[caption id="attachment_15659" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Earthdance has partnered with Critical Beats and Cyberset Music to create this one-of-a-kind compilation featuring contributions from Govinda, Bluetech and DJ Spooky in collaboration with Amazon indigenous musicians. Download the new album today!"][/caption] Some of the world's hottest DJs, including Govinda, Bluetech, and DJ Spooky, teamed up with Indigenous musicians from the Amazon to create some truly inspirational music. Now it's your turn to inspire and be inspired by their beats. Earthdance International, Critical Beats for the Climate, and Rainforest Action Network are teaming up to promote the new compilation, called Critical Beats For Gaia. Proceeds will directly benefit frontline rainforest communities through RAN's Protect-An-Acre grants program. RAN's most recent Protect-An-Acre grantshave supported everything from deforestation mapping and case studies in Indonesia to the Achual community’s permaculture project in the Peruvian Amazon. This work is central to RAN's mission, as this is where real change happens: on the ground, from community to community. While we can shift markets and demand accountability for U.S.-based corporations, it's vital to do this work in solidarity with and in support of frontline and Indigenous communities most impacted by the destructive practices we are all trying to stop. Each year, Earthdance International organizes people around the world to promote synchronized world-wide "events for peace" in September. This fantastic group helps connect activists, meditation communities, peacemakers, and organizations to grow a just and sustainable world, starting with ourselves and our communities and then working to spread the peace globally. Now, Earthdance and Critical Beats for the Climate have teamed up to create even more possibilities to support frontline communities through the release of this beautiful new compilation. Critical Beats for Gaia features so many incredible DJs and producers, it is the perfect opportunity to spread awareness through music and reach out to people who want to be part of the solution.
As I reported on Monday, the Malaysian government—hand in hand with the country’s largest palm oil companies—is attempting to undermine the RSPO’s “sustainable palm oil” certification standard by creating its own certification. Problem is—the Malaysian palm oil industry’s version of “sustainable palm oil” is pure greenwash which is extremely problematic for the companies and consumers demanding real standards of sustainability that are based on sound science. The entire notion of determining a baseline of "sustainability" for forest preservation will be lost. Yesterday’s Malaysian paper StarBiz update on the process does not bode well for the species, communities and forests of Indonesia that are most threatened by the expansion of palm oil plantations. It reported that the “draft on the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme is currently being formulated with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) earmarked as the main moderator.” Does it seems strange to anyone else that Malaysia’s Palm Oil Board – in charge of advocating for palm oil expansion at any cost – is formulating a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil? Where are the scientists, agronomists and ecologists? The article continues:
“the [Malaysian] Government is serious about introducing its national green palm oil certification scheme as an alternative to the current voluntary Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification…this is an opportunity for Malaysia to tell the world that its oil palms are grown in a sustainable manner and do not involve the clearing of virgin forest.”Malaysia wants to tell the world that land conversion for its oil palm "doesn't involve the clearing of virgin forest?" Clearly the preservation of natural forests is important, but what about the Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) of its Indigenous peoples and forest communities? What about its critical habitat for endangered species like the orangutan? What about its other forested areas that are not natural forest land anymore but secondary forests—key habitat for endangered species and diverse forest peoples? I think Malaysia has more at stake that it cares to admit. Watering down criteria for the "sustainability" of its palm oil plantations could turn out to be nothing short of devastating for the people and wildlife of Malaysia.
