International NGOs are calling for an end to environmental destruction and human rights abuses caused by the palm oil industry in Mexico and Central America.
A coalition of NGOs – including Friends of the Earth-United States, Rainforest Action Network, ActionAid USA and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission – have warned traders about human rights violations occurring in the Mesoamerican palm oil sector.
In a letter sent to global commodity brokers, including Bunge, IOI, Cargill and ADM, the NGOs called for plans to be put in place to halt human right abuses and environmental damage caused by palm oil supply chains.
“We are calling on global palm oil companies to come clean on their links to dirty suppliers, and to make clear commitments showing how they will address the social and environmental impacts of their partners in Latin America. Consumers around the world will not accept violence and intimidation for cheaper cookies and chips,” Soren Ambrose, of ActionAid International said in a press release.
Guatemala: activist shot dead
On September 18, Rigoberto Lima Choc, a 28-year-old indigenous activist who helped shut down operations at a palm oil factory, was shot dead outside a court by two men on a motorcycle in Sayaxche, a town in northern Guatemala.
Choc was killed a day after a court ruling demanded that a factory manufacturing pesticides used in palm oil production suspend its operations for six months.
The factory is accused of polluting the Pasíon River with toxic pesticide run-off, and some tens of thousands of fish have died in the river.
African palm oil is big business in Central America and Guatemala is one of the world’s top ten producers. According to the UN, between 2.5 and 3.75 tons of contaminated waste is produced per ton of processed palm oil.
Valerie Julliand, the UN coordinator in Guatemala, told teleSUR in July that the toxic run-off was polluting the river which the local community rely upon for drinking and fishing.
Condemning Choc’s murder, Jeff Conant, of Friends of the Earth-US, said it was “yet another shocking example of the violence that plagues the palm oil sector. This should be a wake-up call for the multinationals doing business in Mesoamerica, especially those that have committed to ‘no exploitation’ in their supply chains: the only way to ensure that multinationals are not complicit in violence of this nature is to daylight their entire supply chains.”
Honduras: Conflict in the Aguán
Landless peasants in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán religion have experienced a waves of violence, including killings and forced disappearances, as a result of a simmering conflict with palm oil plantation owners.
Between 2009 and 2012, 56 people were murdered in the Aguán as a result of the conflict.
One of the largest plantation owners at the centre of alleged human rights violations is Dinant Corporation, which owns 22,000 acres of African palm in Honduras.
Most of Dinant’s plantations are in the Aguán region, located on land which peasant organisations –the Unified Aguán Peasant Movement (MUCA), the Aguán Peasant Movement (MCA) and the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) – claim belongs them. They allege that the land, which they used to practice small-scale farming, was usurped in 1992 after the government passed the Law for Land Modernization.
The violence has subsided in recent years. In May, Honduran government officials told international NGO FIAN there have been no causalities between 2014 and 2015.
The government says it is committed to addressing human rights abuses and land conflicts in Honduras, with the attorney general’s office creating a unit dedicated to investigating the killings and disappearances in the Aguán region.
“The situation in Bajo Aguán has shown little or no change at its core, and a sustainable and fair solution to the problem of land tenure, consistent with the right to food and other human rights, has not been properly sought,” FIAN stated, however.
The international coalition of NGOs say they will be monitoring the progress of global commodity brokers and palm oil companies so that substantive action is taken to combat widespread human rights abuses in the Latin American palm oil industry.