Tag Archives: natural forests

Corporate Impunity: Strategies of struggle (Part I)

2016 was an important year in our continent’s struggle against corporate impunity: the first session of the Southern African Peoples Permanent Tribunal (PPT) took place in Swaziland. This Court, which was founded more than 30 years ago in Italy, is an independent body that examines situations of systemic human rights violations – especially in cases where existing legislation (both national and international) is not capable of safeguarding the rights of populations. Although it does not have the power to issue an obligatory sentence for the company (which, by the way, is very important and is one of the reasons we are working for – but let’s talk about it later on), the PPT is strategically very important: On the one hand, it allows victims to be heard and advised by a panel of experts from various areas and to establish partnerships; and on the other, it is a moment of complaint and visibility for the cases, and therefore, of exposure to infringing companies. And although in our country this criminal impunity is often seen as a synonym of cleverness and of the perpetrators degree of influence, on the international level things are not quite like that. Being labelled as a human rights violator is a matter of great concern to these corporations, and therefore it can lead to a change of attitude – not because their ethical principles and values are very important to them, but simply because a bad reputation affects the only thing that truly matters to corporations: their profits.

Ten cases from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique were presented in last year’s PPT, most of them related to the extractive industry. From our country, for the serious impacts that their activities have on the communities around them and for the noncompliance with the promises they made to those communities before settling in the region (to the point that one of them actually started its mining activities without resettling those living within the concession area – as we have denounced through various channels including this one), we took to the court VALE and JINDAL. A Panel of Jurors listened attentively to the communities’ grievances and to a contextualization made by invited experts, and then released its deliberations.

This year the process is repeated: in August, seven cases from the Southern Africa region will be presented by the affected communities themselves and by the civil society organizations who work with them. This time, the general theme of the cases is Land, Food and Agriculture. In addition to cases presented by Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mauritius – who will denounce large corporations such as Parmalat and Monsanto – this session of the PPT will also hear the denunciation of two Mozambican cases: the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the already strangled Zambezi River; and ProSavana, the Mozambican, Brazilian and Japanese governments’ triangular partnership program that aims to develop agribusiness in the Nacala Corridor. These two Mozambican cases have the same particularity: they are not yet implemented. However, and this is what made us chose these two cases for this year’s PPT (because, let’s face it, what we are not lacking in our country are examples of human rights violations by private initiatives), despite not being implemented yet, its impacts are not less significant.

In Mphanda Nkuwa, for example, local communities were visited for the first time in 2000 by representatives of the companies responsible for the construction of the dam. They ere warned that they could not build new houses in that region because they would not be compensated for them. Since then, these people live in total uncertainty and can no longer make any long-term plans, at the risk of losing their assets when they start construction. ProSavana, on the other hand, has been characterized by the secrecy, manipulation and misrepresentation of information with the aim of promoting a false idea that the project will promote agricultural development in the northern region of the country, while in fact it is an initiative that will serve to facilitate large scale encroachment of peasant lands. This program will also destroy the livelihoods of local populations and exacerbate their already grave poverty. There are already reports of manipulation and intimidation of leaders of local peasant organizations.

The mobilization of civil society (Mozambican, Japanese and Brazilian) in opposition to ProSavana was fundamental to halt to the initial plans of this program and postpone the conclusion of its Master Plan. The purpose of taking these two cases to the PPT is to bring together even more elements that may help stop these projects.

Spaces such as the PPT are also crucial for perceiving trends, identifying development models, and analyzing common practices of transnational corporations – as well as their strategies to escape responsibility. Thus, by moving these experiences to a more global scale, it is easy to see that these violations of fundamental human rights are not perpetrated by one or another transnational corporation in isolation. That is, these are not a couple of rotten apples in a sack full of beautiful apples. Rather, it is a generalized behavior that is enabled by an architecture of impunity, characteristic of our extractive capitalist development system. This architecture of impunity puts corporate rights above human rights, and makes way for an abundant number of examples of very lucrative corporate crimes.

The architecture of impunity consists of several elements and actors:

We have the economic power of corporations – on the basis of which these establish their relations with one another and with states – and of international financial institutions;

We have political power, which in turn is responsible for capturing policies and politicians that fail to regulate the collective interests of society to serve private interests;

Trade architecture, embodied by numerous trade and investment agreements, facilitates profit and allows corporations to file lawsuits against governments should they make decisions that affect their anticipated profits;

Legal power is represented by the financial capacity to hire and dispose of influential lawyers who defend corporations in endless processes, as well as by inadequate and insufficient legal instruments that regulate their actions; and finally

Social power, which is exercised in all spheres of our lives through the influence that corporations have in the media, academic spaces, civil society organizations, among others.

Discussing some of these elements and developing the cases that will be presented in the PPT next month, were the objectives that motivated the Workshop on the Architecture of Impunity, held in the context of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Since it is the affected communities themselves who present the cases to the Panel of Jurors in the PPT, this enabled them to get the support of several resource people, to appeal, discuss and deepen the specificities of their denunciations and also to identify common ground with the other cases.

