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Human rights defenders & business in 2022: People challenging corporate power to protect our planet.



“All over the world the positive achievements of human rights defenders too often go unrecognised. Defenders are targeted because they confront powerful vested interests by protecting our natural resources and shared climate, defending labour rights, exposing corruption, and refusing to accept injustice. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States can and should do more to protect defenders, including by passing mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation that requires businesses to engage in ongoing, meaningful engagement with defenders and other stakeholders.

– Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur
on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Every day, people across the globe are taking action to protect their communities, environments, and livelihoods from irresponsible business practice and demanding that companies uphold their responsibility to respect human rights, sometimes at great personal cost. Our data tracking attacks against these human rights defenders reveals the majority are against people raising concerns about harm to our shared environment.

This includes community members using direct action to stop logging in conservation areas in Malaysia, Indigenous leaders in Mexico protecting rivers and local biodiversity from harms caused by hydroelectric projects, and journalists reporting on environmental pollution in Serbia.

Despite the significant challenges they face, defenders are achieving victories worldwide. In 2022 defenders in Sierra Leone successfully advocated for a new law protecting customary land rights and banning industrial development in protected and ecologically sensitive areas; environmental justice groups in Louisiana’s “cancer alley” in the United States halted two large petrochemical projects; garment workers in Pakistan’s Sindh province won a 40% increase in minimum wage; women human rights defenders were elected to senior political positions in Brazil and Colombia, and after years of advocacy by Indigenous women leaders and organisations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women adopted General Recommendation 39 on Indigenous Women and Girls – the first language in a binding international treaty focused on the rights of Indigenous women and girls.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we celebrate the courage, creativity, and commitment of these people, organisations, and communities across the globe who are protecting our rights and shared planet.

Yet, human rights defenders continue to face intolerable levels of risk and harm. In their vital work to promote human rights and protect the environment, they confront powerful actors and interests. They raise concerns about companies and investors engaged in irresponsible practice, governments failing in their duty to protect human rights, and other non-state actors profiting from environmental destruction. They do this work in increasingly restrictive environments, where anti-protest, terrorism, defamation, and “foreign agent” laws are used to silence dissent. According to CIVICUS, 2022 was marked by a serious decline in civic space, with only 3% of the world’s population living in countries with open civic space, where the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression are respected.

The scale of lethal and non-lethal attacks against people defending our rights, natural resources, and environment from business-related harms shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and that voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop, and remedy harm. It reinforces the need for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation grounded in safe, ongoing and effective rights-holder engagement, respect for the process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples, and strong safeguards for human rights defenders, as well as further government action to protect the people who are at the forefront of protecting our planet.

Between January 2015 – March 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracked more than 4,700 attacks against human rights defenders raising concerns about harmful business practice. In 2022 alone, we tracked 555 attacks, revealing that on average more than 10 defenders were attacked every single week for raising legitimate concerns about irresponsible business activity. Three-quarters of attacks (75%) were against climate, land and environmental defenders. Over a fifth of attacks (23%) were against Indigenous defenders, who are protecting over 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, although they comprise approximately 6% of the global population.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Our research is based on publicly available information and as many attacks, especially non-lethal attacks (including death threats, judicial harassment and physical violence), never make it to media sources and there is a significant gap in government monitoring of attacks, the problem is even more severe than these figures indicate.

Global picture

Attacks against human rights and environmental defenders occur in every region of the world. Since we began tracking in 2015, Latin America and Asia and the Pacific have consistently been the most dangerous regions for defenders.

In 2022, the highest number of attacks on defenders raising concerns about business-related harms occurred in Brazil (63 recorded incidents of attack, affecting one or more defender), India (54), Mexico (44), Cambodia (40), the Philippines (32), Honduras (31), Belarus (28), Peru (23), Colombia (20), and Uganda (17). Learn more about our research methodology.

Types of attacks

Defenders are subjected to a range of attacks, including both killings and non-lethal attacks, such as threats, smear campaigns, arbitrary arrest, strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), and physical and sexual violence. Most (86%) of the attacks we tracked in 2022 were non-lethal, which are often precursors to lethal violence and warning signs to States to increase protection efforts.