[caption id="attachment_14464" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Left to right: Wounded Knee DeOcampo (Me-wuk), Tony Cerda (Rumsen Ohlone), Mickey Gemmill, Jr (Pit River), Naiche Dominguez (Apache/Ohlone), Wicahpiluta Candelaria (Rumsen Ohlone/ Apache) at Segorea Te."][/caption] Nearly 100 days of continuous prayer on-site at Segorea Te (also known as Glen Cove) near San Francisco, California, has precipitated a precedent-setting victory for the protection of a sacred site and ancestral burial site near Vallejo, California. Here's the good news:
Yesterday, the Yocha Dehe and Cortina tribes established a cultural easement and settlement agreement with the City of Vallejo and the Greater Vallejo Recreation District (GVRD). The agreement sets a legal precedent for granting Native peoples jurisdiction over their sacred sites and ancestral lands. The cultural easement forever guarantees that the Yocha Dehe and Cortina tribes will have legal oversight in all activities taking place on the sacred burial grounds of Sogorea Te/Glen Cove. It also represents a significant step forward in enacting tribal sovereignty, as the first such easement under CA Senate Bill 18 to be negotiated at the city and recreational district levels.[caption id="attachment_14463" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Morning Star Gali (Pit River) and Wounded Knee DeOcampo (Me-wuk) – Photo by Scott Braley"][/caption] For more details, check out the Committee to Protect Glen Cove's press release. The historical and cultural value of the 3,500-year old site continues to be spiritually important to California tribes. On April 14th 2011, local Native Americans and supporters began a 24-hour prayer vigil at Sogorea Te to prevent the Greater Vallejo Recreation District from bulldozing/grading a large portion of the sacred site and constructing bathrooms and a parking lot. Rainforest Action Network is honored to stand in solidarity with the Committee to Protect Glen Cove. We sent an email to our 100,000+ supporters featuring an action alert that helped garner over 1500 emails from RAN activists to decision-makers in the City of Vallejo, Greater Vallejo Recreation Committee, and Native American Heritage Council urging for respect of sacred sites and the Native community. RAN staff and volunteers also organized an awesome benefit event in San Francisco that raised $700 to support the ongoing prayer vigil at Glen Cove. We are so happy to have been able to help impact this important local struggle. The role that an organization like Rainforest Action Network has in supporting the Native leaders who are protecting Glen Cove isn't just a good deed to be proud of. It is our responsibility to respect and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples whose land we live and work on. Thank you and congratulations to everyone who has worked to protect Segorea Te!
[caption id="attachment_14353" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The smoke hanging over Pekanbaru"][/caption] If you think this title sounds hyperbolic, you probably have not visited Sumatra lately. Before traveling here, I had heard stories about the oceans of oil palm that have been planted where rainforest once stood. But I was not prepared for this. The first sign that something is terribly wrong came before our plane even landed. From 30,000 feet over the Java Sea between Jakarta and Sumatra, there was no sign of land or ocean below. Just a sickly haze stretching to the horizon. Global climate change is usually an abstraction — a concept that must be imagined or made academic to understand. But here, it's in your face, tangible and acute. Incredibly, Indonesia has become the world’s third largest carbon polluting country, behind only the US and China — and 80% of those emissions are the result of deforestation. Stepping off the plane in Pekanbaru, the capital city of the Province of Riau, the assault on my eyes and nose and lungs was immediate. I actually had to suppress an initial panic that I would suffocate from the smoke. Our friends here later told us we were lucky to land at all, as air traffic would likely be cancelled again for lack of visibility. Shipping traffic from Singapore is sometimes similarly interrupted by the intensity of the smog. Our hosts laughed a little uncomfortably, explaining that before the vast deforestation of the past decades there used to be two seasons here: the wet season and the dry season. Now, they said, there are four: the wet season, the flooding season, the dry season and the smoke season. [caption id="attachment_14357" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="This land was once rainforest, but has now been cleared, burned, planted, harvested and burned again"][/caption] The acrid air is the smell of burning peat. It is the smell of palm oil plantations expanding deeper into the heart of what’s left of Sumatra’s once vast lowland jungles. Sumatra’s forests have been so lush, so wildly productive, for so many millennia unbroken, that their photosynthesis has processed immense amounts of carbon out of the air. The trees have quite literally breathed the atmosphere in, sinking its