But the struggle to end corporate impunity is not only fought in the field of opinion sentences, nor is the important opinion of a panel of judges our only weapon to demand a different behavior from transnational corporations. Another battle is being waged to develop a legal instrument that will ultimately have the power to condemn and punish corporations – since the absence of such an instrument is currently one of the biggest gaps in international law. We are talking about the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, created in 2014 with the mandate to develop a binding treaty for transnational corporations on human rights issues, which will meet in October this year for its third session. At this time, transnational corporations simply have to follow voluntary standards and guiding principles that “advise” best practices on human rights issues. There is no doubt that this blind faith in corporate goodwill has had grave and irreparable consequences, both on people and on the planet. In next month’s article, we will look into this issue more carefully, getting deeper into the debate about the urgency of a legal mechanism that is accessible to any community affected by the operations of a transnational corporation. For now, we continue to look closely at next month’s PPT, certain that this will be another important moment regarding the convergence of struggles for a fairer, healthier and more common-good oriented world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Green Deserts of our Future

Monoculture forest plantations are fast increasing in developing countries and although this growth is fuelled by low production aDSC_0212nd labour costs, carbon sequestration for the developed, and government incentives, these plantations have serious social and environmental impacts.  Mozambique is no exception, here plantations are springing up rapidly and the government is keen to attract investment into these plantations for paper production.

On the 6th of August 2012 JA! participated in a seminar on ‘Forest Plantations and Industry in Niassa’.  The seminar took place at the VIP Hotel, Maputo and included the presence of a large number of individuals of the Forestry and Agriculture sectors.  The seminar was organised by the Niassa Forest Association together with the State Department of Land and Forestry and presided over by the Minister of Agriculture.  Mozambique is being transformed into a major global producer and the successful examples of South Africa, Uruguay, and Chile were mentioned.

The first presentation of the seminar was the “Evaluation of the Forest Plantations in Niassa Province 2005-2012” wherein it was mentioned that prior to 2005 there was no investment in tree plantations and after 2005 investment into these plantations surged leading to the current occupation of 165.772.80 hectares of land by plantations of which 32.409.00 hectares constitutes Pine and Eucalyptus plantations.  Some social and environmental problems experienced due to this type of investment were recognised as being caused by the enormous demand for land, waves of investment, poorly conducted community consults, and land grabbing cases.  All these problems were treated as if they had either been resolved or were in the process of being resolved, however with every passing day more and more serious incidents of land grabbing continue to be reported here. 

In other meetings the government’s desperate and blind desire to attract more and more investment into monoculture tree plantations has been clear.  This is evidenced by the speed with which the Regulation of Forest Plantations was proposed and approved while other legal instruments await years and years for approval such as the Law of Popular Action and the Law of Conservation Areas to name only those related to the environment.  The land for these DSC_0213plantations which is often described as ‘degraded’ is not degraded in the eyes of local populations who leave tracts of land fallow for revitalisation and future use nor is it degraded in the eyes of conservationists who see great importance in conserving the natural bush for biodiversity.  However others, interested in the implantation of these fake forests, are quick to regard this land as degraded.

The seminar left us with more questions than answers.  Who do the processes of community consult actually serve?  The community does not have the right to veto any project, they could be against it, they could protest, but the state has the final word and the state has decided.  What is the purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study when the mitigation measures set out to address the impacts of a project are only in some cases possible or realistic?  This kind of situation leaves countries like Mozambique in a very difficult position as they have no way of rectifying a situation made difficult by the plantations and the effect their implantation has on rural farming communities and their environment.  The state gives the go ahead to projects that do not even have completed EIAs required by law. 

At the end of the day, the issue is that there is no clear admittance of the distinction between a natural forest and a monoculture tree plantation or ‘forest plantation’.  This is a serious problem because many would point to the idea that a tree plantation contributes to conservation but the impacts of monoculture tree plantations on the biodiversity of an ecosystem are large.  Consider for a moment what a tree plantation looks like; it is densely planted with only one (or a couple) tree variety.  This impacts the pollinators and other animals dependant on the natural vegetation for their survival (to read more about this research on Nature.com) and the sustainability of the natural forest.  The diversity of tree species in natural forests aids this survival whereas monoculture tree plantations leave no room for it.  It is also important to note that many of the tree monocultures like Pine and Eucalyptus are not indigenous to Mozambique and their impact on local species and water must be taken into consideration.  In Mpumalanga, South Africa, Philip Owen founder of Geasphere describes how the Pine and Eucalyptus plantations have dried up the groundwater, streams and rivers there. 

DSC_0218Tree plantations are a form of agriculture, they are not forests in any way as they have been shamefully described by companies in an attempt to take advantage of the growing concern of deforestation which is a current and ever-increasing issue.  These tree plantations are food deserts, they yield nothing in terms of sustenance, and whatever species are able to survive in these plantations are eradicated as pests. 

These plantations are green deserts.  They offer no sustenance, they offer no reprieve from deforestation or the loss of natural forests and the species therein.  They have been described as being void of life – that not one animal or bird can be heard within these fake forests.  They emit the silence of lifelessness.  They are quite simply wood farms of invasive tree species which dry up water sources and are implanted on community lands labelled as degraded.  This cannot be regarded as a sustainable practise for our future.


For more information on plantations vs. natural forests please follow these links:


‘Green desert’ monoculture forests spreading in Africa and South America



Geasphere Mozambique – Information about the Mozambican experience



“Monoculture tree plantations are “green deserts” not forests, say activists.”  http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0919-plantations_hance.html?menu=Select+a+News+Topic


Plantation vs. natural forest: Matrix quality determines pollinator abundance in crop fields (Scientific Report from Nature.com) http://www.nature.com/srep/2011/111028/srep00132/full/srep00132.html

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: