This blog post has been updated.
This month, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. We're posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal—and come clean on climate change.
My name is Santiago Piñeros. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and I work with Pensamiento y Acción Social (Thought and Social Action), an NGO that assists communities affected by large-scale mining in the center of the Cesar region in Colombia. I have had the opportunity to see how Drummond LTD operates in these areas, a multinational company in which Bank of America invests millions of dollars to develop its extractive coal and gas business.
Three towns located in the middle of the Cesar region—El Hatillo, community we assist, Plan Bonito, and Boquerón, communities we follow up—have to be resettled by Drummond, Glencore-Xstrata and a Goldman Sachs mining company. These resettlements were ordered by the Colombian government, due to the high levels of air pollution and dust from the coal mines. These communities should have been relocated two years ago because of the dangers that coal ash poses to people's health, including respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer, skin and ocular diseases. Thus, Drummond is currently co responsible for three involuntary resettlement processes due to air pollution in El Cesar Region.1 These communities must be resettled quickly, and Drummond's investors, including Bank of America, need to make sure this happens.
Drummond directly contaminates groundwater and rivers where these communities make their livelihoods.2 Activities such as fishing, hunting, territorial and cultural relations with the environment have deteriorated and are often no longer possible due to the contamination. For communities that rely on fishing and hunting for survival, the destruction of the environment means the destruction of the community.3 For these facts, the environmental damages in this region become a violation of the human rights of these communities and so creates an obligation for its investors—you—to commit to recognize the value of the human rights of these poor rural communities, communities that are threatened with simply disappearing. Bank of America has an obligation to protect these communities.
Bank of America invests today in a company that does not respect environmental standards. According to the environmental authorities Drummond recently spilled around 1,800 tons of coal into the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Colombia. This disaster happened because Drummond chose not to implement required changes to the system of directly loading coal at port, which would have prevented these accidents.4 Pollution levels at Drummond coal mines exceed the levels permitted by law in Colombia, and they are steadily increasing.5 The pollution is affecting human health. Still, Drummond only responds to sanctions if they impact the company's ability to export coal.
Bank of America finances Drummond's coal operation and so is co responsible for Drummond, a company that operates with no due diligence regarding human, economic and cultural rights. According to the most recent study of the Contraloría General, Drummond's operations, and thus Bank of America's investments, do not guarantee a healthy life and environment, these operations only make a profit from our natural resources.6 Who holds the accounts where these profits are stashed? Bank of America.
Are these environmental and human rights abuses something you recognize? What responsibility do you have for these events? Your money is being used to fund mining operations that do not represent social, environmental and economic benefits for the communities living in the surroundings of the mines. In fact, the levels of unsatisfied basic necessities in these communities increase as sanctions and fines while the resettlements do not seem to advance.
1. Resolution No. 9070 of 2010 and Resolution No. 1525 of 2010 from the Colombian Ministry of Environment, Housing and Development (MAVDT).
2. Contraloría General de la Nación. Minería en Colombia I: Derechos, políticas públicas y gobernanza. // Minería en Colombia II: Institucionalidad y territorio, paradojas y conflictos. 2013.
3. Resolution No. 54 of 2008 from the Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia.
4. Resolution No. 0123 of 2013 and Resolution No. 001 of 2014 from the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA).
5. Resolution No. 9070 of 2010 and Resolution No. 1525 of 2010 from the Colombian Ministry of Environment, Housing and Development (MAVDT).
6. Contraloría General de la Nación. Minería en Colombia I: Derechos, políticas públicas y gobernanza. // Minería en Colombia II: Institucionalidad y territorio, paradojas y conflictos. 2013.
Last week, Bank of America (BofA) admitted a huge accounting error—for several years, it claimed a whopping $4 billion more in capital than it actually has. The day BofA announced its blunder, its shares closed down more than six percent, the stock’s biggest drop in two years.
But BofA had to come clean. Regulators, shareholders and consumers need an accurate picture of banks' balance sheets.
BofA’s admission gives us a rare chance to raise a far bigger question: What else are they hiding?
It's time for BofA to be transparent about something much more vital to the future of the planet: just how much its investments contribute to climate change.
I'm writing to you from BofA's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I'm about to speak in support of a crucial shareholder resolution. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility—backed by investors worth almost $35 billion—is pushing the bank to report on how much carbon pollution gets spewed into the atmosphere by the companies it funds.
