the claim. Between the government’s announcement that it would earmark more lands for industrial plantations and the increased militarization of Mindanao, killings of locals opposing land grabs are unlikely to cease.

Global Witness identified several root causes underlying threats to defenders, regardless of whether cases are tied to agribusiness, mining, logging, or other activities. Corruption and impunity are on the list, but so is the failure to recognise customary or collective land rights and secure land tenure. Failure to seek the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities also underpins the violence, according to the organisation.

“Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life. Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets,” said Ben Leather, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.

A United Nations intergovernmental working group continued to work on its draft of a binding international instrument concerning transnational corporations, but at the moment, most international guidelines concerning business and human rights are just that: guidelines. They’re voluntary. Products are sometimes labelled ‘sustainable’ by industry-led groups regardless of the facts on the ground.

Sugar and palm oil linked to violence and killings can be ingredients in all kinds of everyday products. Amnesty International traced palm oil from Indonesian plantations with reported human rights abuses to nine multinational food and household corporations with dozens of brands.

“We invite consumers to join us in campaigning alongside defenders, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard,” said Leather.

Whether they are linked to conflicts over agribusiness or extractive industries, killings are at the extreme end of the spectrum of violence and harassment against land and environmental defenders.

A banner highlighting the legitimacy of resistance hangs along the road in Casillas, Guatemala, where a regional resistance movement has shut down traffic to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine for more than a year. (Photo: Sandra Cuffe)



Criminalization, death threats, sexual assault, and intimidation are everyday occurrences in many parts of the world.

Franklin Almendares is all too familiar with targeted intimidation. The head of the National Centre for Rural Workers (CNTC), he had been meeting with representatives from other Honduran land rights organisations this past February to discuss land struggles and the ongoing political crisis in the country, and there was much to talk about.

It was after midnight by the time he left the meeting. There was almost no traffic in Tegucigalpa at that time of night, but Almendares did not make it more than three blocks from the meeting when a vehicle suddenly crashed into his. Due to past attacks against him, Almendares opted to keep driving, but the other vehicle maneuvered around to the front of his, blocking his path. Two of the four men got out, pulled Almendares from his vehicle, frisked him for a weapon, and searched his bag.

“The only thing they robbed was my agenda,” Almendares told Toward Freedom. It was not the first time this had happened to him. “I’ve had my agenda stolen four times,” he said.

A police patrol truck had suddenly appeared a few minutes after the incident and officers tried to convince Almendares to get in and accompany them to search for the perpetrators. He declined, and the police officers did not bother to take notes, ask for details, or even inspect vehicle damage before leaving.

Almendares decided to go to the police station downtown to file a formal report, but he was intercepted along the way by a different police patrol truck, this time with both police and military personnel aboard. They knew who he was and what had happened. Fearing for his safety, Almendares declined their offer to accompany him and quickly took off for home, making sure he wasn’t followed. Regional CNTC leaders also face frequent intimidation, threats, and attacks.

“At CNTC we’re in a permanent state of crisis,” said Almendares. “Lands are being handed over for monoculture crops, dams and mining.”

Thousands of campesinos have been criminalized, and both public security forces and paramilitary groups have been attacking communities defending their lands, he said. Between the increasing concentration of power since the 2009 coup d’état and the fiercely contested re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández last November, Almendares expects things to get even worse, and he is not alone.

The new Global Witness report addressed Honduras in its review of trends in 2017. The group documented four killings of land and environmental defenders in the country, a sharp drop from the 14 in 2016. However, Honduras still had the second most killings per capita in 2017, after seven consecutive years with the notorious distinction of holding the lead. Despite a drop in killings, repression of human rights defenders in general increased, as did attacks, the report authors noted.

In neighbouring Guatemala, killings have shot up drastically this year. To date in 2018, at least a dozen land and environmental defenders have been killed, and most of them were indigenous. According to the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), the first eleven killings this year included five Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) members, three members of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), a Maya Chorti community leader, a Quetzaltenango social pastoral land group affiliate, and a member of the Coordination of Communities Affected by Sugar Cane Agribusiness.

“In 2018, it’s possible to predict a greater risk, not just due to the political and social context but also because the cost of attacking a defender has greatly dropped due to the inaction, tolerance, complicity and behaviour of the state, opening the door for state and non-state actors to consider that impunity will be guaranteed if they act against [defenders],” UDEFEGUA noted in a report published earlier this year.

