Category Archives: Human rights

JA! is taking on Sasol

Over the last month, JA! has been confronting South African energy company Sasol in several ways, interrogating them on what they’re really getting up to in Mozambique.

Most recently, last week JA! attended the Sasol 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Johannesburg, along with four other civil society organisations, to question the board and inform shareholders about what the company is currently doing, and planning to do, in Mozambique.PHOTO-2019-11-27-09-12-09

Leading up to the AGM, JA! sent the company questions to understand the technicalities of their present and future projects, followed by a meeting with five vice presidents at their headquarters in Johannesburg, with the support of a fellow activist from partner organisation groundWork.

JA! raised two issues at the AGM:

The first was about the Pande and Temane gas fields in Inhambane that Sasol has been operating since 2006 after removing many community members from their homes and creating only 300 permanent jobs. Sasol has been accused of transfer pricing in this operation – Sasol Petroleum International (now Sasol Africa) is the sole purchaser of the gas extracted here by its wholly-owned subsidiary Sasol Petroleum Temane, which it buys at a tiny percentage of the market value.

The second question was about Sasol’s planned shallow-water drilling off the coast of Vilankulos, also in Inhambane. The drilling will destructively affect fishing communities, endangered species of animals and plants, and the tourism industry, a huge income generator for the province. Accompanying JA! Was a member of the Protect Bazaruto Campaign, which is working to stop the project.

Here are the questions asked by JA!:

1. The first subject is the Pande and Temane project in Inhambane.

To give context, Sasol has regularly insisted that the fields have brought benefits to the surrounding communities since operations began in 2006. However, setting aside schools and soccer fields, the rate of literacy and employment has increased only in line with the rest of the country, including those provinces without extractive industries. Furthermore, 12 years later, according to the World Bank, only 25% of the population of Inhambane has access to electricity, which is less than the country as a whole, at 27%.

When communities were relocated from their homes in 2006, they were given once- off compensation of R 12 000. I emphasise, R 12 000. However, Sasol signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the government which promises annual benefits to the people. Note that this amount is a mere 2.75% of the 6% production tax that the company pays to the government.

JA! questions are:

  • Why has Sasol not paid the annual benefits to the communities as per the PPA for the last four years?

  • Does Sasol recognise that the amount it offers as benefits is too little to maintain the livelihood of a family?

  • And will Sasol renegotiate the terms of the PPA to increase the amount of the benefit, by using total revenue as a basis as opposed to production tax, now that it has the option to do so?

2. The second subject regards Sasol’s planned seismic testing and drilling for gas in the shallow waters off the coast of Vilankulos

Sasol plans to do seismic testing and drilling in ocean shallow water ocean blocks 16 and 19 in Bazaruto, a national park and IUCN Important marine mammal area. Block 16 is home to the only viable dugong species in the Western Indian Ocean as well as two important reefs for commercial and subsistence fishing for many communities.

The best case scenario for this drilling is impacting critically endangered species such as dugong; Fish stocks and livelihoods of fishing communities; sustainable tourism which is central to the economy and can outlast oil and gas.

While Sasol maintains that it is taking all necessary actions to avoid environmental damage, it has been well documented that mitigation of the impacts of gas drilling and seismic testing is impossible. Communities, too, have shown strong resistance to the project.

JA! question is:

  • As it is scientifically certain that seismic testing and drilling will diminish the last viable population of dugong in the Western Indian Ocean, why does Sasol believe it has the right to contribute to the extinction of an iconic species, violate national laws protecting national parks, and detrimentally affecting the livelihood of fishing communities?”

Responses:

At the end of the round of questions, we received a verbal response from Jon Harris, Executive Vice President: Upstream, who JA! has engaged with on previous occasions.

His response was vague, a public relations exercise and in it he repeated the same story of the great benefits that the company had allegedly brought, and that we need to look at smaller sections of the population of Inhambane, those in the immediate vicinity of the plant, and not the province as a whole. He said he was not aware of whether people had been receiving benefits or not, and did not answer whether they would renegotiate their PPA with the government, which would enable the people to receive more benefits.

Regarding Vilankulos, he said that seismic drilling has no impact on the environment, and that they are putting the utmost care into avoiding any impact on animals.

There are several aims of JA! Attending an AGM like this – to confront the board, to inform shareholders, to ask questions, to receive information and to alert the media. There is always the risk that the responses will not be helpful, or even relevant, but our presence there was imperative – were it not for JA!’s presence few people would have known about Sasol’s crimes in Mozambique.

Outside protesters, against Sasol, and same are about to hand over the memorandum to Sasol Vice President Marcel Mitchelson

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Plantations are not FORESTS! And in Africa we know what forests are!!!!

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Justiça Ambiental has been following, for about 9 years, with much concern and indignation, the promotion and establishment of eucalyptus monoculture plantations in the country. It has paid particular attention to the plantations of Portucel, Navigator Company and Green Resources, the size of the area granted, and the negative social impacts that both have caused, which are already evident and documented.