BofA is a top funder of the biggest drivers of climate change: coal, oil, and gas corporations, as well as carbon–intensive electricity producers. But it's refusing to report on its financed carbon emissions. BofA knows that opening its books will create pressure to cut emissions by moving away from fossil fuels.
Now is the time to push BofA on climate change. Last week's accounting revelations were a big black eye, and at today's AGM, the bank needs to reassure its shareholders and customers that it doesn't have billions of dollars of climate liabilities on its books.
Pushing for transparency is just the first step. We're also calling on BofA to cut its carbon pollution by stopping funding coal, the top contributor to climate change. I'll be making that call here at the AGM in just a few minutes, and ally organizations will speak to coal's cost beyond climate: mountains with their tops blown off in West Virginia, rivers wrecked by coal ash here in North Carolina, and human rights abuses by coal company security forces in Colombia.
We have great news—your actions are delivering REAL victories for rainforests. After nearly a year of negotiations, Mars has announced that it will only source palm oil from companies that are not destroying rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands or causing human rights abuses!
Even better, Mars has set a deadline that its suppliers must meet to keep its business. The company is demanding that its suppliers, like Cargill, adopt the same strong commitments and only supply it with responsible palm oil. If Cargill fails to fall in line, it will be dropped as a supplier. This is what driving transformation in a supply chain truly means.
This would not have happened without all of the wonderful RAN activists who have taken action. Your letters to Mars on Valentine’s Day, phone calls, posts, tweets and, for some, your visit with Strawberry the orangutan to Mars headquarters made this possible. We exposed Conflict Palm Oil in Mars' supply chain and today the family-run company has taken the first step to deal with its Conflict Palm Oil problem. Now it's time for Mars to move beyond words with a thorough and rapid implementation plan for removing Conflict Palm Oil from its products.
Getting Mars on board is another step forward for Indonesia and Malaysia’s rainforests and the people and wildlife that call them home. The brands we’re taking on are huge, but it’s you and your friends that have the real power. It’s because of you that we have power in the negotiation room and are winning!
In the face of growing criticism over their use of Conflict Palm Oil, a number of the Snack Food 20 companies have taken action. Mars, Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg and Mondelez are all delivering the same message to their suppliers, like Cargill. The writing is on the wall: Cargill needs to get in line with other traders like Wilmar International and Golden Agri Resources (GAR) who have set new benchmarks for responsible palm oil production and trade or risk losing some of its most important customers.
We’re winning—now there's one more thing to do to help turn this commitment into real action. Post this message on Mars' Facebook wall: Hey Mars, thanks for stepping up to protect rainforests and people from Conflict Palm Oil. We need Mars to put its words into action with a thorough and rapid implementation plan for removing Conflict Palm Oil from its products. The power is #InYourPalm. We’re on a roll and we have big plans that we’ll share with you very, very soon.
First, the bad news.
This week, as millions of schoolchildren across the U.S. share Valentine’s candy and chocolate, they’ll be unwittingly—and unwillingly—contributing to child labor taking place on the other side of the world.
One of the key ingredients in Hershey’s chocolates—and many other Valentine’s candies—is responsible for widespread child labor and human rights violations, land grabs, and is also pushing orangutans to the brink of extinction. The ingredient? Conflict Palm Oil.
Palm oil is now found in roughly half the packaged goods in grocery stores, as its use in the US has grown over 500 percent in the past decade. It goes by dozens of names, including Palm Kernel Oil, Palmitate, and Glyceryl Stearate.
Currently, more than 85% of the palm oil used in America’s packaged food is grown on palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where child labor is common and widespread. In fact, the US Department of Labor lists palm oil as a commodity notorious for child labor and forced labor. A nine-month investigation by the Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism published in BusinessWeek last July documented widespread cases of child labor on palm oil plantations in Indonesia’s palm oil industry. Palm oil produced in this manner has been dubbed “Conflict Palm Oil” by Rainforest Action Network.
Now for the good news.
Rainforest Action Network is leading a Valentine’s Day campaign to convince Hershey’s and other top chocolate companies to remove Conflict Palm Oil from their supply chains. Hundreds of activists in 250+ American cities are placing warning stickers on Valentine’s chocolates in grocery stores this week that say, “There’s nothing romantic about #ConflictPalmOil.”