carbon through eons of leaf litter, forming massive reservoirs of underground organic material that has actually built land dozens of miles into the sea. These steamy, amphibious ecosystems swarm with a cornucopia of life. Elephants and orangutans, tapirs and tigers and every manner of bird and beetle the human imagination can fathom. The truth is, no one has any idea how many species used to live here. Scientists estimate maybe half the species in these forests have yet to be described to science, and with most of these forests now suddenly gone, we will never know what’s already been lost. These unusual deposits are called peat domes, and Sumatra’s are among the deepest in the world. To make this land fit for industrial palm oil and pulpwood production, however, it must first be cleared and drained, marring the natural landscape with a matrix of massive canals. Exposed to the air, the peat begins to decay, and when it ignites, it smolders in unstoppable fires that open the flood gates of the reservoir, releasing catastrophic quantities of carbon back into the tropical air. The clearing of these forests has been so fast and merciless, the land and its people are in a distinct state of shock. Both are still reeling from the ongoing assault while struggling to pick up the pieces. Already, what is forever lost is devastating. Many wildlife biologists consider the remaining populations of endemic Sumatran Rhino to be the living dead. Their habitat is too sparse, too fragmented and too disturbed, their numbers too few. [caption id="attachment_14354" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="RAN forest campaigner Lafcadio Cortesi walking through decimated forest that is set to become a palm plantation"][/caption] Yesterday I was able to visit a peat forest for the first time, and to witness the advancing edge of its destruction firsthand. To get there, we traveled ten hours through the night from Riau to Jambi Province, then four hours by car over horrendous dirt roads to South Sumatra. From there we rode motorcycles on thin trails through a barren palm oil plantation to the edge of the peatlands. We continued by foot on a rough trail along a canal dug by illegal loggers to remove logs from the forest. We arrived at the forests edge, battered, sweaty and spent. Thrilled to see tall trees still standing, I could hardly suppress tears at the tragic effort it took just to reach them. Monkeys howled in the distance. An electric blue butterfly swirled around me. Spiderhunters, dollarbirds, and bulbuls flit overhead while giant crested treeswifts carved gracefully through the air. Then, as if on cue, a chainsaw began to roar just out of sight, followed quickly by the terrible sound of trees crashing through trees to the ground. A few days ago we watched video footage of an 18 month-old Sumatran tiger slowly dying in a trap set by a pig hunter on an Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) acacia plantation a few hours from our hotel in Pekanbaru. He was one of the last of his kind. 150 breeding pairs are estimated to remain in the wild. These majestic animals have been pushed to desperation in their search for the basics of food, habitat and mates amidst a biological desert of palm oil and pulpwood plantations. [caption id="attachment_14355" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="This peat forest took days of travel to reach and was falling as we watched"][/caption] I would like to tell a happier story, but not at the expense of the truth. Indonesia is at a critical tipping point. But, as severe as the destruction is, all is not yet lost. Taken as a whole, a recent estimate puts Indonesia’s forest loss at 49%. Orangutans still swing freely through the canopy of forests in Borneo and new species of lizards and birds continue to be described to science in West Papua. There remains some hope for the struggling Sumatran populations of pygmy elephants. And, as communities across Indonesia are struggling to regain their livelihoods and the future livelihoods of their people from being sacrificed for quick profit by companies turning the rainforest into international commodities, there are signs the government is turning around. Feeling discouraged and distraught after our disheartening trip to the forest, we returned last night to the hopeful news that the Indonesian government has announced a potentially major new direction in forest policy. Declaring the establishment of a new 89,000 hectares of community-managed forest lands and the enforcement of a decade-old provision of forest law that requires the government to identify areas within the national forest estate that are in conflict with existing forest community land rights, Presidential advisor Pak Kuntoro said that Indonesia’s president supports protecting the land of indigenous communities and that “this is our chance to untangle our convoluted past and make a lasting difference.” People in the know seem to think the government may be serious this time. After his speech, Kuntoro said to Reuters, “Paradigm shift is imperative, from exploitation to sustainable and responsible use of natural resources.” Indeed. More power to him.
