FoE International News

FoE International position paper on trade and investment regimes

Friends of the Earth (FoE) International has published a position paper outlining the problems with corporate trade and investment regimes. Often these so-called 'free' trade agreements transfer powers to multinational corporations, and undermine people's fundamental rights to work, food and a clean environment.

These trade deals limit our ability to tackle climate change and social inequalities by locking in dirty industries and driving a race to the bottom. They hinder our efforts to protect the world's forests and commons by promoting the unregulated exploitation of natural resources. Corporate trade deals also undermine food sovereignty and security by enabling land grabbing, prohibiting policies that support local food systems and challenging safety, regulatory measures and non-tariff barriers to trade.

The most common feature between all these agreements is that they have very little to do with actual trade, and rather aim at reshaping and limiting the ability of national and local governments to regulate as they see fit under the guise of promoting international trade.

Existing unfair regimes should be replaced with regimes that: support direct fair trade networks between producers and consumers that prioritise local and regional systems; enforce strong binding social and environmental regulations; enable governments to control exports, imports and investment flows to create sustainable societies; allow countries, regions and communities to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services; and support equitable South-South trade partnerships which contribute to people-centred regional integration.

Violations of human and environment rights continue

Anne van Schaik from FoE Europe and Lucia Ortiz from FoE International write:

June 16 marked the fifth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Yet, violations of human and environmental rights continue, and access to justice remains as difficult as it ever was.

Just look at the pollution by Shell in the Niger Delta, where there still hasn't been a proper clean up. Or consider oil palm company Wilmar's track record of land grabbing and deforestation, and lack or corporate accountability by either the company or its financiers. Then there is Chevron which refuses to pay compensation for oil damages in Ecuador. And seven months after the largest environmental crime in Brazil at Doce River, caused by Vale and BHP Billiton, no concrete solution was presented to the affected population.

We'd like to be celebrating today to commemorate the fact that five years ago in Geneva the members of the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles, written by then UN Special Representative on business and human rights, John Ruggie. That this lead to dramatic changes in laws and corporate behavior, safeguarding rights for all. But we're not celebrating. Sadly. Because "endorsed" is not the same as "accepted" or "voted upon".

Neither the UN Guiding Principles, nor the related National Action Plans, have been able to hold large multinational corporations to account. So the UN Guiding Principles have not brought us any closer to getting access to justice or stopping corporate impunity.

Luckily, it is not all doom and gloom. On 26 June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 26/09 calling for an intergovernmental working group to establish binding rules for transnational corporations and other businesses in relation to human rights – a process commonly referred to as the "Treaty". This historic decision means that, if the Treaty is adopted and enforced, international human rights law will for the first time apply to the activities of transnational corporations.

Hundreds of non-governmental organizations and social movements have joined in the discussions of the content, nature and scope of this treaty. Many engaged in UN discussions and premises in Geneva for the first time, as they claim that this was the first time there was a UN process that they believed in, and that, if adopted and endorsed, would be able to change the lives of the people they campaign for.

However, the European Union, as well as other UN Members, voted first against the resolution and later tried to derail and boycott the process.

This is a unique opportunity to put these words into a meaningful legal instrument, an opportunity which we believe may only come once in a lifetime. Let's seize this chance, and stop the current corporate impunity.

Black Lives Matter

Following the shooting of African American men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in early July, and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, Erich Pica, President of FoE US, said:

"Friends of the Earth condemns the violence and loss of life in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights, Minn. These tragedies will forever be linked; however we must not let the Dallas shootings be used to delegitimize the Black Lives Matter movement that seeks to end the unjust treatment of Black people by police in this country. Born in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, the Black Lives Matter movement is a clarion voice on racial injustice in America. It is elevating consciousness and challenging the pervasive inequality faced by African Americans.

"The Black Lives Matter movement is challenging Friends of the Earth to deeply reassess how our activism redresses our broken economic, justice and electoral systems that neglect and actively oppress people based on the color of their skin. To achieve our mission to champion a healthy and just world, Friends of the Earth recommits ourselves to asking harder questions; starting stronger, more meaningful conversations with our members and activists on racial justice; and being better allies to the Black Lives Matter movement and others fighting for social and environmental justice."

Forests and water: Historical links and new threats

Isaac Rojas, FoE International's Forests and Biodiversity Program Coordinator, said on International forests day:

The relationship between forests and water is of crucial importance both for our survival and for the health of the planet. There is a vast amount of scientific evidence showing that water is better protected when forests are well protected. This is why many communities and Indigenous Peoples grant special protection to water sources, and give them a spiritual and cultural meaning.

There is currently another type of relationship that equally affects forests and water. Financialization of nature is a new threat to both of them. By financialization we mean the process through which nature, and the functions it performs, are turned into financial assets traded in financial markets.

The financialization of nature entails a separation of the natural elements including water, air, biodiversity, landscape from their cultural and spiritual values. Once separated, new property titles are issued for each one of them or their parts, but those entitlements are no longer associated with customary land ownership rights, the collective rights over the territory or the social roles of the land. In this way, new sources of production and accumulation of capital are created, which lead to a process of further appropriation and concentration of the means of production, and an impact on livelihoods.

Friends of the Earth International's report on "Economic Drivers of Water Financialization", from November 2013, shows with concrete examples in various countries the different stages in the unfolding of these processes in each country in terms of public policy reforms.

Swedish government sells out on climate

FoE Sweden condemned the Swedish government following its authorisation of state-owned energy company Vattenfall to sell coal operations in Germany. The group has been campaigning for Vattenfall to close controversial open-cast mines and power plants in Germany, including the site of the international Ende Gelände protest in May.

Instead, Swedish politicians have agreed to the sale to the Czech venture capitalists EPH, currently the subject of police investigations. The sale to EPH will make a planned coal-phase out in Germany much more difficult. EPH, which already owns a smaller coal producer in Germany, is currently planning to open a new mine.

Josef Patočka from FoE Czech Republic said: "EPH has a history of irresponsibility and puts profits before society and nature. Lusatian coal should stay in the ground, just as the homes that are being consumed by the opencast coal mines should stay on the surface."

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016