A 2020 report from Amazon Watch, entitled “Complicity in Destruction III,” shows how global corporations contribute to Indigenous rights abuses in the Brazilian Amazon. The report identifies threats including deforestation, land grabbing, and illegal fires, which, taken together, severely threaten the rights and survival of Brazil’s Indigenous people. Specifically, companies in three sectors of industry—mining, agribusiness, and energy—are “directly or indirectly involved in conflicts affecting Indigenous peoples and their territories.” This “commodity-driven destruction” makes the Brazilian Amazon “an epicenter of the planet’s spiraling human rights and environmental crisis,” according to the report.
The extensively documented report provides case studies from each of the three industrial sectors threatening Indigenous populations. For instance, mining operations overseen by Vale—a Brazilian company that operates in more than thirty countries and is the world’s second-largest producer of iron ore and nickel—have created many conflicts with the local Indigenous people, and Vale stands accused of contaminating the Cateté River, the main source of water on Xikrin Indigenous land. Vale’s principal investors include BlackRock, Capital Research Global Investors, and Vanguard, all US-based companies that together hold more than 11 billion dollars’ worth of shares in Vale. And Vale is just one example of the industrial exploitation of the Amazon that is impacting Brazil’s Indigenous people.
In addition to Brazilian industry, the report also identifies six of the world’s top investment companies—BlackRock, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard, Bank of America, and Dimensional Fund Advisors—as enablers of corporate wrongdoing in Amazonia. From 2017 to 2020, these six financial firms contributed more than 18 billion dollars to nine of the eleven destructive companies profiled in the report. “The human rights and environmental abuses documented in this report would not be possible without the extensive investments of international financial leaders,” the report’s authors wrote.
Amazon Watch issued its report in partnership with the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), a coalition that consists of eight regional Indigenous organizations.
Noting that it is imperative for Brazilian companies and their international investors and trading partners to “forge and adhere to policies that respect Indigenous rights and the environment,” the Amazon Watch report also highlighted the APIB’s 18-point set of recommendations for companies operating in Brazil, importers of Brazilian products, financial institutions investing in these operations, and governments and policymakers responsible for oversight of the private sector. These recommendations include:
* Adopting a zero-tolerance policy for any acts of violence against environmental or land defenders in areas where a company operates;
* Committing to zero deforestation policies and guaranteeing respect for Indigenous and human rights, with verifiable targets and public progress reports; and
* Creating or strengthening internal control and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that no investments occur in areas involving environmental destruction, human rights violations, or conflicts on Indigenous lands.
The report concludes that the devastation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil “cannot be simply understood as a Brazilian issue, but rather one that is actively enabled by global markets.” Therefore, “[o]nly a truly global effort can meet the challenges of this pivotal moment.”
In December 2020 the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Environment published a study conducted by Robert Toovey Walker predicting that by the year 2064 the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, will reach a “tipping point.” Due to a combination of droughts driven by global climate change and deforestation, once that tipping point is reached, Walker reported, the Amazon’s tree canopy will no longer be able to recover, and the rainforest will be “permanently invaded by flammable grasses and shrubs.”
Major US news outlets, including the New York Times and Time, have provided extensive coverage of the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, but this coverage has mostly focused on specific problems within Brazil, such as the policies of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and less on the global markets and international investors that drive the destruction. As of June 2021, the establishment press in the United States does not appear to have covered Amazon Watch’s 2020 “Complicity in Destruction” report. However, the news division of the Canadian CTV Television Network ran a brief story on the report on October 27, 2020 which noted that “[m]any of the companies named denied the accusations.” Independent environmental news website Mongabay published an extensive write-up of the report on November 5, 2020.
Mauricio Angelo, “Complicity in Destruction III: How Global Corporations Enable Violations of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Brazilian Amazon,” Amazon Watch, 2020.
Harry Cockburn, “Climate Crisis: Amazon to Reach Critical Tipping Point ‘by 2064’, Study Suggests,” The Independent, January 4, 2021.
Student Researcher: Richard Gonzalez (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: José Javier Hernández Ayala (Sonoma State University)
Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.