Now for the even better news.
Besides checking your Valentine’s chocolate for palm oil before buying it, there are three easy ways you and your family can help Hershey’s kiss Conflict Palm Oil goodbye:
Post a message to Hershey’s Facebook Wall: Hershey, there is one condition for my ♥. Adopt a palm oil policy that protects rainforests and the families that rely on them. I can’t love brands that use Conflict Palm Oil. No child labor for chocolate! #HersheyHurts
Twitter storm Hershey with your version of this Tweet: Hey @HersheysKisses, I won't buy chocolates with #ConflictPalmOil. No child labor for sweets! #HersheyHurts
- that companies do not buy products from the APP group and avoid investing in their infrastructure expansion projects;
- that buyers and investors encourage APP to formally commit to expand its so far limited policy to cover all aspects of sustainable and responsible operations as recommended in the EPN Performance Targets and Milestones; and
- that buyers and investors wait for verification by independent NGOs and an independent auditor that the implementation of the expanded policy has resulted in real, measurable, and permanent achievements on the ground
On Tuesday, Indonesia's second largest pulp and paper company, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), released an updated Sustainable Forest Management Policy. While this policy is notable, especially given APRIL’s recent suspension from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), it falls far short of what is needed for APRIL to clean up its act. It should also be noted that over the years, APRIL has repeatedly failed to meet similar commitments, raising the possibility that this is simply another PR move to alleviate pressure and scrutiny from consumers and NGO’s.
For years, APRIL has been the subject of controversy related to deforestation and human rights violations, due to ethically dubious business practices on the part of both APRIL and its owner Sukanto Tanoto.
Sukanto Tanoto, an Indonesian business tycoon, is also the head of Royal Golden Eagle International (RGE), and has dealings in palm oil and viscose staples fiber (dissolving pulp) as well. This new commitment is rife with policy gaps and, in fact, could allow the continued pulping of rainforests for paper until 2020. APRIL has not committed to stop natural forest conversion until the end of this year, and is continuing to feed its 2 million ton-capacity mill with rainforest fiber. Furthermore, the commitment does not address the fact that April and suppliers have cleared and converted vast areas of high conservation value and natural rainforest, despite these areas being identified as HCVs in need of protection.
APRIL has also omitted any safeguards to prevent ongoing land-grabs and human rights abuses by Toba Pulp Lestari (an RGE-affiliated company) perpetrated on Indigenous people in areas under development. As recently as last week, new protests over land-grabs have broken out near PT RAPP, where APRIL’s massive pulp mill is located. Local community members are blocking logging trucks to the mill and organizing to resist APRIL encroachment, highlighting the continued non-cooperation with local people impacted by APRIL’s operation.
In order to translate to change on the ground, the commitment must extend to all of RGE and APRIL’s sister companies and suppliers, and must close loopholes on the critical issues of human rights, peatland development and high conservation value forests. Even the commitment itself is murky, as APRIL fails to disclose the most basic information needed to understand what is being promised and assess the company's performance. Transparency and reporting on progress are necessary to ensure that commitments are met.
While, this is a positive commitment, APRIL has yet to undertake a path to true reform. Pulp and paper customers must demand more before considering doing business with any of Sukanto Tanoto's vast network of companies, which still remain entirely unaccountable for the consequences of their actions. In the meantime, the WBCSD should continue high level scrutiny of APRIL's actions until APRIL has proven that it can fully turn its practices around.
- You made “Conflict Palm Oil” an international issue discussed in the pages of the New York Times, Businessweek and The Guardian.
- You made it possible for more than 76,000 people to get the training and resources they need to take peaceful direct action and demand President Obama reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
- By sending nearly 12,000 emails, you convinced the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to sit down with community members from Papua New Guinea and mediate their dispute with KLK, a notorious forest-destroyer and labor rights abuser.
- You sent over 18,000 emails to Bank of America and Goldman Sachs calling them out for funding Coal India, a company that has been tied to numerous environmental violations. Thanks to you, BofA and Goldman Sachs were forced to go back to Coal India and wring environmental concessions from the company before proceeding.
- More than 25,000 of you called out Cargill for its ties to a palm plantation that uses forced and child labor.
- And the truth about Conflict Palm Oil is currently being broadcast from a Jumbo-Tron in Times Square and has been viewed on YouTube almost half-a-million times.