In recent years, JA! has maintained contact with the rural communities affected by both companies and has unsuccessfully denounced the irregularities and numerous conflicts that exist with the companies concerned and government authorities, through letters, petitions and requests for meetings. JA! has also requested access to the processes of acquiring Land Use titles (Direito de Uso e Aproveitamento de Terra: DUAT) and Environmental Performance Reports, which constitute information of public interest and nature, but these companies have never offered to share or publish these. Finally, JA! very recently obtained access to the numerous processes for the acquisition of Portucel’s DUAT by means of a court action through Judgment 09 / TACM / 2019. We remain without access to Portucel’s Environmental Performance Reports because it “refuses” to share these. In May of this year, Justiça Ambiental, the Academic Action for Rural Development (ADECRU) and the World Rainforest Movement organized the “Sharing of experiences and resistance among communities affected by Monoculture Plantations” in Quelimane with community representatives from Nampula, Zambezia, Manica and Sofala provinces affected by monoculture plantations and rural communities struggling to protect their forests and natural resources. This meeting was preceded by visits to the communities affected by Portucel, where those present, members and leaders of these communities, reiterated their dissatisfaction with Portucel’s actions, with the numerous promises made during the community consultations as a way deceive the communities into giving up their land, promises that remain unfulfilled until today. Portucel was invited to the meeting so that we could, together with representatives of the affected communities and representatives of the provincial government, share the numerous complaints and discuss possible solutions. However, Portucel apologized and did not send a representative to attend but made sure to send someone to report on what was discussed, so they have full knowledge of what was discussed and how dissatisfied these communities are. The provincial government was represented and heard all the complaints, but also evaded the matter.

It is quite despicable to note through a news article published in “Clubofmozambique” that World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a huge international non-governmental organization that works on environmental issues, recently organized a debate on “Planting sustainable forests in Africa” that no more than gives companies such as Portucel a green seal once again, despite numerous studies and reports demonstrating the numerous problems this type of plantation brings, and in this case the numerous impacts of Portucel in Mozambique. It is unacceptable that it gives a ‘green seal’ to plantations, with a masked and misleading speech that intends to spread the belief that they are planting forests, leading those most inattentive to even believe that they are supporting concrete action to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is indeed misleading and problematic to completely disregard the systematic appeals of the communities affected by Portucel, as it is unacceptable to use its brand and the image of the harmless Panda to lead people to believe that large-scale monoculture plantations are somehow beneficial for mitigating the impacts of climate change. It is also equally unacceptable for WWF to position itself in this way, giving the green seal to companies with so many complaints against them and that are causing so many impacts, knowing that so many NATIONAL organizations have been working on this issue for many years and that it is quite problematic, and that NATIONAL organizations do not have a unanimous position on monoculture plantations… this corporate act is shameful!!!

Why should Africa lead the fight against corporate power?

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After a brutal colonialism that lasted for tens of centuries, in recent decades Africa has become a stage for an intense land and resource grabbing carried out by the lethal alliance between large transnational corporations (TNC’s) and the political elites of the continent.

Thanks to it’s economic power – anchored in the political power of governments, elites, and financial institutions of the global North – TNCs have been able to shape markets, governments, communications and legislation to suit their interests. These corporations are already more powerful than many States and, in fact, out of the 100 largest economies on the planet, 69 are companies and only 31 are States!

Discussing the power and the impunity of large corporations is particularly important to our African context due to a number of factors:

First, because the corporate capture (or should we call it recolonisation?) of our governments by large TNCs of the global north is currently one of the main threats to our sovereignty. Often made possible by the policies of institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (and their structural adjustment programs, austerity measures, and other neoliberal packages), this promiscuity between African rulers and TNCs results in very high costs for the environment, for the majority of the population and for our young and fragile democracies. A neo-colonialist dynamic prevails in Africa, as we continue to observe the same mechanisms of dependence on foreign capital, exportation of raw materials and importation of manufactured goods between African countries and industrialized countries + new emerging powers. Understanding the ways and means used by TNCs to interfere with and undermine the political agenda of African countries is, therefore, critical to understanding the broad phenomenon that is the corporate capture of our decision-making spaces.

Secondly, Africa’s historical, social, cultural and economic contexts make the impacts of corporate power in the continent particularly acute. In a continent where the vast majority of the population is rural (about 70%), and where small-scale farmers produce up to 80% of all the food, the land and resource grabbing by TNCs is a threat to our food sovereignty, to our traditional and millennial knowledge and customs, and a severe attack on the human dignity of millions of people already in vulnerable situations. Africa’s traditional rural populations are both mutually dependent and protective of nature. Numerous studies show that traditional practices and knowledge are most effective for protecting and restoring the environment while, in contrast, industrialized agriculture and extractivism are having an overwhelming impact on our rivers, forests and ecosystems. In the agricultural sector, foreign donors are exerting enormous pressure to try to convert Africa’s predominant family farming model into profit opportunities for the global agri-business sector.

