[caption id="attachment_6887" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo by Matt Dunham"][/caption] On April 28th in Edinburgh, Scotland the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) held their Annual General Meeting where shareholders met to discuss the future of RBS. RBS was one of the UK banks bailed-out by the UK government in 2008, and now RBS is 83% owned by the UK public. Between 2007 and 2009, RBS led the underwriting of loans for tar sands mining in Canada at an amount of more than $7.5 billion. This translates into UK taxpayers and public money being used to finance operators in the Alberta tar sands. The money that RBS has contributed to this project clearly identifies them as complicit to the environmental and cultural annihilation of the lands, territories and rights of my people. Over the past year and a half I have been working with the RAN targeting Tar Sands development and the banks that fund it here in Canada. Our Canadian campaign target has been the Royal Bank of Canada, the world’s largest financier of tar sands with over $18 billion in the tar sands. RAN has been demanding new policies be adopted and implemented by the Royal of Canada to ensure the environment, water and rights of my people are protected and that banks become transparent with their financing. Over the course of the last six months there has been a growing movement in Europe and UK to take up the issue of Tar Sands by groups such as the newly formed UK Tar Sands Coalition, People & Planet, Platform, World Development Movement, Friends of the Earth France and Scotland, and Greenpeace UK. More recently some of these groups have begun targeting major tar sands financiers such as the Royal Bank of Scotland. [caption id="attachment_6850" align="alignleft" width="249" caption="Eriel Tchekwie Deranger at RBS AGM: Photo By Ric Lander"][/caption] So, last week I traveled from Edmonton, Alberta Canada to attend the RBS AGM to bring Canada’s Indigenous peoples and environmental demands to the UK and voice my concerns surrounding RBS financing of Canada’s tar sands. I was privileged to have the opportunity to go inside the AGM along with Simon Chambers, documentary film maker working with Amnesty International and Indigenous communities impacted by Bauxite mining in India. We both had and opportunity to present our cases, mine of the tar sands mining in Canada and his of bauxite mining in India. I posed the following questions: “How does RBS justify their billions of dollars in corporate loans and financing to operators in the tar sands, the world’s largest and most destructive industrial project, given the projects vast environmental and human rights abuses?” -and- “Would RBS consider moving towards policies that fully respect Indigenous communities rights to free, prior and informed consent with respect to the banks financing to ensure that communities lives and livelihoods don’t continue to be eroded and impacted by their financing?” The response from Chairman Sir Philip Hampton was pretty standard. He denied the banks involvement in the tar sands stating “…our investments in the Tar Sands are so minimal that I don’t even know what they are.” and then he completely dodged the question of implementing new financing policies that respect Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous communities referring that I should be addressing the Canadian government not the bank. This was similar to responses from RBC at the beginning of our campaign here in Canada. That evening I was invited to a Peoples AGM where we allowed the public to hear not only the cases of tar sands and bauxite mining, but to look at what viable alternatives existed in the renewable sector. The people also developed their own demands to present to RBS executives the following morning. The next morning we met with the Chairman of the Board, Sir Philip Hampton, and three CSR representatives, in a building that I can only describe as a church to the money gods, to discuss the campaign, demands and concerns. The executives and Chairman reiterated time and time again that they have been given the task to ensure the bank continues to make profits in order to pay back the UK government. The words “profits before people” rang through my ears for a majority of the meeting. However, it’s undeniable the bank does not want to be associated with a campaign that will further tarnish their reputation. I stressed that all banks are in a state of reform and they should take our concerns and recommendations seriously as they have an opportunity to be a leader in the industry to adopt strong policies of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and leading the way forward in clean, renewable energy. RBS could not deny they have been under public scrutiny since being bailed out and tar sands financing is now the cherry on top. It’s clear the bank is worried. I just hope this will be the first of many conversations outlining how RBS can meet the demands of the people here in Canada. [caption id="attachment_6856" align="alignright" width="300" caption=" Photo By Ric Lander"][/caption] In closing, now that the bank is 83% owned by the UK government you’d think we’d be seeing strong corporate and government leadership driving the bank and transforming them into a leader in the emerging green energy economy in the UK and a move towards a future that honours the land and the legacy of my ancestors. RBS should be adopting strong policies that respect free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities and ensures the protection of the environment and water not contributing to projects that tramples over them. It’s time that ALL banks step up to the plate and adopt comprehensive policies that not only address but respect Indigenous communities right to free, prior and informed consent as outlined and identified within the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope the UK will put its money where its mouth is by pulling RBS's business out of the tar sands.