This month, on July 12, another Guatemalan defender was killed. Ángel Estuardo Quevedo, a community leader from Casillas, Santa Rosa, was shot several times in broad daylight. He was an active participant in the powerful regional resistance movement to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, and was involved in coordinating the rotation of residents participating in protest actions.

Locals from several municipalities in the area have been working together for more than a year to maintain an ongoing roadside protest in Casillas to block mine traffic and stop mine production. The movement also maintains a round-the-clock presence outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City pending a ruling concerning the mine.

For years, community leaders, activists and residents organised in opposition to the Escobal mine have been killed, attacked, jailed, and threatened. Miguel Ángel Payeras is one of the countless Casillas residents who experienced repression last year, when police attempted to violently evict the roadside protest camp in order to escort fuel to the mining project.

“They came with the intention of fighting with us,” Payeras told Toward Freedom in an interview last year. “They shot tear gas at people running away.”

A diabetic with vision and leg issues, Payeras uses a wheelchair and was unable to flee. Police dragged him away in his chair, and the foot in which he has no feeling was dragged along underneath the footrest, hitting his ankle over and over. Despite the repression, people regrouped and others poured in from nearby communities and other municipalities to maintain the protest camp and the selective roadblock to prevent mining operations. The resistance has continued every single day since.

If the first half of this year is any indication, the next annual Global Witness report could very well reveal that Guatemala took over as the country with the most per capita killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Despite the life-and-death stakes, defenders are not backing down.

“We’ll be here until the mine is shut down,” said Payeras. “If they kill me, I’ll die in the struggle.”


Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist based in Honduras. You can find her on twitter at @Sandra_Cuffe or read more of her work on her website at sandracuffe.com

Toward Freedom (https://towardfreedom.org/) is an organisation that has been offering a progressive perspective on world affairs since 1952.

The Bitter Price of Tropical Fruits – new video

Banana Link gave notification of a new video about pineapple production in Costa Rica. I recommend that readers of this website give the video a viewing.  From Banana Link email newsletter, 14th May 2018.

Key words: pineapple production; plantation labour conditions; chemical pesticide use; supermarket power.

 The Bitter Price of Tropical Fruits

Pineapple production is wreaking havoc on human health, livelihoods and the environment in Costa Rica. This documentary (in English) from Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, takes a look at how low prices in European supermarkets encourage cheap labour and extensive use of toxic pesticides.

 

Exploring alternatives to hazardous pesticides in Costa Rica

Dr Stephanie Williamson

Dr Stephanie Williamson reports on project work by the Regional Institute for Research on Toxic Substances (IRET) at the National University (UNA).

I am grateful to Stephanie for permission to include this article in The Violence of Development website. Clearly, this represents an attempt to stem the environmental violence of development.

Despite its ‘green paradise’ image, Costa Rica has one of the highest intensities of pesticide use in the world. Pesticide use is particularly high on export crops of banana, pineapple, melon and coffee. Much of this production is on large farms but medium and small-scale farmers are also involved. Pesticide use is often high on vegetables grown for local consumption too.

To raise national awareness of the level of use of hazardous pesticides in Costa Rica, agronomist Fernando Ramírez and his team at IRET surveyed pineapple and coffee farmers to find out which pesticides they are using. The team also analysed government data on pesticide imports.  Their findings revealed that in 2015 over 10,000 tons of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) were imported. Coffee farmers reported using 18 different HHPs, while pineapple farmers reported 8 HHPs in common use.

The team has shared these findings with government decision makers, farmer associations, university students and agricultural extension staff, along with training on understanding how pesticides can harm people and the environment. An important message for farmers was that not only the ‘red’ labelled pesticides under Costa Rica’s hazard colour coding qualify as HHPs, due to their acute toxicity to humans, but others are problematic too. These include known and probable carcinogens, pesticides causing foetal abnormalities or harming the reproductive system, plus numerous pesticides highly toxic to bees, aquatic life and those that persist for months or more in soil or water.