Non-lethal attacks are generally left uninvestigated and unpunished, which can have a chilling effect on the work of defenders and promote impunity that feeds further violence where defenders persist in their critical work. The Esperanza Protocol, launched in December 2021 by civil society organisations and experts in international law, provides guidelines based on international human rights law to support the investigation, prosecution and punishment of threats against defenders by governments and ultimately create an enabling environment for the defence of human rights worldwide. While the protocol largely focuses on the duty of States, it also notes business actors must ensure their activities, actions, and omissions do not lead to threats against defenders and address any harms to defender


Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz was a former mayor of the Espinar district in Peru and a human rights and environmental defender. In 2012, alongside other community members, he raised concerns about environmental contamination and harm to human health related to copper mining in the region. 

In 2016, along with two other defenders, he was criminally indicted on charges of endangering public safety, obstruction of public services and disturbing the peace related to his activism and the protests in 2012. The three defenders faced eight years in jail for the first two charges and seven for the third one, in addition to fines of 27,000 EUR (100.000 soles). They were acquitted on 17 July 2017, however on 10 May 2018, the First Criminal Appeals Chamber of the Ica High Court of Justice overturned the acquittal and ordered the trial to be initiated once again.

In November 2021, Oscar participated in the National Campaign of Environmental Defenders in Peru where he shared his concerns about the lack of protection of defenders in the country and the urgent need for protecting the right to defend human rights. On 7 March 2022, Oscar was found dead with injuries on his body.

Judicial harassment

Many governments are not only failing in their duty to protect human rights but also actively targeting defenders through their legal systems or facilitating use of these systems by private actors to target defenders. Judicial harassment, which includes arbitrary detention, unfair trials, and other forms of criminalisation, continues to be prevalent worldwide. It also includes strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), lawsuits initiated or brought by business actors against people and groups for exercising their rights to participate in, comment on, or criticise matters of public concern. Judicial harassment causes significant stress and harm to defenders and diverts time away from their human rights work while draining their resources. It can have a chilling effect, deterring others from speaking out against abuse. Jointly, these forms of judicial harassment comprised nearly half (47%) of the cases we tracked in 2022 and 51% of cases since 2015.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Sunčica Kovačević and Sara Tuševljak are 25-year-old law students who formed a group comprised of local community members and activists organizing against the construction of small hydropower plants in the Kasindolska river in East Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This initiative raised concerns about the environmental and human rights impacts of hydropower plants operated by BUK d.o.o, a subsidiary of Belgian-based company Green Invest. In January 2022, Green Invest brought three defamation lawsuits, which bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs, against Sunčica and Sara and they have been threatened with further legal action.

The Resource Centre sought a response from Green Invest, which stated the lawsuits were filed to stop the defamation against the company. A rejoinder from Riverwatch, EuroNatur, Foundation Atelier for Community Transformation – ACT, Save the Blue Heart of Europe, and Stop Building Small Hydropower Plants on Kasindolska River expressed support for the defenders.


ACT – Foundation for social change

Gendered nature of attacks

During 2022, nearly one-quarter of attacks were against women human rights defenders. While defenders of all genders are targeted due to their human rights work, women human rights defenders challenging both corporate power and patriarchal gender norms often endure specifically gendered attacks. This includes online threats and harassment of a sexualised nature and smear campaigns criticising women for spending time on activism rather than caretaking in the home. In research by the SAGE Fund about women defending their lands, territories, resources and the climate from extractive projects, many women interviewed said the psychological harm from online smear campaigns was one of the most significant and long-term forms of structural harm they face.

These tactics are meant to stigmatise, isolate and silence women defenders. Due to patriarchal power dynamics, women human rights defenders often also face risks in different spheres, including in their societies, communities and families. They may experience discrimination or violence in the movements and organisations they work with, criticism from their families or communities for their human rights work, and intimate partner violence at home. While defenders of any gender face barriers to justice and remedy, these difficulties are compounded for women human rights defenders due to gender-based discrimination and violence, and even more challenging for women facing multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, ability and other identities.

Sector overview

Attacks against defenders occur in relation to almost every business sector in every region of the world. The four most dangerous sectors in 2022 related to natural resources. Short term profit-driven extractive approaches which have underpinned the global energy model are core drivers of attacks on defenders and have not provided many of the economic benefits or development promised to communities and countries.