"Everyone has the right to a final resting place. Our ancestors deserve to have a resting place on their original land without the threat of being removed for the sake of a park." - Corrina Gould, Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone A spiritual encampment to protect a Bay Area sacred site is now in its 50th day. Local Native community members opposing a proposed development that would disturb the shellmounds, burial sites, and artifacts at Glen Cove have occupied the land to stop construction from going forward. There are many ways that you can help support the struggle to protect this sacred site. [caption id="attachment_13557" align="alignnone" width="614" caption="Click image to find out how you can show your support."][/caption] Glen Cove is a sacred gathering place and burial ground that has been utilized by numerous Native American tribes since at least 1,500 BC. Today, Glen Cove continues to be spiritually important to local Native communities. It is located just south of Vallejo, California along the Carquinez Strait, a natural channel that connects the Sacramento River Delta to the San Francisco Bay. Glen Cove is known as Sogorea Te in Karkin Ohlone language. Since 1988, the Greater Vallejo Recreation District (GVRD) and the City of Vallejo have been planning to turn Glen Cove into a “fully featured” public park. GVRD’s current Master Plan calls for the installation of a parking lot, restroom facility, picnic tables, and construction of additional trails, including a paved trail. It also calls for re-grading of large areas of the site, which involves digging that will further disturb burial sites and sacred objects. This planned grading includes “capping” known shellmound/burial areas with 12 inches of soil. The local Native American community has been outspoken about these plans for the Glen Cove Sacred Site, and their message is unequivocal: "Do not further disturb and manipulate this sacred burial ground of our ancestors." Spiritual leaders from Ohlone, Miwok, Pomo and other local tribes consider the proposed park development plans to be an offensive desecration of this area. [youtube 5mZnssi406c 550] We recognize that our organization, Rainforest Action Network, is headquartered in San Francisco, which itself is on the traditional land of the Ohlone people. Of the over 400 Ohlone shellmound burial sites documented in the Bay Area in the early twentieth century, only a handful of these sacred shellmound sites remain relatively undisturbed today. Glen Cove in Vallejo, California is one of the last remaining sites. [caption id="attachment_13555" align="alignleft" width="323" caption="U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples posted at Glen Cove"][/caption]
Earlier this year, the United States ratified the U.N. Document on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Articles 11 and 12 uphold many of the principles being physically protected by the encampment at Glen Cove. For instance:
Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains. (Article 12)The Greater Vallejo Recreational District has a responsibility (both ethically and legally) not to ignore the Native community’s demands to stop the development. It is not too late to choose another way. GVRD decision-makers and the mayor of Vallejo could set an example for how to respectfully engage stakeholders and effectively utilize FPIC (Free, Prior, and Informed Consent) principles. You can help. Here is a request from members of the Native community working to protect Glen Cove: "Please give us your support. Get your signature on our petitions, come to our gatherings and meet the descendants of this sacred place. And most importantly, get the word out. Talk to your neighbors, co- workers and friends about respecting sacred sites and the rights of Indigenous People. See our “How to Help” page to learn about more ways to lend support." If you're in the Bay Area, you are invited to visit Glen Cove/Segora Te, and learn about the site and support the protection of sacred sites and human rights. Rainforest Action Network stands in support of the spiritual encampment at Glen Cove/Segora Te. The local Native community should rightfully be the lead decision-makers who hold authority in matters related to their Sacred Burial Ground.