Part of the reason for continued reliance on harmful pesticides is that farmers and policymakers often feel there is no option but to use pesticides or they fear that alternatives will be less effective. IRET therefore carried out pilot field trials to explore safer alternatives. In pineapple, they looked at alternative methods to the HHP ethoprophos for controlling nematodes, microscopic worms which attack the roots of young pineapple plants. Ethoprophos is a priority for phase-out as it is acutely toxic to humans, putting farm workers at risk, and it is also extremely harmful to soil life. The team trialled two different biological pesticides, based on fungi which feed on nematodes, plus ‘wood vinegar’, distilled from burning woody material, and compared these with the standard ethoprophos treatment. Results indicate all three alternatives can be as effective as ethoprophos. Even better is that the alternatives are much cheaper than ethoprophos and can be applied without special equipment or extensive training. An interesting result was that pineapple plants were significantly lower in weight in plots treated with ethoprophos, suggesting harmful side-effects on soil organisms needed for growing a healthy crop.

Sampling pineapple plants in the trials on alternatives. (Photo credit: IRET)

The project held a regional workshop on experiences in growing coffee without the use of HHPs, with speakers from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Presenters highlighted the importance of improving soil health (physical structure, chemical composition and microflora/fauna) to nurture coffee bushes more able to resist pest attack and diseases. Farmers from Cooperative Nahuala in Guatemala are reviving soil life by making solid fertilisers on-farm (worm compost, composted chicken manure). The co-op has a small ‘biofactory’ to make their own organic biofungicides, bioinsecticides and biofertilizers. They report good results in coffee rust control but explain that organic products take more time to work than synthetic fungicides so farmers need to understand that using organic methods is not a quick fix.

The Ecological Coffee Cooperative La Labor (COCAFELOL) in Honduras is helping its members recover from major outbreaks of coffee rust disease but without relying on fungicides. It trains farmers on how to improve biological activity of the soil and to enhance nutrition of coffee bushes, making groves more resilient to pest and disease attack, especially under changing climatic conditions. COCAFELOL have gained good experiences using home-made mineral preparations and biofermented products, plus recycling pulp from coffee processing as fertiliser.

otor-strimming at Monsol farm. (Photo credit: Juan R. Montero Gamboa)

In Costa Rica, medium-sized farm Monsol described their success in eliminating herbicide use, controlling weeds instead with strimmers and manual slashing. Along with pruning of shade trees, this generates around 50 tons of green material cuttings per hectare each year, which the farm owners view as a valuable resource. They use some of this material to mulch the soil around coffee bushes and apply home-made biofermented microbial products to the remainder to speed up its breakdown into compost. Non-competitive plants are allowed to grow between coffee rows to protect the soil from erosion. By recycling horse manure, waste from livestock feeding stalls and making their own worm compost, Monsol farm has hugely reduced its use of synthetic fertiliser, while rebuilding soil fertility in an area where many conventional farms suffer from degraded soils.

These positive experiences show that reducing reliance on agrochemical inputs is feasible, technically and economically, for large and small farms.


For more information about the project Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides in Costa Rica, visit the web pages hosted by PAN UK at http://www.pan-uk.org/phasing-out-hhps-costa-rica/

For more information about the work of IRET, go to: http://www.iret.una.ac.cr/

Caso Agrotoxicos y Monocultivo, Su Impacto en la Salud de la Poblacion Salvdorena

7 de septiembre del 2017 | Reproducido aquí con la autorización de UNES

Durante varios siglos, en El Salvador se ha desarrollado el monocultivo de la caña de azúcar. (Se presume que ésta fue introducida en algún momento de la colonización al territorio, pero es en los años 60 cuando aumenta su producción en un 43% y, es entre 2001 y 2011 que aumenta en un 30% más.1 De acuerdo con datos de la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES), el cultivo nacional de caña de azúcar actualmente ronda las 108,427 manzanas molidas (zafra 2014-2015) y en la zona Marino Costera el cultivo asciende a 52,000 Manzanas.2

Además, El Salvador es uno de los países que ha ido aumentando la utilización de plaguicidas, destacando por la intensidad en el uso de fertilizantes; lo que lo ubica, de acuerdo a la CEPAL, muy por encima del promedio latinoamericano y entre las cuatro naciones de la región que mostraron mayor recurrencia en su consumo. Sin embargo, ello no se traduce en un aporte significativo en el aumento de la productividad de cultivos como los granos básicos. De acuerdo a Voices on the border, el uso intensivo, de agrotóxicos se da en el cultivo de la caña de azúcar.