Mining has consistently been the most dangerous sector for defenders since we began tracking in 2015, showing little progress to prevent attacks. Nearly 30% of attacks in 2022 were connected to mining, and the sector is even more dangerous for Indigenous defenders – 41% of attacks against Indigenous peoples in 2022 related to mining.

This is particularly concerning given that International Energy Association projections point to a six-fold increase in demand for transition minerals (e.g., copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, zinc, as covered in our Transition Minerals Tracker, as well as rare earths) by 2040. In addition, a 2022 study found that half of the world’s resource base for crucial energy transition materials is located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Lithium mining is of particular concern: according to the study, 85% of current and planned lithium extraction projects are located on or near land managed or inhabited by Indigenous peoples.

Mining for transition minerals, as well as land-intensive renewable energy projects, are already causing widespread abuse of land, water and Indigenous peoples’ rights. Our Transition Minerals Tracker revealed the world’s biggest producers of six key minerals needed for the zero-carbon transition are largely failing to address risks and impacts on local communities, including attacks on civil society organisations and their leaders. This approach to the transition will also continue to fuel opposition, conflict, and result in delays to both projects and achieving our global climate targets. Such conflict has already resulted in at least 369 attacks on defenders related to renewable energy projects since 2015, including 98 killings. In addition, we have tracked at least 148 attacks related to transition mineral mining between 2010 and 2021, making up over a quarter of the 517 attacks recorded with links to renewable energy value chains – from mineral extraction through to installations.

Despite these risks, human rights and environmental defenders are at the forefront of advocating for a rights-respecting, more sustainable energy transition which does not replicate harmful extractive models of past and present. They are also innovating and reimagining the energy sector based on equity. We are seeing a small, but growing, adoption of equity model frameworks where renewable energy companies design projects with Indigenous communities based on the principles of co-ownership and sustainable shared benefit, which is essential for a rights-based and sustainable transition.

Perpetrators of attacks

As many attacks involve collusion between State, private sector and other non-state actors in contexts with high levels of impunity, perpetrators are often difficult to identify. In cases where attacks could be connected with a specific company or a business project (43% of total attacks in 2022), the highest number of attacks related to companies headquartered in India and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries have tried to position themselves as global and environmental leaders and are hosting major multilateral events in 2023 – G20 and COP28, respectively. In addition, Brazil, set to host the G20 presidency in 2024, is the most dangerous country overall for defenders raising concerns about business. This worryingly signals that the countries charged with steering collective action on climate and global economic and financial stability are failing in their duty to protect human rights and to hold companies headquartered in their countries to account when they violate the rights of defenders.

The five companies whose operations, value chains, or business relationships were connected to the highest numbers of attacks in 2022 were JSW Steel Ltd. (India), Otterlo Business Corporation (UAE), TotalEnergies (France, East African Crude Oil Pipeline majority shareholder), Inversiones los Pinares (Honduras), and NagaCorp Ltd and its subsidiary NagaWorld (Cambodia) (more information about the allegations can be downloaded here). These include any attacks against defenders raising human rights concerns about these companies’ operations, value chains, or business relationships, even if the company did not perpetrate the attack directly.

We invited these companies to respond. JSW Steel Ltd. and TotalEnergies responded; their full responses are available here. Otterlo Business Corporation, Inversiones los Pinares, and NagaCorp did not respond.

There are many ways companies can be involved with attacks on defenders, including:

  • Calling police or state security forces to disperse a peaceful protest at one of their operation sites;
  • Threatening, firing or calling for the arrest of union leaders;
  • Cooperating with state repression, such as by providing services or products that enable surveillance of journalists and other defenders; and
  • Initiating lawsuits against defenders for defamation, damages or incitement to commit a felony; and
  • Lobbying for policies that restrict civic freedoms, such as “anti-protest” laws and actions that lead to criminalisation of defenders.

Less obvious tactics to silence defenders and undermine their rights include providing incentives for some community members to create divisions, obstructing unionisation, disseminating distorted information about projects, lobbying against regulation intended to protect human rights and the environment, and exploiting governance gaps for corporate benefit, among others.