The truth is out! After months of investigations, RAN just released a report entitled CARGILL'S PROBLEMS WITH PALM OIL: A BURNING THREAT TO BORNEO. Slideshow of report images Our report reveals that Cargill is clearing and burning rainforests, displacing Indigenous and traditional communities and exacerbating climate change. While Cargill claims that it is committed to sustainable palm oil, it is violating its palm oil commitments, RSPO Principles and Criteria and Indonesian law. Check out our post on GRIST. One of the things we uncovered in our investigation is that Cargill is also failing to disclose the ownership of at least two plantations where they are actively clearing rainforests. The two plantations, located on Indonesian Borneo, are operating without legally required permits, resulting in clearing and burning of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands and significant conflict with traditional and Indigenous communities. On one plantation, Cargill has cleared 10,500 hectares of rainforest since its operations began in 2005 – an area as large as all four Walt Disney World theme parks! In thinking about the majestic forests of Borneo -that were once havens for orangutans, Sumatran tigers and elephants- and the people who depend on it for their survival, it's unconscionable to think that in this day and age companies are still getting away with such egregious and rampant destruction. It's not enough for companies like Cargill to say that they are committing to "sustainable palm oil", they need to take bold action now! RAN is recommending that Cargill adopt and implement a comprehensive palm oil policy, which includes cleaning up its entire palm oil supply chain and supporting an immediate moratorium on any further deforestation or draining of peatlands for palm oil plantations. We are also recommending that Cargill customers, like General Mills, cancel their contracts with the company until or unless it agrees to our recommendations. Our report and full recommendations can be found at www.ran.org/cargillreport The media is just starting to cover our report. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says, "Rain forest advocacy group slams Cargill: Rainforest Action Network says Cargill operating outside of sustainability guidelines." We'll keep you posted on other updates, especially the update where Cargill agrees to clean up its act and stop clearing rainforests for palm oil plantations.
Written by John F. Akwetey (RAN Ghana) In line with the government’s election campaign promise of a better Ghana Agenda, licences are given to multinational companies to mine in our forest reserves without proper consideration of its consequences after submitting a signed "Statement of Policies on Natural Resource and Environment,’’ to the European Commission. These multinational mining companies use their money and power to deceive our leaders to allow them mine in our forest reserve after they have destroyed the off reserves areas in the country by polluting water bodies, violating human rights, and intimidating communities. Many of our forest reserves across the country are home to endangered species of plants and animals, in addition to containing precious minerals like gold, diamond and bauxites which the mining companies have targeted for their activities. Examples include Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District where a mining company from Australia has started their operation, Agyenuapepo Forest Reserve in the Birim North area of the Eastern Region, and Newmont Limited who want to mine royal cemeteries in the Akyem Kotoku Traditional area. The mining companies intimidate communities by using violence that results in death of Indigenous youth. In this year, at least seven or more death of community people have being recorded. Newmont Limited polluted several communities' water bodies and kept it secret from the communities and the government until a local NGO raised the issue. These mining corporations are ready to pay their way out to have whatever they want, however we cannot rule out the payment of bribery by these mining companies to our leaders, since they protect their interest. These mining companies falsified documents claiming that the Indigenous communities have agreed with the mining activities in their area. RAN Ghana would challenge any mining corporations that destroy the environment and violate human rights of Indigenous mining communities especially the youth who end being killed. We would also subject for advocacy in this direction to ensure that human rights of mining communities are not trampled on. Finally, I would like to call on the government to stop granting mining concessions to these mining companies particularly in forest reserve.