Este problema ha sido retomado por el Relator Especial del Derecho Humano al Agua y Saneamiento de la ONU, quien ha señaló su preocupación por la calidad de las aguas en El Salvador. Ello, principalmente, derivado del uso no controlado de agroquímicos en actividades agrícolas. En su informe final de misión realizada del 11 al 18 de mayo de 2016, con mucha precisión al respecto acotó:

“Hay un conjunto importante de preocupaciones en cuanto a potenciales peligros que pueden afectar la calidad del agua para consumo humano. Informaciones fueron transmitidas por diversas personas durante la visita sobre la utilización no controlada de agroquímicos en las actividades agrícolas, incluso algunos prohibidos en otros países, que usualmente son pobremente removidos en las plantas de tratamiento del agua”.3

Ese mismo año (2016) el Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, emitió un informe sobre el uso de agrotóxicos y el impacto en los derechos humanos.4 Este informe da seguimiento a expedientes abiertos desde el año 2000 por los impactos en la salud en el Bajo Lempa, sobre la base de denuncias de graves afectaciones a la salud; principalmente casos de enfermedad renal crónica asociada con el contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas utilizados en el cultivo de algodón décadas atrás.5

El uso extensivo y abusivo de agrotóxicos está impactando en la salud de la población Salvadoreña, según la red de hospitales, la cual reportó en su Informe de Labores 2011-2012 del MINSAL que la insuficiencia renal crónica terminal constituyó la tercera causa de muerte en personas adultas de ambos sexos, siendo la primera causa en hombres y la quinta en mujeres, con 12.6 % de letalidad hospitalaria.

Que a la fecha no se vislumbran acciones encaminadas a prohibir el uso de agrotóxicos, a pesar de que muchos de los que se utilizan están prohibidos en otros países, acá se veden sin ninguna restricción.
La UNES, preocupada por la anomia del Estado, recurre a la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos para solicitar:
PETICIONES

1. Que la Comisión solicite informes al gobierno de El Salvador, sobre sus políticas públicas y regulaciones en materia ambiental, de salud, manejo de agrotóxicos, medios de vida sostenibles,6 que garanticen, el derecho a un medio ambiente sano y a la salud, y que presenten indicadores específicos sobre cada uno de estos derechos y sobre los habitantes de las zonas en donde se desarrollan monocultivos. Que la Comisión realice análisis y emita recomendaciones al Estado de El Salvador para que cumplan con su deber de protección de la vida.

2. Que la Comisión emita un informe sobre el cumplimiento de los estándares Inter americanos por parte de los Estado Salvador en materia de soberanía alimentaria, derecho al agua, a la salud y a un ambiente sano.

3. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador presentar informes periódicos a fin de evaluar el avance en las recomendaciones.

4. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite a los Estado de El Salvador promuevan el cese a la expansión de la agroindustria de los monocultivos que atenta contra derechos humanos y la forma de vida de pueblos indígenas, mediante políticas públicas claras agrarias, económicas y fiscales.

5. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador investigar las denuncias presentadas por líderes y lideresas comunitarias por asesinatos, amenazas, contaminación industrial, contaminación del medio ambiente, deforestación, despojo de tierras, contaminación y desvíos de ríos, conflictos laborales en el marco de las actividades de la agroindustriales.

6. Finalmente, solicitamos a la Comisión, a través de la Relatoría Especial sobre Derechos Económicos, Sociales, Culturales y Ambientales, así como los relatores de país, visite el Estado aquí mencionados para constatar la situación descrita y genere un informe en materia de agrotóxicos, monocultivos y sus impactos en los derechos humanos.


1 VOICES on the border, Producción a Gran Escala de Caña de Azúcar, 2016 pág.2
2 UNES, Cálculos propios con base a la información del Informe de Recopilación de Información de la Caña de Azúcar en El Salvador, Zafra 2012 – 2013 y 2014 – 2015
3 Naciones Unidas, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Informe del Relator Especial del Derecho al Agua y el Saneamiento acerca de su misión a El Salvador. Párrafo 61. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617069.pdf?OpenElement
4 Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos. Informe de la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos sobre el uso de agrotóxicos en El Salvador y el impacto en los derechos humanos. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 de julio de 2016, 82 pp.
5 García Trabanino, Ramón. Enfermedad Renal Terminal en el Hospital Nacional Rosales. Probable asociación del antecedente de contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas (Junio 2000), citado en Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (2016), Op. Cit., p.4