According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and subsequent guidance, if business actors are causing or contributing human rights abuse affecting defenders, their responsibility is clear-cut: end the abuse and address and remedy any harm. Even in cases where there are no apparent direct links between companies or investors and attacks, business actors with operations, supply chains, business relationships and/or investments are expected to proactively use their leverage to promote respect for the rights of defenders and civic freedoms. In addition, restrictions on civic freedoms signal riskier contexts for investment and economic activity and create an “information black box” for companies and investors, making it more difficult to engage in robust human rights due diligence.

Other non-state actors involved with attacks on defenders include illegal miners, loggers and organised criminal groups. Illegal mining and logging – extraction of these natural resources undertaken without appropriate land rights, exploration licenses or transportation and other permits – are often associated with significant human rights abuses, environmental harm and corruption. Lack of transparency in precious metal supply chains, weak regulation in both producing and consumer countries, the potential for significant profit, and high levels of impunity fuel exploitation in this sector.

People who raise concerns about illegal mining and logging are protecting their land, clean water, and biodiversity; combating pollution and deforestation; and helping to address the climate crisis. They often face threats and violence from those involved with this illegal exploitation of resources. While companies are not direct perpetrators of these attacks, these illegally extracted resources often end up in their supply chains, showing a need for stronger human rights due diligence among sourcing companies.

State actors

Among the cases we tracked where information was publicly available about alleged perpetrators of attacks, the police were named most frequently, followed by the judicial system. The data we uncovered shows how governments are failing in their duty to protect rights and, further, are actively using agents and arms of the State – police, armed forces and the judicial system – to try to silence and stop human rights and environmental protection work. According to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, governments have a duty to investigate, punish and redress all forms of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in a business context, yet many have a vested interest in these attacks happening under the radar given their involvement. In addition, very few States are collecting official data on lethal and non-lethal attacks.

Advances in legislation and voluntary commitments

Over the past two years, there have been several significant developments related to business and human rights defenders in both soft and hard law, driven by years of civil society advocacy. In 2021, the seminal interpretation of UNGPs by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights clarified the normative responsibility of business actors to respect the rights of defenders and highlighted the critical role played by defenders in human rights due diligence processes and in enabling business enterprises to understand the concerns of affected stakeholders. In addition, the Escazú Agreement – the first legally binding instrument in the world to include provisions on environmental human rights defenders and the first environmental agreement adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean – entered into force.

Milestones in 2022 and 2023 include:

  • Adoption of General Recommendation 39 on Indigenous Women and Girls by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – the first language in a binding international treaty focused on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. The recommendation also acknowledges that Indigenous women and girls are at the forefront of demand and action for a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment.
  • Inclusion of strengthened stakeholder consultation requirements and the language of human rights defenders in the European Union corporate sustainability due diligence legislation text approved by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) on 25 April 2023, making it more likely that the final text of this historic corporate accountability legislation could include requirements related to defenders. At the same time, the language in the JURI committee’s position is in some ways weaker than the text proposed by lead MEP Lara Wolters in her earlier draft report. The EU Council’s General Approach adopted by Member States on 1 December 2022 also includes language on defenders and explicitly mentions them as stakeholders whose rights or interests could be affected by corporate activity.
  • Appointment of former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defender Michel Forst as the first-ever Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, which protects the right to live in a healthy environment in the European Union. This is the first such mechanism specifically safeguarding environmental defenders to be established within a legally binding framework either under a UN system or other intergovernmental structure.
  • Consultations on the revision of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, in which civil society groups have urged strengthening the text on reprisals and explicitly including “human rights defenders”.
  • Several corporate and government commitments to the protection of civic space and human rights defenders as part of the US Summit for Democracy.

These and other developments signal momentum towards recognition of the need to prevent and address attacks against defenders raising concerns about business-related harms, including among companies themselves. For example, Hewlett Packard Enterprises enacted a policy commitment to respect the rights of marginalised groups (including defenders) in January 2022, and TotalEnergies published information about the actions it has taken with respect to human rights defenders and freedom of expression in Uganda (see also TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s human rights policy). In addition, the Voluntary Principles Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative that guides oil, gas and mining companies on how to conduct their security operations in a manner that respects human rights, will release guidance on defenders in 2023.