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Chris Noth hosting the RAN event! "][/caption] On Thursday, April 29th, Sex and the City star (and RAN's newest Honorary Board member) Chris Noth threw RAN a fabulous birthday bash at Manhattan's (Le) Poisson Rogue. Chris Noth has been a supporter of Rainforest Action Network for over 20 years now and started throwing a yearly NYC benefit party a few years back. These big apple parties always bring together New York's finest celebrities, eco-gliteratti, musicians, and long-time RAN volunteers and supporters. This year's party really kicked off RAN's 25th anniversary year in style! The unforgettable moment of the night was a completely hilarious and raucous live auction that raised a ton of money to support the critical work RAN does to defend forests, fight climate change, and support Indigenous rights. Party co-hosts Chris Noth and the fabulous Trudie Styler kicked off the auction with a lively bidding war for two backstage passes (and a lil' something extra) to Sting's July shows at the Met with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Other lucky party-goers grabbed work-out sessions with Chris's personal trainer (and a year's membership to Nimble gym) and a private dinner with 'Mr Big' himself. And for all of you waiting, Cosmos in hand, for the Sex and the City sequel, Chris helped nab 2 tickets to the World Premiere of Sex and the City 2 and sweetened the deal with a gorgeous stay at Le Hotel Plaza Atheene. Besides being a fantastic fundraising event, the party was also a fantastic way to connect and engage on the issues we are fighting everyday. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Trudie Styler"][/caption] Rainforest Action Network's Acting Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton gave a rousing speech about the breadth of our campaign work and our 25 history of pressuring (and inspiring) some of the world's largest corporations to transform their social and environmental practices. As she spoke about our recent recent successes to get Indonesia fiber out of high-fashion bags I saw Barney's Fashion Director Julie Gilhart nodding and eco models (and activists) Summer Rayne Oakes and Kate Dillon cheering along. When Trudie Styler - who has traveled and worked extensively in the Amazon rainforest where Chevron is responsible for massive oil contamination - spoke about the environmental and health disaster in the region, the crowd was gasping and asking for ways to get involved in our campaign to Change Chevron. With such a star-studded and perfect event, what was my favorite celebrity sighting of the night? It wasn't anyone you'll read about in People magazine. Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza, the two courageous men, who have been defending the 30,000 impacted people in Ecuador to force Chevron to do the right thing and clean up the oil pollution, made a surprise appearance. Speaking with Pablo and Luis reminded me why we do this work, and why the support of so many people have kept RAN going strong for 25 years. Want to join the community of support? Become a monthly sustainer today. We can't offer you backstage passes to Sting, but we can guarantee that your donation will help protect forests, fight climate change, and support human rights. Click here for more photos of the event!
Last week was a busy one for General Mills, finding themselves increasingly under public scrutiny. Not only are hundreds of children across the country now pressuring the company to get the palm oil out of their Cheerios, but during the 2010 Edison Awards in New York while receiving a gold award for their "Gluten Free Betty Crocker Cake Mix," local New York activists disrupted the gala ceremony to bring attention to the irony that the company was receiving an award for innovation meanwhile destroying rainforests. Is rainforest destruction and willingly supporting practices that are making orangutans extinct really innovative? On Wednesday April 28 several children descended upon General Mills Headquarters in Golden Valley, MN, to deliver the over 400 Earth Day posters that young school children produced nation-wide, asking General Mills to get the dead orangutans out of their breakfast cereal. They just don't understand why General Mills insists on putting rainforest destruction-tainted palm oil in over 100 of their products including brands such as Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Hamburger Helper. [caption id="attachment_6619" align="alignleft" width="195" caption="Elementary school student Amina in Dexter, MI expresses her concerns about General Mills"][/caption] This came just days after General Mills released its 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report, which clearly showed that the company is not making the issue of palm oil a priority as it appeared in a brief paragraph on page 97 out of 102. The children delivering the posters asked General Mills to show a true commitment to sustainability, not just one that looks good on paper. The following day, on Thursday April 29, the New York Action Network used creative tactics to disrupt two different sessions of the annual Edison Awards, a prestigious award that honors companies for their innovation. As a finalist