6 Según la FAO, “un medio de vida es sostenible cuando puede afrontar y recuperarse de rupturas y shocks bruscos y mantener sus capacidades y activos tanto en el presente como en el futuro sin socavar las bases de sus recursos naturales. Así, los medios de vida se ven afectados por los efectos externos que permite aumentar su resiliencia y disminuyen por consiguiente su vulnerabilidad.” Visto el 4 de mayo de 2017 en http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

Agrotoxics and Monocultivation: their impact on the health of the Salvadoran population

By UNES, the Salvadoran Ecological Unit

www.unes.org.sv/  (Reproduced here by kind permission of UNES)

7th September 2017

The monocultivation of sugar cane has been developed in El Salvador over several centuries. It is presumed that it was introduced to the territory at the time of colonisation, but it was in the 1960s that production increased by 43% and between 2001 and 2011 that it increased by yet another 30%.[1] According to data from the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), national cultivation of sugar cane is currently around 108,427 manzanas[2] (2014-2015 sugar harvest) and in the coastal zone cultivation reaches 52,000 manzanas.[3]

El Salvador is one of the countries which has increased its use of pesticides and intensified its use of fertilisers; which, according to CEPAL (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), is far above the Latin American average and makes it one of the four nations of the region in which it occurs in consumption. However, this does not translate into a significant increase in productivity of crops like basic grains. According to Voices on the Border, the intensive use of agrotoxics is seen largely in the cultivation of sugar cane.

This problem has been reviewed by the UN Special Envoy for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation who has shown his concern over the quality of waters in El Salvador. The problem largely stems from the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming activities. In his final mission report of 11th-18th May 2016, he noted precisely:

“There is an important point of concern regarding the potential dangers which can affect water quality for human consumption. Information was gathered from various sources during the visit about the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in agriculture, chemicals which are usually hardly removed from the water treatment plants. This even includes the use of some that are prohibited in other countries.”[4]

Also in 2016, the Human Rights Defence Attorney (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, produced a report on the use of agrotoxics and their impact on human rights.[5] This report provided follow-up to the open record since 2000 on the impacts on health in the Bajo Lempa region, on the database of denunciations of serious health effects, especially cases of chronic kidney disease associated with contact with herbicides and pesticides used in the cultivation of cotton in previous decades.[6]

The extensive and abusive use of agrotoxics is having an impact on the health of the Salvadoran population, according to the network of hospitals which reported in its ‘Report of Works 2011-2012’ for MINSAL [Ministry of Health] that terminal chronic kidney disease is the third cause of death in adults of both sexes, being the first cause for men and the fifth for women.

To date there are no actions being taken to prohibit the use of agrotoxics, despite the fact that many of them are prohibited in other countries and yet are sold without restriction here.

Concerned about the lack of action on the part of the state, UNES is referring to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to demand that:

  1. The Commission requests from the Salvadoran government reports on the public policies and regulations relating to the environment and health and management of agrotoxics, the means of sustainable life[7], which guarantee the right to a clean environment and to health and which present specific indicators on each of these rights and on the inhabitants of the zones where monocultivation is practised. That the Commission carries out analyses and produces recommendations to the state of El Salvador relating to its compliance with its duty to protect life.
  2. The Commission distributes a report on the compliance by the Salvadoran state with the Inter-American standards relating to food sovereignty, the right to water, health and a clean environment.
  3. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it presents periodic reports with the aim of evaluating the advances in the achievement of the recommendations.
  4. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it promotes an end to the expansion of the agroindustry of monocultivation which assaults human rights and the means of life of indigenous peoples through clear public agrarian, economic and fiscal policies.
  5. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it investigates the denunciations made by community leaders against the assassinations, threats, industrial contamination, environmental contamination, deforestation, land grabs, contamination and diversions of rivers, and labour conflicts resulting from agroindustrial activities.
  6. Finally, we ask the Commission, through its Special Envoy on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, to visit the country to verify the situation so described and to generate a report relating to agrotoxics and monocultivation and their impacts on human rights.

Footnotes

[1]  Voices on the Border, ‘Large scale production of sugar cane’, 2016, p.2.

[2]  1 manzana is equivalent to 1.75 acres.

[3] UNES, own calculations based on information from Data Collection from Sugar Cane Harvests in El Salvador, 2012-13 and 2014-15.

[4] United Nations, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Report of the Special Envoy for the Right to Water and Sanitation on mission to El Salvador, paragraph 61, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617089.pdf?OpenElement

[5] Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights, Report of the Attorney General’s Office for the Defence of Human Rights on the Use of Agrotoxics in El Salvador and their Impact on Human Rights. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 July 2016, 82 pp.