UPDATE: On October 11, 2012, Disney announced a comprehensive paper policy that maximizes its use of environmentally superior papers like recycled and eliminates controversial sources like those connected to Indonesian rainforest destruction. For more info, visit www.ran.org/disney. Young or old, when one thinks of the Walt Disney Company, the first images that come to mind are almost certainly of a favorite animated character from our childhood. From Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bambi to The Jungle Book and The Lion King, Disney specializes in bringing animals to life and imbuing them with personalities that pull on human heartstrings and ignite children’s imaginations. Unfortunately, like any classic Disney tale, there is a darker side to this story, one that Disney does not want you to hear. Disney’s paper buying practices are driving some of Earth’s most iconic animals towards extinction, and so far the company is doing nothing about it. Disney is the largest publisher of children’s books in the world, producing over 50 million books and 30 million magazines a year in the US alone. Last year, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) hired an independent lab to conduct tests on the fiber found in children’s books published by the top ten US publishers. Nine of the ten tested positive for fiber linked to Indonesian rainforest destruction, Disney included. See Turning the Page on Rainforest Destruction: Children’s Books and the future of Indonesia’s rainforests. RAN approached each of the companies before releasing the incriminating data to allow each a chance to address this serious problem. In the year that followed, RAN worked closely with these companies and eight of the original ten have now established commitments not to source their paper from controversial Indonesian fiber. Seven of the ten have agreed to specifically avoid purchasing from the notoriously destructive logging and paper companies APP (Asia Pulp and Paper) and APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited) altogether. Sadly, Disney has lagged behind its peers and to date has offered only empty words that do nothing to ensure the company is not still purchasing paper driving rainforest destruction. Indonesia is a real life Magic Kingdom, home to some of the most biologically and culturally diverse forest ecosystems on Earth. With only 1% of the planet’s land area, Indonesia’s rainforests are home to 16% of all bird species, 11% of all plants and 10% of all mammals. This wealth of life includes endangered tigers, orangutans and elephants, the real life characters featured in Disney’s Jungle Book. Reckless logging, largely driven by demand for cheap paper products and palm oil, has threatened all of this by causing one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. The carbon emissions from this large scale deforestation has made Indonesia the world’s 3rd largest greenhouse gas polluting country, behind only the US and China. Indonesia’s forest products industry is internationally renowned for its corruption and high rates of illegal logging, as well as for its devastating impacts on biodiversity, forest communities and the climate. The vast majority of Indonesia’s pulp and paper — approximately 80% — is controlled by two large and controversial suppliers: APP and APRIL. Over the past decade both have become infamous for their widespread, rapacious demolition of Indonesia’s rainforests and communities. It's time for Disney to realize that rainforest destruction is no fairy tale. Rainforest Action Network is putting Disney on notice, and we hope you will join us to get the company to align its practices with the values it espouses and embeds in the stories it tells. Bulldozers and chainsaws have no place in the habitat of endangered species or in the production of storybooks for children. It's time for Disney to stop doing business with nefarious bad actors like APP and APRIL and to adopt a comprehensive policy that can guarantee parents that reading bedtime stories to their kids will not make them unwitting participants in tiger and orangutan extinction. Because in the end, it was Disney who helped many of us learn for the first time, it’s a small world, after all.
[caption id="attachment_12439" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Click image to take action."][/caption] After fighting for the return of their ancestral lands for more than a decade, the people of Long Teran Kenan in Malaysian Borneo took a stand earlier this month and reclaimed part of their homeland with a decisive and peaceful act of collective resistance. Their territory had been taken from them and converted into oil palm plantations, which are now owned by the notorious global palm oil giant IOI Group. In Malaysian Borneo, 2.3 million hectares of land have been converted into palm oil plantations, and there are plans to double that area within the next ten years. However, the Long Teran community has drawn a line in the sand by occupying two palm oil plots that IOI had continued to harvest despite a historic March 2010 decision by a Malaysian court that ruled the plots in question were indeed on native customary lands. In November 2009, IOI promised not to appeal the court's decision when it was made. IOI has now not only appealed the decision but has also continued to operate illegally on Indigenous lands and has even gone so far as to break off all negotiations with the community. Support the people of Long Teran by taking action today. Negotiations Fall Apart - Police Allow Re-Occupation of Lands to Continue Last November, RAN participated in a negotiation where Marc den Hartog and Rina Rahayu Latar of IOI Group committed to work