Today, April 17, is the International Day of Peasant Struggle – a day to highlight the persecution and violence suffered by peasants and farmers around the world on a daily basis as a result of neoliberal policies. Increasingly, peasant farmers and land-based peoples are facing grave crises of human rights and dignity as big agribusiness, big dams, the global mining boom, and other mega-developments continue to put profits first and peasants last.
The G8 New Alliance for Agriculture, for example, is laying the groundwork to force governments of impoverished countries to make far-reaching changes to their land, seed and farming policies. In the words of the UK Guardian, “The new alliance will lock poor farmers into buying increasingly expensive seeds – including genetically modified seeds – allow corporate monopolies in seed selling, and escalate the loss of precious genetic diversity in seeds – absolutely key in the fight against hunger.”
This is not new: big business and human rights have always had a troubled relationship. While a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, reveals that businesses, including multinational corporations, increasingly see human rights as a concern for their operations, the study also shows that the vast majority of them, including those working in high-risk areas such as former conflict zones and countries with high incidences of violence, do not have explicit policies regarding human rights.
When contrasted with the gravity of human rights abuses involving transnational corporations, including threats, kidnapping, murder, violence and intimidation of environmental and human rights defenders, it is starkly clear that many private sector companies have a lot to answer for when it comes to human rights.
This poor record is undergirded by global rules, such as trade agreements and multilateral development bank practices. The pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, if passed, will undermine environmental regulations, increase global reliance on fossil fuels, open the door for the oil and gas industry to exert unprecedented influence over policy, and give corporations further power to undermine states’ role of providing public services.
And a series of investigations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released yesterday tallies the impacts of the institution that for over half a century has provided both the model for how destructive development is done, and the financing to do it : “Dams, power plants and other projects sponsored by the World Bank have pushed millions of people out of their homes or off their lands or threatened their livelihoods,” the new reports conclude.
As Friends of the Earth International, we see these impacts up close: our member groups and allies have seen friends and colleagues murdered, detained and threatened for their environmental and community activism. More often than not, private corporations or multinationals are involved in the violence, whether directly, as in the case of Corporacion Dinant in Honduras or APP in Indonesia, or less directly, through land grabbing and generalized use of force, as in the case of POSCO in India.
When protests occur, governments, police and military often intervene to protect commercial interests instead of human rights. Worse still, governments are increasingly rewriting laws to criminalize protest or ‘enhance security’.
Friends of the Earth International supports environmental and human rights defenders at risk as part of our commitment to peasant struggle. We believe that this solidarity helps to shine a light and remind the perpetrators and those who aid and abet them know that the world is watching. An example of our commitment is rallying support for environmental defenders such as COPINH (the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and its co-founder Berta Caceres.
As a lead organizer with COPINH, Berta has consistently endured death threats, bogus charges and harassment for her work in defense of community and environmental rights with the indigenous Lenca people. Despite the abuse, COPINH wins: in 2014 Berta and COPINH successfully pressured SinoHydro, the world’s largest dam builder, to pull out of a dam project on their ancestral land.
Transnational corporations – and the global private sector in general – must awaken to their responsibility to respect human rights. Governments, and particularly international bodies like the UN, must ensure that mechanisms are in place to hold transnationals and other businesses accountable for abuses they commit or that are committed on their behalf. This is why FoEI is part of an alliance demanding a binding United Nations treaty on business and human rights.
On this day, Friends of the Earth International stands in solidarity with La Via Campesina, the international movement that unites millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, Indigenous Peoples, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world to defend local agro-ecology, food sovereignty, and the right to territory as the foundation of social justice and dignity.
Long live the peasants of the world!