[6]  Ramón García Trabanino, Terminal Kidney Disease in the Rosales National Hospital. Probable association based on contact with herbicides and pesticides (June 2000), cited in Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights (2016), op.cit, p.4.

[7]  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, “a means of life is sustainable when it can withstand and recover from ruptures and sharp shocks and maintain its capabilities and its activities in the present as well as in the future without undermining its natural resource base. Thus, the means of life are seen to be affected by external factors which allow it to increase its resilience and consequently decrease its vulnerability.” 4 May 2017 in http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

 

Who Certifies the Certifiers? Retailers put Faith in Rainforest Alliance

Certification is used to indicate the ethical credentials of agricultural products. It is particularly used by transnational corporations such as the producers of tropical fruits like Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita. I am grateful to Banana Link, a UK-based organisation that provides in-depth analysis of the international trade in tropical fruits for permission to reproduce the following article which raises serious questions and doubts about the validity and purpose of SAN/RA standards[1], and should especially prompt the question: who certifies the certifiers? It is reproduced from their News Bulletin of March 2016 (no.54).

[Banana Link: www.bananalink.org.uk]

Key words: Rainforest Alliance; certification; workers’ rights; SAN standards; anti-union tactics; banana production.

In the 1990s and 2000s it was the fruit companies who put their faith in certification and sought to use it as a way of demonstrating to consumers and buyers that they respected a set of social or environmental standards. It was Social Accountability International’s SA 8000 labour standard and Rainforest Alliance’s mainly environmental standard that found favour with Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita.

In the last few months it is the retailers in the UK who have been announcing that they will move to 100% “sustainable sourcing” through the use of certification. Late last year Asda/Walmart announced that 93% of its bananas would be Rainforest Alliance certified by March 2016, the remainder being Fairtrade certified. In February it was the turn of Lidl UK to announce a similar strategy: by the end of this year the 88% of their offer that was not Fairtrade certified would meet Rainforest Alliance standards. Press reports also suggest that Tesco will follow with a similar strategy.

Apart from the crucial difference with Fairtrade – that there is no minimum price enshrined in the standard – how does a certification scheme that started life as a set of purely environmental standards fare when it comes to securing compliance with labour standards for plantation workers?  A report last year from the Honduran federation of agro-industrial workers’ unions Festagro gives serious cause for concern, and is summarised here:

Rainforest Alliance certification and workers’ rights
“Despite the good principles and objectives set out in the certification standards and their theories of change, improvements for workers are hard to detect in practice.” – Dr Ruy Diaz and German Zepeda in “Working Conditions in Certified Banana Plantations in Central America”, August 2015, produced with support from the US-based AFL-CIO Solidarity Centre.

The Rainforest Alliance currently certifies 1600 banana farms covering over 100 000 hectares.

The authors of the report carried out interviews with workers and union representatives in 37 Rainforest Alliance certified farms belonging to both multinational and national producers in Guatemala (North and South), Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Key issues emerging from the interviews
Reponsiveness to workers and the issues covered by the SAN standard

  • No systematic contact between workers and trade unions on the one hand and the certifier and the auditors on the other
  • When issues are raised verbally with auditors they are not resolved
  • The formal complaint procedure is difficult to access (the form is only available in English!)
  • Audit reports are not shared with workers or unions
  • The only cases of de-certification over labour violations were in Honduras where the unions engaged in a public campaign to bring the violations to RA’s attention

 Labour issues found on certified plantations

  • The most systematic and serious is the case of Costa Rica where there is little or no trade union freedom and collective bargaining; there is often systematic persecution of trade union members and they suffer workplace discrimination; there are many cases of sackings of unionised workers using a range of pretexts. The situation also remains serious for workers in national producer companies in Honduras despite de-certification and re-certification of a group of 14 plantations.
  • There are no unions in Southern Guatemala and workers fear to form or join a union because of the anti-union messages from employers and because of the assassination of the leader of the only union that was set up in the region in 2008. This region has the biggest concentration of RA certified farms in the world.
  • Non-payment of minimum wages was found in some plantations in Southern Guatemala and Honduras.
  • Overtime hours are rarely paid in Costa Rica; overtime is de facto obligatory in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and in some national producers in Honduras.
  • In Nicaragua there are several plantations where the employer does not pay full social security contributions.
  • In Honduras and Nicaragua there are violations of holiday rights in many farms; and in Nicaragua workers on long-term sick leave are being made redundant.
  • Sexual harassment is reported in certified plantations in Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica
  • In Southern Guatemala and Honduras there are many plantations with statutory Occupational Health & Safety Committees; in many others the committees function badly or only exist on paper.
  • In Guatemala one community reported being regularly subjected to aerial spraying from the neighbouring certified plantation.
  • Workers on all plantations reported that there is inadequate information provided on agrochemicals they use and little or no training in health and safety in many cases. In Southern Guatemala workers reported up to 12 hour days working with chemicals.
  • Much of the training required in SAN standards is rarely delivered.

Conclusion
The workers all assume that the certification is to benefit the company in marketing its fruit. Although there is a reasonable level of awareness that their employer is certified by RA there is almost no awareness of the details of the standards and therefore how they could use the leverage of certification to demand the end to violations of rights or improvements in working conditions.

[1] SAN/RA: Sustainable Agriculture Network/Rainforest Alliance

ANEXCO harasses and fires union members

The following is a report reproduced here by kind permission of Banana Link.
ANEXCO harasses and fires union members – update on our Urgent Action
November 2015

baThank you for supporting our recent urgent action appeal in support of union members at Costa Rican pineapple producer ANEXCO. More than 23​,000 emails have been sent to the company, calling on them to end harrassment of union members and to engage in constructive dialogue with the union SINTRAPEM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores/as del Sector Privado Empresarial). This massive effort, plus several articles in the trade press and an intervention by the UK’s Ethical Trade Initiative combined to convince Fyffes of the need to try and resolve the issues we raised.

Initially, three union members were sacked shortly after the urgent action appeal was launched. However, the pressure against union members inside the plantation ​i​s reported to have diminished since then and a meeting at the Costa Rican Labour Ministry on 20th October generated an agreement to explore the potential for the reinstatement of these three most sacked workers.

Subsequently, a meeting in San José on 30th October – involving SINTRAPEM, COSIBA (the Costa Rican banana and pineapple union coordinating body), COLSIBA (the Latin American banana and agro industrial union coordinating body), Banana Link, ANEXCO and Fyffes – did not achieve the real breakthrough that was needed to put an end to the anti-union activities. But ANEXCO and Fyffes did, however, agree to another meeting to review the list of the union’s complaints, provisionally scheduled for 6th November.

Although there is not yet a satisfactory conclusion to our urgent action appeal, the progress made so far would not have been possible without your support. We will keep you updated.​

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Industrial farming methods spell damaging dust storms for Leon and Chinandega

Taken from Nicaragua News 15/03/15

Leon and the Chinandega departments have been subjected to four days of dust storms with winds gusting to 30-50 km per hour. Residents say the dust storms are an annual event with dust carried from the industrial scale planting of sugarcane and peanuts in the region. Residents said trees serving as windbreaks had been chopped down and they called on the government to plant more windbreak trees. They criticized the industrial farming methods as ecologically unsound. The dust is so bad that drivers on the Leon bypass highway had to drive slowly with lights on at noon. Poor people’s homes are filled with dust because they are not air tight.

There were increased incidents of respiratory illness, skin irritation, and potential contamination of water sources reported in Chinandega. Dr. Marcio Arteaga warned that the dust carries viruses and bacteria and warned the public to be cautious, especially children. “There are more respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and the dust can also cause conjunctivitis. People need to be careful not to expose children, especially children with allergies. Another important thing is to wash hands, because bacteria stick to the hands,” Arteaga said.

Originally from La Prensa (Managua), Mar. 8, 2015

The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS)

The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) / Asociación Ecológica de Permacultores y Permaculturas de Suchitoto

Towards the end of 2014 problems of land tenure, staffing and management of the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES) led to a change in organisation both on the ground and in management of the IPES Demonstration Plot outside the town of Suchitoto, El Salvador. From the start of 2015 the Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) assumed management, control and working of the land on the Demonstration Plot. Many of the same characters involved with the IPES are now also involved with the AEPS and the business of organic agriculture on the plot remains much the same, including the training of campesinos from communities all around El Salvador.

The following two items – a short video and a Powerpoint presentation of the work on the Demonstration Plot – were produced by members of the AEPS during 2015.