diligently to resolve the long-standing conflict at Long Teran. After months of inaction from IOI following the community’s court victory, the people of Long Teran called in the local police to ask IOI Group to leave their native lands where the company does not have the community's permission to operate. A few days later, with the court ruling behind them, the community blockaded access to the IOI Group plots, re-seized control of their ancestral lands, and started their own community palm oil harvesting. They were able to successfully sell the palm fruits harvested to a neighboring mill and are determined to make their own decisions on land that was stolen from them in the name of "progress". A community meeting to discuss daily harvesting plans can be seen in the image below, and if you look carefully you will see the natural forest in the background. Controversial IOI Palm Oil Trafficked into American Grocery Stores For American consumers the story does not end with this inspiring example of one community determined to defend its Indigenous lands. IOI Group is a known supplier to Cargill, long a primary target of Rainforest Action Network. The story from this community is only one of many we hear from the rainforests of Borneo and beyond, stories of communities that have been devastated by the global demand for palm oil. Cargill is the number one importer of palm oil into the US, with palm oil now found in half of all packaged foods found on grocery store shelves. This gives Cargill enormous influence over global palm oil markets, including how palm oil is produced, refined and distributed. For more than three years, RAN has pushed Cargill to adopt basic safeguards that would ensure the company is not importing human rights violations, rainforest destruction, and climate change. Because Cargill has to date failed to institute these safeguards, controversial palm oil is still found throughout American supermarkets. As we all watch the story of Long Teran Kenan unfold, we are struck by two questions weighing heavily on our minds: 1) Will IOI Group negotiate in good faith or will it continue to use legal technicalities and contest the legitimacy of the Indigenous community? 2) How many case studies of dirty suppliers will it take to convince Cargill that safeguards are needed on its supply chain? Please join RAN by taking action today in solidarity with the people of Long Teran!
[caption id="attachment_12363" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A member of an Ecuadorean delegation visits Grand Isle, Louisiana with members of the United Houma Nation to see the destruction left by BP's oil spill. Click the image for more photos."][/caption] Never mind the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste still contaminating the Amazon rainforest, which Chevron refuses to take responsibility for. The company has promised to behave itself this time. I say that not to make light of an obviously very serious situation, but to point out how ludicrous it is that even as we struggle to clean up the last oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (and reports are currently circulating of yet another oil spill in the Gulf), federal regulators have seen fit to award a serial-polluter like Chevron with the first permit for a new deepwater drilling operation since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Why is this so appalling? Mainly because Chevron has never met a community it wasn’t willing to pollute if there were profits to be made, which could be seriously bad news for the Gulf Coast residents still reeling from last year’s spill. Chevron doesn't have the best track record when it comes to protecting the environment, and the company will do whatever it takes to avoid cleaning up its messes. Just ask the people of Ecuador, or the people of Nigeria and Kazakhstan, or even the people right here in Richmond, California — all of whom live every day with pollution from Chevron operations that the company refuses to take responsibility for. Last year we helped organize a delegation of Ecuadorean leaders who headed to the Gulf Coast to meet with American Indian tribes and share their experiences coping with decades of Chevron's massive oil contamination. The meetup happened as the Gulf Coast residents were bracing for the impacts of BP’s oil spill. We put out a report, “The Lasting Stain of Oil,” to distill some valuable lessons for victims of Big Oil’s reckless pursuit of profits. Perhaps now, as Chevron prepares to begin new exploratory drilling operations in the Gulf, is a good time to revisit those lessons:
- Corporate Polluters Will Cover Up Evidence Chevron has engaged in numerous cover-up tactics in order to minimize public awareness and try to limit future liability.
- Don't Trust the Polluter to Properly Clean Up Hoping to avoid a major liability, Chevron engaged in a fraudulent remediation, which consisted of covering up a small portion of its contamination, while leaving massive amounts of toxins in the environment.
- Expect a Public Relations Campaign to Gloss Over Impact and Attack Community Like Chevron has in Ecuador, oil industry polluters often stick to the same tactics – trying to cast blame on others and distract attention from their own wrongdoing.
- Corporations Will Use Legal Maneuvering and Political Influence to Evade Liability Rather than do the right thing and put its resources toward cleaning up its mess in Ecuador, Chevron has instead spent vast sums of money on questionable legal tactics and lobbying, and political arm-twisting.
- Oil Disasters Will Have Long-term Impacts Much of the harm from large oil spills manifests years later, and circumstances can change dramatically over time.