The scale and severity of attacks on people across the globe protecting our rights and environment clearly show the need for urgent action. We call on States to fulfil their duty to protect the rights of defenders and for business actors to respect the rights of defenders by acting on these recommendations.


Recommendations for states

  • Pass and implement legislation recognising the right to defend rights and the vital role of defenders, both individual and collective, in promoting human rights, sustainable development, and a healthy environment and committing to zero-tolerance for attacks (more detail recommendations available here). This must include legal recognition of the specific rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples (more detailed recommendations  available here).
  • Accede to or, if already ratified, fully implement key international and regional standards that protect the civic freedoms of defenders, including those raising concerns about harmful business practice.
  • Pass national laws to implement the UNGPs, including mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, and consult with defenders at all stages of this process. This legislation should mandate that business actors engage in ongoing safe and effective consultation with defenders and other rightsholders potentially or directly affected, should be an integral part of climate mitigation and adaptation plans, and should be aligned with the UN working group’s guidance on defenders and other key standards mentioned above (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Collect and report data on non-lethal and lethal attacks to inform more effective protection mechanisms and passing anti-SLAPP legislation to prevent companies silencing defenders (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Ensure effective remedy for violations when they occur, including by strengthening judicial systems to hold businesses accountable for acts of retaliation against defenders and actively participating in investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks.
  • Move towards supporting the adoption of a binding United Nations treaty on business and human rights and ensure that it explicitly recognises the risks defenders face and their right to defend human rights.

Recommendations for companies

  • Adopt and implement policy commitments which recognise the valuable role of defenders, reference specific risks to defenders, ensure effective engagement and consultation with defenders at all stages of the due diligence process and commit to zero-tolerance for reprisals throughout the company’s operations, supply chains and business relationships.
  • Create public commitments to respect fundamental rights with particular attention to rights often abused in connection with attacks on defenders, such as violations of land and Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Engage in and report on the results of human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and ensure effective access to remedy for those harmed by business activity, in accordance with the UNGPs, the UN Working Group’s guidance on ensuring respect for defenders, and the UN Working Group’s gender guidance.
  • Recognise that Indigenous defenders are disproportionately at risk, respect Indigenous peoples’ rights, grounded in their rights to self-determination; lands, territories, and resources; and right to free, prior, and informed consent, including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to withhold consent (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Publicly recognise that defenders have a right to defend human rights, are essential allies in assisting businesses to adhere to their responsibilities under the UNGPs.

Recommendations for investors

  • Publish a public human rights policy which recognises the valuable role of defenders in identifying risks associated with business activities and commits to a zero-tolerance approach to attacks against defenders. Clearly communicate the human rights expectations included in this policy to portfolio companies, including that companies:
    ‣ disclose human rights and environment-related risks;
    ‣ engage in ongoing consultation with communities, workers and defenders;
    ‣ have policies and processes to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights (including land rights and free, prior and informed consent);
    ‣ respect the rights of defenders; and
    ‣ ensure effective access to remedy when harm occurs.
  • Undertake rigorous human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and review potential investees for any past involvement with retaliation. Avoid investing in companies with this track record.
  • Use leverage with investee companies which cause, contribute to, or are directly linked to human rights and environmental harms, including attacks on defenders, so that the company mitigates negative impacts and provides access to remedy to those affected.

Source: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

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A corporate cartel fertilises food inflation



