Forests, Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Development – No Connection according to UN logic

By Simone Lovera and Mrinalina Rai

One would think that if two conferences take place in the very same building at the very same time, there would be some connection between the discussions and outcomes. Alas, in the big bureaucratic jungle of the UN Headquarters in New York this is usually not the case. In April, for example, a colorful meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) with hundreds of Indigenous representatives was held literally down the corridor from a meeting to elaborate the post-2015 development agenda. The UNPFII recommended amongst others that the action points on data disaggregation, land rights, traditional knowledge, the implementation of free, prior and informed consent, access to justice and traditional knowledge[1] agreed upon in the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples should be integrated in the post-2015 development agenda. It further recommended that Indigenous Peoples be engaged in the Expert Group in developing key indicators to monitor implementation of the proposed agenda. But sadly these recommendations[2] were almost squarely ignored in the post-2015 process. Despite its central message “Leave No One Behind”, Indigenous Peoples remain almost invisible in the goals and targets. Only one of the proposed indicators[3] recognizes the roles that Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their conservation initiatives can play in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and this indicator is under threat as being considered ‘unfeasible’.

Similarly, while these meetings were literally back-to-back to a meeting of the UN Forum on Forests, the Forum (UNFF) paid virtually no attention to the latest stage of negotiations on the post-2015 agenda, or to the recommendations of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The UNFF did recommend at the end of the session that it wanted “forests” to be taken into account in the post-2015 agenda, though. Obviously, interagency coordination is a one-way street for the foresters that still dominate the UNFF; the rest of the world should listen to the UNFF, according to the UNFF, but the UNFF can totally ignore what is happening in other forest-related processes. Continue reading

Los Devastadores Planes sobre Plantaciones del Programa de Inversión del Banco Mundial

by Simone Lovera

A veces esperas lo peor y no quedas decepcionado.

Cuando el Programa de Inversión Forestal del Banco Mundial (FIP) fue establecido hace 6 años, la Coalición Mundial por los Bosques estábamos escépticos por decir lo menos. El Banco Mundial había financiado (y continúa financiando) numerosos proyectos con un impacto devastador sobre los bosques y las personas dependientes de los bosques, Ponerlos a cargo de lo que es hasta ahora el fondo mundial más grande en cuanto a inversión en proyectos para reducción de emisiones por deforestación y degradación de bosques y fortalecimiento de reservas de carbono (REDD+), sonaba como un caso clásico caso en donde se invita a los lobos al rebaño.

Por otra parte, el FIP no solo daría subvenciones sino también préstamos, y como algunos de los valores más importantes de los bosques no pueden ser reflejados en términos monetarios, la gran pregunta era y sigue siendo cómo estos préstamos serían pagados. Solo las actividades comercialmente rentables son capaces de generar los suficientes ingresos financieros para países para que puedan pagar los préstamos, pero la experiencia con casi cualquier actividad comercialmente rentable en un bosque es que conlleva – a corto o largo plazo – a la degradación forestal y deforestación subsecuente. De hecho, como la definición de bosques usada por el Banco Mundial incluye los monocultivos de árboles, una porción significante de fondos del BM son invertidos en tales plantaciones, simplemente porque son mucho más rentables comercialmente que cualquier otra actividad relacionada con los ‘bosques’. Continue reading

The Devastating Plantation Plans of the World Bank Forest Investment Program

By Simone Lovera

Sometimes you expect the worst, and you are not disappointed.

When the World Bank Forest Investment Program (FIP) was established 6 years ago, we were skeptic to say the least, as Global Forest Coalition. The World Bank had funded (and continues to fund) numerous projects with a devastating impact on forests and forest dependent peoples. Putting them in charge of what is until now the largest global fund to invest in projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD+) sounded like a classical case of inviting the wolves to herd the sheep.

Moreover, the FIP would not just give grants, but also loans, and as some of the most important values of forests cannot be reflected in monetary terms the big question was and remains how these loans would be paid back. Only commercially profitable activities are able to generate sufficient financial returns for countries so that they can pay back loans, but the experience with almost any commercially profitable activity in forests is that it leads, in the short or long term, to forest degradation and subsequent deforestation. In fact, as the definition of forests used by the World Bank includes monoculture tree plantations, a significant portion of WB funds are invested in such plantations, simply for the reason that they are far more commercially profitable than any other ‘forest’-related activity. Continue reading

Shaping the Treaty on Business and Human Rights: Views from Asia and the Pacific

Shaping the treaty on business and human rights

In Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, the catastrophic environmental damage and social upheaval caused by the Panguna copper mine sparked a decade-long civil war that claimed thousands of lives, unleashed waves of gender-based violence, and tore apart the social fabric of the island. Talks are now underway to re-open that mine.

In Bangladesh, two years after 1100 people were killed by the collapse of Rana Plaza, garment workers continue to experience violence and intimidation for attempting to form unions and claim their right to decent work. Survivors and families of victims are still waiting for financial contributions from European and American companies that sourced their clothes from Rana Plaza to cover their medical expenses and mitigate the loss of their livelihoods.

In the Philippines, the government continues to deploy military and paramilitary units long associated with human rights violations as part of an Investment Defence Force that ‘secures’ large-scale development projects—usually against resistance by indigenous peoples whose rights are routinely ignored. And across south-east Asia, foreign investors are free to avail themselves of Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses when governments take measures in the public interest that are perceived to reduce their profits.

Given the impunity with which corporations in Asia and the Pacific operate, the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of a Resolution last year to elaborate a binding instrument “to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises” provides a critical opportunity to advance corporate accountability. From 1-3 May, civil society gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to discuss how to ensure that the process of developing a treaty responds to the needs of communities that experience human rights violations caused by businesses. The Consultation, which was co-convened by ESCR-Net, FIDH and the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, brought together affected communities from the region with an expert legal group who will work collectively to develop proposals on how best to address gaps in corporate accountability. It is the first of three Regional Consultations with civil society to be convened over the next year as the Intergovernmental Working Group established under the Resolution begins its work of defining the content and form of the treaty.

Civil society participants in Chiang Mai discussed the nature of human rights violations they have experienced as a result of corporate activity, the challenges they face in seeking a remedy, as well as the remedies and mechanisms that would be necessary to protect and fulfil their human rights. The legal group considered how these might shape proposals for State and corporate obligations under the treaty, including different theories of civil and criminal liability, as well as for effective means of redress at local, national and international levels. The Consultation also yielded strategies for networks and social movements in the region to use the treaty process to strengthen their own work around corporate accountability. Civil society participants are now working towards developing a unity statement setting out their key demands for the treaty.

Among the issues highlighted was that no government in the Human Rights Council voted consistently last year to protect women’s human rights. While voting in favour of the TNC Resolution is consistent with protecting women’s rights—a recent report observed that most of the victims of violations by TNCs are women—the governments that voted in favour of that Resolution also voted in favour of a regressive Resolution on the protection of the family.

As the private sector’s anticipated role in financing and implementing the next development agenda continues to expand, the process of elaborating a new framework is an opportunity for civil society to challenge the narrative that assumes that corporate actors can be trusted—in the absence of binding regulation—to act in alignment with the objectives of equitable, sustainable development and human rights. The Intergovernmental Working Group established under the Resolution will meet for the first time in Geneva in July, beginning the next phase in this critical new process.

For more information about this process, visit the treaty initiative website.

For more on APWLD’s work on extraterritorial obligations, visit our website.