- Affected Communities Have the Power to Demand Accountability Despite Chevron's efforts to avoid accountability in Ecuador, the communities have developed strength and resilience by uniting in their struggle for justice, health, and a clean environment.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Click image or go to www.ChangeChevron.org/ChevronIsGuilty to take action."][/caption] As oil giant Chevron has pursued its “distract, distort, and delay” strategy to evade responsibility for polluting Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, the company has found U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan to be very sympathetic to its claims. According to a brief just filed by the Ecuadorean plaintiffs' US lawyer, Kaplan might even have gone so far as to suggest new abusive legal maneuvers for the company to pursue. But first, a quick bit of history on “the case,” which actually involves several cases in the U.S. and Ecuador. This legal battle goes all the way back to 1993, when a group of Indigenous and rural Ecuadoreans filed a lawsuit against Texaco in New York federal court. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, and Chevron’s lawyers argued that New York was not the proper jurisdiction for the suit. So in 2002 U.S. District Judge Saul Rakoff granted Chevron's motion to have the case moved to Ecuador. As a condition of the transfer, Chevron agreed to honor the judicial process and abide by the verdict issued by the court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador. But there's been little to no honor in any of Chevron's actions since. In 2011, almost two decades after the initial lawsuit was filed in New York, the judge presiding over the case in Ecuador found Chevron guilty and ordered the company to pay $8.6 billion to clean up its mess. It was a major victory for the Ecuadoreans who had withstood an endless barrage of abusive and bullying legal maneuvers and dirty tricks from Chevron. The company, of course, immediately proclaimed the judgment illegitimate and refused to pay. So much for honoring the judicial process... For the past few years, Chevron has embarked on a series of legal tactics here in the United States that are intended to discredit the Ecuadorean court system and smear the reputations of the Ecuadorean plaintiffs and their legal representation. Two weeks prior to the verdict, for instance, Chevron filed a RICO lawsuit against several of the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, as well as their Ecuador- and US-based legal teams. The RICO suit was just the latest in a long line of abusive tactics. There is evidence that while the case was still in the Southern District Court of New York, Texaco helped write a memo that was sent by the Ecuadorean ambassador requesting that the U.S. State Dept. intervene and cause the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims. Later, Chevron lobbied the White House to pressure Ecuador into dropping the case. The company also attempted to entrap one of the Ecuadorean judges in a sting operation. In fact, Chevron has practically declared war on the Ecuadorean judiciary, filing numerous motions before the court, threatening judges with criminal charges and jail sentences, and taking out ads in national newspapers calling the court, the judges, and the experts corrupt – all conduct that Chevron would never attempt in the United States. But it's Chevron's allegations that the Ecuadorean plaintiffs are mobsters engaged in a vast criminal conspiracy to extort money from the poor little corporate behemoth that is particularly outrageous. And where might Chevron have found a court willing to entertain this absurd allegation? Why, Judge Kaplan’s court, and none other. US lawyer Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer who has been fighting for justice for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon over the past decade, is who Chevron is focusing on as the mastermind behind the imagined criminal conspiracy. Donziger just filed a brief arguing that Chevron filed the RICO suit to evade the promise to abide by the ruling in Ecuador that the company made to Judge Rakoff. The brief also claims that Chevron deliberately neglected to cite the original 1993 lawsuit when filing the RICO suit because that would ensure the case found its way on to Kaplan’s docket and not Rakoff's. In addition to being biased in Chevron’s favor, Kaplan allegedly encouraged Chevron to file the RICO suit in the first place. At a September hearing, Kaplan said, "Now, do the phrases Hobbs Act, extortion, RICO, have any bearing here?"— obviously signaling that he’d be willing to hear such allegations made in his courtroom. As Donziger’s brief says, "It is no wonder that Chevron would seek to have the [RICO suit] assigned to the very judge who invited and encouraged its instigation.” Kaplan wrote to the U.S. State Department requesting input on the implications of Chevron’s RICO suit for international relations with Ecuador, but the State Dept. replied with a big fat “No comment.” Translation: You and Chevron are on your own, Kaplan.