Furthermore, as we examine the continent’s circumstances, it is essential to take a close look at the intrinsic dynamics of oppression and exploitation of certain social groups by others. In particular, patriarchy and gender oppression, which are well rooted in the social dynamics of most African countries, are a constant impediment to achieving a just and egalitarian society. It is in patriarchy that neoliberal capitalism finds fertile ground to proliferate as it feeds on and depends on these power imbalances within a society. A gender-based division of labor that makes women –particularly those of lower class – free providers of a variety of care services (for children, the elderly and the sick), is a convenient tool for the extractive economy.

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Thirdly, the climate crisis we are experiencing reminds us that in order to solve the greatest challenges of our time we need to address the structural and systemic causes behind these crises. It was the northern industrialized countries that, in their race for development, emitted the most CO2 into the atmosphere – the great catalyst for climate change. However, this crisis’ greatest injustice lies in the fact that the peoples of the global South (therefore those who have contributed the least to it) are the first to suffer its impacts, and those who will be hit the hardest.

In Africa, the climate crisis is not a problem of the future – it is happening now, in a brutal, oppressive and highly unequal manner. It is therefore crucial that African civil society demand that their governments be aligned with the real needs of their people, not with the unlimited greed of corporations profiting from the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels. This greed is fundamentally incompatible with the search for real, fair and inclusive solutions to this crisis.

And fourthly, we urgently need to deconstruct the narrative that Africa is a poor continent in need of help – a narrative that greatly benefits the maintenance of a North-South dependency status quo. This dangerous, long repeated and commonly accepted premise both inside and outside the continent, paves the way for all sorts of “market solutions” as corporations are seen as the major promoters of progress and development. Africa is not poor – it is a rich continent whose wealth has been historically assaulted by the great imperialist and colonialist powers, century after century. Recent studies indicate that illicit financial outflows from the continent total US$50 billion each year, a figure that has been growing since the beginning of the century. This is far more than the total of foreign aid that the continent received during that same period!

This capital flight can take many forms, from product or human trafficking, to tax evasion or price transfer, among others. This means that an absurd amount of wealth generated in Africa is being diverted off the continent without a trace and, therefore, without being subject to taxation that could be used to improve social infrastructure and the living conditions of the population.

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In general, the expansion of capitalism, especially in its neoliberal form, brought about an exacerbation of social inequalities and the deepened exploitation of certain social classes by others. Despite claims that globalization and free trade would be the solution to all problems, we are witnessing the exact opposite: the architecture of free trade is intrinsically contradictory to human rights legislation as it seeks to erode and weaken the role of the State – which by definition is primarily responsible for the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights.

However, important movements have emerged as a counteroffensive to the supremacy of corporate power on the global stage, in a more or less articulate manner. Several organisations and social movements around the world have been denouncing and exposing the impacts of corporate encroachment on their territories, bringing criminal corporations to court, resisting free trade agreements, creating more just and egalitarian cities and societies, defending the right to say NO to destructive projects, and showing that the solutions to the crises we are experiencing cannot be built using the same logic of the market – they must come from collective constructions based on respect for human rights and nature.

An interesting response to this threat, posed by the power of capital, is the Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. The Global Campaign – a network of organisations, movements and people affected by TNCs – has mobilized itself massively to take part in the process of drafting an international treaty to regulate the activities of TNCs and hold them accountable for human rights violations and environmental destruction. This process has been taking place at the United Nations (UN) and we have already written about it in various occasions.1

At this point, what is worth noting is that, at the last negotiating session over the text of this binding instrument, in October 2019, the African region has established itself even more sturdily as a driving force in this process. In addition to expressing itself as a regional union in support of the treaty (the declaration of the region was read by Angola, which chairs the African group this year), numerous African States have individually contributed with concrete and substantial proposals to improve the treaty and strengthen the instrument.

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For all the reasons explained above and many more, the African continent should be more than keen to push for a normative instrument such as this, aimed at ending the impunity of TNCs. One thing is certain, the message that African countries have been reverberating year after year at the UN in Geneva is clear: this binding international instrument must address the enormous asymmetries of power between TNCs and the people affected by their activities. In order for the materialization of this process to meet the needs of Southern countries – those most affected by corporate impunity – it is crucial that these countries take the reins of this intergovernmental process in order to establish the necessary legislation and mechanisms to reverse the current scenario, and that they do so in close cooperation with civil society and the populations affected by corporate crimes. In this last session, perhaps even more so than in previous ones, several African countries showed they were up to the task and willing to face the challenge.

Are the so-called developed countries prepared to provide the “foreign aid” that Africa really needs, and to punish their corporations for human rights violations worldwide?

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