for their Betty Crocker Gluten Free cake mix, activists made sure to be there at both the leadership panel at the NY Academy of Sciences and at the evening ceremony in the event that the company earned an award so as to shed some light on the company's negligent practices: continuing to purchase palm oil from Cargill even though we've proven that Cargill is clearing and burning threatened rainforests in South East Asia, making irreplaceable species like Sumatran tigers and elephants extinct, and displacing millions of Indigenous communities. I encourage you to hear the story from the brave New York activists themselves and check out their photos. The pressure isn't only mounting nationally - locally we're making a big splash too. Last night over 150 people attended the RAN-sponsored art and activist event at Tarnish & Gold Gallery in NE Minneapolis. Artists were asked to use local food corporations with shoddy human-rights and sustainability track records for inspiration, and the gallery walls were covered in images like the Pillsbury Doughboy walking among flaming forests, and General Mills logos on destroyed land. Winning artists received amazing awards from local businesses! [caption id="attachment_6631" align="alignleft" width="194" caption=""Rainforest Doughstruction" from palm oil in General Mills' Pillsbury products!"][/caption] But we're not stopping there! Today is the infamous May Day parade here in Minneapolis, where we will march amongst thousands with a 6 ft. orangutan, Cargill chainsaws and oil palm trees to educate the public about the impact that local food and agriculture giants General Mills and Cargill are having on peoples, forests and species around the globe. Join our movement to demand responsible palm oil today!
[caption id="attachment_6589" align="alignright" width="500" caption="Rally at the RBS Shareholder Meeting. Credit Ric James"][/caption] We've been going after the Royal Bank of Canada for bankrolling the tar sands for some time now. Today, we went after the other Royal Bank--the Royal Bank of Scotland--with our friends across the pond. RBS ranks 7th globally among banks backing tar sands operators, but first in the UK where taxpayers now own more than 80% of the bank. Hundreds converged on the Bank's Annual Meeting of Shareholders and more than 15 bank branches across the UK. Tomorrow RAN's own Eriel Deranger meets with RBS Chairman Sir Phillip Hampton (more on that here). Will he pull the plug on companies destroying water and habitat and recognize the basic rights for Indigenous communities like other leading banks have done? We're hoping he can out-do the "maybe" we heardfrom COO Barbara Stymiest in February. World Development Movement has a great set of pictures from the demo today in Edinburgh. So does Ric James. Also, check out press coverage from the Caledonia Mercury, The Independent, Politics.co.uk, The Scotsman and a mention over at the BBC and the Financial Times.
RAN supported the community of Grassy Narrows in Ontario, Canada with a $3,000 grant facilitated through our role as an advisor to Global Greengrants Fund for 2 public events in Toronto on the 40th anniversary of when the community was poisoned by mercury from an upstream pulp mill (which continues to make people sick today). The events were successful in bringing attention to Grassy Narrows' grievances, with the Premier publicly acknowledging that the Province has a "heavy responsibility" to get to the bottom of the issue. There was a lot of media coverage, including several print articles and this very strong 10 minute piece on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLAVH89lpsM
This morning my email inbox was full of advocacy groups commemorating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. As the ecological systems that support life are reaching their brink, there is certainly a good reason to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on a range of issues and challenges. But activist organizations aren't alone in commemorating today. Today I was struck even more by corporations trying to capitalize on Earth Day to green their images. As Becky Tarbotton observed in the Huffington Post, the New York Times summarized the situation well: "So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money from corporations and held teach-ins 'to challenge corporate and government leaders'... Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry." [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="192" caption="Photo by Diana Pei Wu"][/caption] Against this backdrop, World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba today is a breath of fresh air. The Indigenous Environmental Network celebrated today by explaining that "this morning Bolivian President Evo Morales was joined by representatives of 90 governments and several Heads of State to receive the findings of the conference on topics such as a Climate Tribunal, Climate Debt, just finance for mitigation and adaptation, agriculture, and forests. The working group on forests held one of the more hotly contested negotiations of the summit, but with the leadership of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus was reached to reject REDD and call for wide-scale grassroots reforestation programs." Jason Negrón-Gonzales of Movement Generation elaborated on how they do Earth Day in Cochabamba: "...from now I’ll be talking to my children and 2010 will be remembered as the year that Earth Day took on new meaning. It will be the year that humanity turned a corner in our relationship to Mother Earth and began struggling along a new course...more than politics, the conference in Cochabamba brought to the table humanity’s relationship with Pachamama. This question, raised most pointedly by the Indigenous communities present, was reflected in the project of creating a declaration of Mother Earth Rights, but also went way beyond it. Can we really reach a sustainable relationship with the Earth unless we stop looking at it as something to be conquered or fixed that is outside of us? How would it change our lives and our struggles if we thought, as Leonardo Boff of Brazil said, 'Todo lo que existe merece existir, y todo lo que vive merece vivir (Everything that exists deserves to exist, and everything that lives deserves to live)'? Or if we understood the Earth as a living thing that we are a part of and that, 'La vida es un momento de la tierra, y la vida humana un momento de la vida (Life is a moment of the earth, and the human life is a moment of life)'?” [caption id="" align="alignright" width="190" caption="Photo by Diana Pei Wu"][/caption] And the politics do matter. The cross-pollination of grassroots social movements in Bolivia are charting a course and global program that articulates both an analysis of the state of play of the United Nations negotiations as well as a set of solutions moving forward. Jason helped outline the core points of the ABC's of the Climate Negotiations distilled from analysis coming out of the Cochabamba conference:
1. The key question (aside from decreasing emissions) in negotiations is how to divide up the atmospheric space left for emissions given that the US and other developed countries already used up most of the space that there was for greenhouse gas emissions. This then leads to the obvious follow-up question of whether or not the same countries that overused already should get the overwhelming share of what’s left. The obvious answer that most children would tell you is that no – that isn’t fair, or for that matter, just or equitable. Yet when a country like the US says it can’t or won’t cut emissions to the level it demands of others, that’s what happens. 2. Many countries in the Global South, and certainly the Bolivian government, believe that when developed countries like the US need to decrease their emissions that we should do it domestically, in US industries and the US economy, instead of creating carbon markets that let the US pollute away while paying someone else to decrease for them. This makes sense because history has shown that the projects that are supposed to “offset” emissions in the US or EU are often dubious, or might have happened anyway, or cause other problems for the people who live where they are happening (like with dams). 3. Regardless of the above points, the rich nations pushing the current arena of international negotiations are not seeking to get industrialized countries to decrease their own emissions by their fare share. Right now there are two competing options for a global framework to address climate change– a backroom deal the US is trying to move called the Copenhagen Accord, and the continuation of the international negotiations that have been happening according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. You read that right. The US-backed “Copenhagen Accord” has no relationship to the ongoing global negotiations process. As Angelica Navarro, one of the UN climate negotiators from Bolivia told the story, “It (the Copenhagen Accord) was given to us and we were told we had an hour to decide if we would support it enough. How are we supposed to make a decision about the future of the earth in an hour?” 4. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted through the UNFCCC as the global plan to set targets and mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 1997 has lots of well documented problems: a carbon market has allowed developed countries to avoid making real reductions to their emissions, a “clean development mechanism” which has spurred all kinds of destructive projects in the Global South, and the use of offsets which lead to continued pollution in communities of color in industrialized countries while paying projects elsewhere to cut their real or planned emissions. However, on the positive side Kyoto has: shared legal limits on emissions that are (at least prospectively) based on science; the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” meaning that those who have polluted the most should