Last year’s financial results from the world’s largest fertiliser companies are now in — and it’s a shocker. Given the sky high fertiliser prices of 2022, it was anticipatedthat their revenues would break records, but no one could have predicted this scale of profiteering. As the world grappled with a severe food crisis and farmers saw costs rise, the world’s largest fertiliser firms ramped up their margins and more than tripled their profits from two years ago.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows the total profits of the big nine fertiliser companies over the past five years. They exponentially grew from an average of around US$14 billion before the Covid-19 pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to an astounding US$49 billion last year. International agencies like the World Bank blamed the spike in fertiliser prices on the Russian war in Ukraine, resulting in high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) from shortages and trade disruptions. But as can be seen in Graph 2, a major part of the story is the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. These companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.
Graph 2
There are signs that fertiliser prices are coming down from their stratospheric heights earlier this year, but the effects of the price spike are still being felt. The high prices and lack of supply in some countries caused farmers to cut fertiliser use, thereby reducing production levels and contributing to an alarming rise in global food insecurity. The high prices also pushed many farmers deeper into debt. Farmers from Cameroon to the U.S. say they are still spending three times as much on fertilisers as they were a few years ago. And in countries where fertilisers are heavily subsidised, the price spike has saddled governments with huge debts. In India alone, the central government’s expenditure on fertiliser subsidies last year surged from US$9.8 billion to US$17.1 billion. People are paying the price for the fertiliser industry’s price gouging.
The costs are also rising for the planet. Chemical fertilisers are a major source of environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with nitrogen fertilisers alone accounting for one out of every 40 tonnes of annual emissions. New reports from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Earth4All, a global collective of leading scientists and economists, make it clear that steep and immediate reductions in global fertiliser use are required to avert catastrophic climate change. Both recommend a near phase-out of nitrogen fertiliser consumption by 2050 (see Graph 3). The idea is not to recklessly crash production levels, but a planned transition toward more sustainable, agroecological farming systems that require less or no fertiliser.
Graph 3
It is increasingly clear that today’s food inflation is a product of both corporate greed and ecological breakdown. Obscene levels of profit-taking by corporations are happening across the food system, from fertilisers to processing to retail, and this is pushing up prices. But the way these corporations organise our food production and distribution is also driving climate change and, undermining the capacity for the global food system to deliver affordable and accessible food, now and over the long term.
Bold new approaches are urgently needed to reign in corporate power in the food system and turn the food crisis around. When it comes to fertilisers, policy actions like windfall taxes and price controls can help. But to deal with both profiteering and environmental catastrophe we need to transition food production to rely far less on chemical fertilisers. The fertiliser industry will be pushing for the opposite when it gathers for its annual meeting in Prague this week, yet around the world there are farmers and rural movements already leading a transition away from chemical fertilisers, with plenty of successful examples to learn from. What’s holding us back is the structural political change needed at all levels to address the excess profiteering from the fertiliser industry, and chart a new path toward more resilient food systems.

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The Black Sea Grain Initiative: When the United Nations Brokers Profits for Corporations, Bankers, and Oligarchs



“I am so moved watching the wheat fill up the hold of the ship. It was the loading of hope for so many around the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as a cargo ship was loaded up with Ukrainian grain in August 2022. Mr. Guterres was launching the Black Sea Grain Initiative, purportedly to prevent famines and a global food crisis by enabling food exports from Ukraine, amidst the Russian military blockade. USAID claimed that the “lifesaving deal”, which was renewed on May 18, 2023, “helps people in need across the globe by delivering desperately needed grains to lower income countries and bringing down food prices.” The European Commission celebrated the initiative as a “a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”

Mr. Guterres’ hope, loaded on the cargo ship, has however since gone missing at sea.

Despite the hype in political circles and the Western media that the Initiative was essential to secure food supply for those in need — particularly in Africa — data released by the United Nations offers a starkly different reality. As of May 2023, only 3 percent of the food commodities exported from Ukraine under the initiative has gone to low-income countries. Out of the 30.3 million tons exported, a mere 2 percent — 625,000 tons — went to the World Food Programme for food aid operations around the globe.

Charts showing grain exports from Ukraine by income group and country.

The top destination for Ukraine’s agricultural exports is the European Union, with China being second. Spain is the largest recipient in Europe. Instead of offering relief, Ukrainian exports are threatening the livelihoods of millions of European farmers — to the extent that Hungary and Poland banned imports from Ukraine in April 2023 to protect their farmers. As Ukraine and the European Commission pressured for the ban to be lifted, Hungarian and Polish farmers pushed back, asking the critical question: Who actually benefits from these exports?

The Oakland Institute’s report, War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land, answers the question. It exposed that the producers exporting commodities from Ukraine are mostly large-agribusinesses and oligarchs, associated with European and North American financial interests. Furthermore, the report detailed how these producers are heavily indebted to Western financial institutions, in particular the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — the private sector arm of the World Bank. Together, these institutions are major lenders to Ukrainian agribusinesses, with close to US$1.7 billion lent to just six of Ukraine’s largest landholding firms in recent years. Other key lenders are a mix of mainly European and North American financial institutions — both public and private.