[caption id="attachment_11845" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Sinar Mas Clearing Forest in West Kalimantan, Making Room for Palm Plantations. Photo: Greenpeace"][/caption] Sinar Mas Group, the notorious international palm oil pariah, recently made a remarkable announcement: The company's subsidiary, Golden Agri Resouces (GAR), intends to implement a forest conservation policy. Among other things, GAR’s Forest Conservation Policy commits it to a goal of “no new development” on peat lands, High Conservation Value Forest areas or High Carbon Landscapes, respecting Indigenous and local communities, and achievement of RSPO certification for all its holdings by 2015. Well, sounds good on paper, right? The announcement is significant for several reasons. First, it demonstrates that global grassroots market pressure campaigns are working. When Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer — whose environmentally and socially egregious production practices have made it the poster child of everything that is wrong with the palm oil industry — announces its intention to move, it’s clear that our message is starting to get through. GAR’s announcement follows years of worldwide negative press and international contract cancellations, most recently from major high-profile companies including General Mills, Burger King, Nestle and HSBC. Second, while the announcement recycles a number of previous GAR commitments, it is the first time a major palm oil supplier has set clear criteria defining High Carbon Landscapes (HCL). This is a hugely important benchmark for the entire palm oil industry in Indonesia as well as for the pulp and paper sector. (Interestingly, Sinar Mas Group also owns the largest and most notorious pulp and paper producer in Indonesia, Asia Pulp and Paper.) The RSPO needs to include this benchmark in its standards, and it deserves to also be embraced and codified by the government as it moves forward with actions to reduce deforestation — including the upcoming moratorium on forest conversion expected from the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Carbon emissions from massive corporate-led deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia have vaulted it to a third place ranking as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US. GAR’s HCL criteria are set at a “provisional 35 tons of carbon per hectare,” which should take most valuable standing forest off the table and shift expansion to more degraded lands. GAR, working with forest consultants Tropical Forest Trust, will be doing a study to assess this benchmark over the next 6 months. Most importantly, however, is what GAR’s announcement says about Cargill. If GAR is willing to step forward and make such overdue commitments publicly, why isn’t Cargill doing the same for its palm oil business? Cargill needs to clean up its palm oil supply chain and insist on what GAR is promising from ALL of its palm oil suppliers (as well as on Cargill’s own palm oil plantations). Cargill trades an estimated 20-25% of global palm oil production. As long as Cargill continues to trade in unsustainably produced palm oil, the company is a huge part of the problem. In a recent article dissecting GAR’s new policy, CSR veteran David Logan, who is tasked with helping usher GAR into 21st Century corporate social responsibility, notes that he’s making sure GAR has a vested interest in improved transparency. Wait a minute, did he say Transparency? What a concept for a massive palm oil company! The kind of transparency he’s advocating is exactly the type of consistent public reporting we’re looking for in a Cargill policy. Taken just at face value, GAR’s commitments represent a positive signal, both for the company and more widely for the palm oil industry. When even a palm oil pariah like GAR says it will go to bat for forest protection, other major palm oil players like Cargill are going to have to get more serious about their commitments to clean up their palm oil business. Join our campaign to get Cargill to implement a palm oil policy that ensures that all the palm oil they purchase and trade doesn’t come from rainforest destruction or slave labor, whether from third party suppliers or Cargill’s own plantations — where the company is both destroying the rainforest and abusing worker’s rights. Sign our petition and ask Cargill to show real leadership in making sure that rainforests aren't cut down for palm oil. One last thought: As Mr. Logan raised in his discussion about GAR’s uphill journey towards corporate social responsibility, GAR’s new policy announcement begs us to revisit an important question about the RSPO. If one of the worst players in the industry has essentially committed to surpass the RSPO’s principles and criteria, that calls into question whether or not the RSPO — the only certification criteria that commands any significant percent of the palm oil market — has strong enough standards to make a real difference on the ground in Indonesia.