have a different burden than those who haven’t; exceptions for Global South countries with the intent of not restricting their development; and an enforcement mechanism if targets aren’t met. 5. The Copenhagen Accord, on the other hand, has: voluntary limits set by each country, no process to reconcile or pressure countries that offer less regardless of responsibility, no enforcement, continued carbon markets with offsets, etc., and an overall target set not by what science says in necessary, but only representing the total of what all the countries offer up. A study done by the EU estimated that if the Copenhagen Accord was approved with the existing commitments by countries it would optimistically only decrease emissions by 2%, probably locking us into a 3.9 degree Celsius temperature increase globally (this comes from a recent MIT study) – which would be a serious disaster.Just as companies are using Earth Day to green their images, the Copenhagen Accord was an attempt to pretend a lot more is being done than it really is. It gets worse. This Earth Day comes on the heels of the leaked U.S. Government document trying to "Reinforce the perception that the US is constructively engaged in UN negotiations in an effort to produce a global regime to combat climate change," "managing expectations" of the UN Climate talks in order to undercut critics. Though the story has predictably gotten little attention in the U.S., the 40th anniversary of Earth Day is framed by extremes filling my email inbox: the predatory opportunism of corporations and some governments on one side, and real solutions proposed by Indigenous groups and other front-line communities on the other. Today, I'm grateful for the 15,000 people making history down south. To keep up with the summit: For photos and video, check out Diana Pei Wu's site. Global Justice Ecology Project's Climate Connections Blog Evelyn Rangel-Medina of Ella Baker Center Check the Weather Grassroots Global Justice Alliance Indigenous Environmental Network World People’s Conference on Climate Change Carwil James’ Blog, Carwil Without Borders Bolivia Rising Blog Twitter hashtags to follow: #cochabamba, #wpccc, #cmpcc, #climatejustice, #climate
Last night eleven activists stormed the downtown Chicago Marriott Hotel, site of the 2010 FUSE industry conference, to warn General Mills that they must stop delaying and protect endangered orangutans now! But what do endangered orangutans or Sumatran tigers have to do with General Mills, anyway? This year's FUSE Conference brought over 400 industry leaders together for 3 days of "Reclaiming the Future." Conveniently, many of Cargill's palm oil customers such as General Mills, Kraft and Hershey's, were in attendance. Over 400 industry leaders awoke this morning to find colorful educational postcards under their door, reading "General Mills: Rainforest Destruction Guaranteed," "Lucky Charms is Magically Destructive" and "Cheerios: Rainforest Destruction in every spoonful." If the industry leaders didn't understand after reading our materials over breafast how General Mills is displacing Indigenous peoples, exacerbating climate change and threatening rainforest species like the orangutan by using palm oil products in their cereal, they definitely did once they got to the conference's first session of the day. At 10am as General Mills finished up it's panel on design and marketing, several activists, dressed in suits, joined General Mills, Kraft and other Cargill palm oil customer staff for a networking break. Introducing themselves as Cargill interns wishing to share new corporate materials, the activists were greeted with warm handshakes and friendly smiles. "Cargill interns" handed out the new corporate materials, which were pamphlets hi-lighting Cargill's role in rainforest destruction, gross human rights abuses, and species extinction. After enough jaws had dropped and after making sure every speaker podium in the Conference had a Cargill postcard, the palm oil activists called it a day.
[caption id="attachment_6429" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Indigenous Activist Protests RBC Waterloo Branch"][/caption] An activist was arrested this afternoon at the Waterloo Branch of RBC Bank. Mark Corbiere was charged with mischief for hanging a banner reading "Boycott RBC" and "Stop the Tar Sands" from the roof of the branch, located in uptown Waterloo. The protest was one of eight "Fossil Fools Day" protests at RBC branches across Canada. For the last five years, activists around the world have adopted April Fools Day as a day of pranks and protest against fossil fuels and climate change. According to Bloomberg, RBC is a top arranger of financing to companies operating in the tar sands. Those present report that Corbiere was joined by 10 supporters chanting and holding banners in front of the bank branch during the protest. CTV cameras were on scene to catch the action. After an hour of negotiations, police removed Corbiere from the roof and confiscated his banner.