Renewing the Black Sea Initiative and maintaining the flow of exports from Ukraine has nothing to do with supporting the struggling Ukrainian farmers or the trumpeted goal to prevent a global food crisis — which has been largely triggered by speculation on global food markets. Food prices skyrocketed when global stocks of cereals were at historically high levels according to the World Bank.

Pretending their goal is to fight world hunger is appallingly deceitful, when, with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the United Nations has become a business broker for agribusiness corporations. In violation of its values and the principles of the United Nations Charter, together with the Western banks and financial institutions, the United Nations is supporting large food trading companies, oligarchs, and their lenders and shareholders, to sustain export business and grow profits despite the carnage of war.


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Grain trader Cargill faces legal challenge in US over Brazilian soya supply chain



World’s biggest grain trader accused of ‘shoddy due diligence’ on deforestation and alleged rights violations.

The world’s largest grain trader, Cargill, is facing a first-ever legal challenge in the United States over its failure to remove deforestation and human rights abuses from its soya supply chain in Brazil.

ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation, filed the formal complaint on Thursday, accusing Cargill of inadequate monitoring and a laggard response to the decline of the Amazon rainforest and other globally important biomes, such as the Cerrado savannah and the Atlantic Forest.

The case, which was submitted under the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, argues that Cargill’s “shoddy due diligence raises the risk that the meat sold in supermarkets across the world is raised on so-called ‘dirty’ soy”. ClientEarth says this breaches the international code on responsible business conduct.

The lawyers behind the complaint have stressed the urgency of the issue because Amazon degradation is approaching a tipping point, after which scientists say the rainforest will turn into dry grassland, emitting vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The Amazon’s sister biome, the Cerrado, has already lost half of its tree cover.

The lawyers say they hope the legal challenge will raise standards at Cargill – which is the biggest privately owned company in the US, with revenues last year of $165bn (£131bn) – and set an example across the industry.

Laura Dowley, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Cargill has vast resources at its disposal to implement due diligence. The technology is already there. We aren’t asking it to do anything it doesn’t have the resources to do. We hope it will show leadership.”

Cargill has promised to be “deforestation-free” in the Amazon and Cerrado by 2025 and completely eradicate deforestation from all its supply chains by 2030. The company says it has put in place a sophisticated monitoring operation at ports, warehouses and other points in its supply chain. ClientEarth said it identified several shortcomings in this system, including a lack of environmental due diligence on:

  • Soya beans bought from third-party traders, which make up 42% of all Brazilian soya Cargill purchases.
  • Soya beans owned by other companies that passes through Cargill ports.
  • Indirect land use change.
  • Soya sourced from the Cerrado savannah.
  • Soya sourced from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

ClientEarth also cites reports alleging Cargill suppliers have been involved in rights violations of Indigenous, Afro-Brazilian and other forest-dependent communities.

Cargill told the Guardian it had not seen the full complaint but it had an “unwavering commitment” to eliminate deforestation and conversion in South America. In line with this, it added: “We do not source soy from farmers who clear land in protected areas and have controls in place to prevent non-compliant product from entering our supply chains. If we find any violations of our policies, we take immediate action in accordance with our grievance process.”

The company’s website notes: “Cargill is committed to transforming our agricultural supply chains to be free of deforestation by 2030. Our policy on forests lays out our overarching approach to achieving this target globally across our priority supply chains. It is founded on our belief that farming and forests can and must coexist.” A spokesperson added that Cargill was also “strongly committed” to protecting human rights in its operations, supply chains and communities.

However, journalists revealed last year that one of Cargill’s soya suppliers grows crops on land deforested and burned in the Brazilian biome. In 2020, the Guardian and partners uncovered evidence that Cargill supplied Tesco, Asda, McDonald’s, Nando’s and others with chicken fed on imported soya linked to thousands of forest fires and at least 300 sq miles (800 sq km) of tree clearance in the Cerrado savannah. Similar reports were broadcast this year by Sky News.

Source: The Guardian

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