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Business and Human Rights

Amazon forest fires show the need for a Business & Human Rights Treaty

Trócaire is gravely concerned about the impact of the catastrophic fires blazing throughout the Amazon forest. 

Not only do these fires have a global impact in terms of the rapid pace of destruction – both in terms of biodiversity and contribution to climate change – but also, locally, one million indigenous people live in the Amazon forest.

Frankly, this is in large part a result of the devastating impact of populist politics worldwide and, more specifically, the irresponsible policies of the current Brazilian administration.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fought an election campaign on the basis of promises to open up what he would have called the ‘unproductive’ Amazon region for companies.
Whether or not these companies actually have the legal entitlement to cause such devastating environmental damage with exploitative and reckless business practices, they now feel emboldened to set these fires to clear the very precious Amazon forest for mining, logging and commercial farms.

These companies know they can do this because they will be met with impunity and they will not be challenged in the Brazilian system under the current Bolsonaro Government.

We see this pattern of destruction and the destruction of local people’s livelihoods and rights globally and, because of this, there is a real need for international action.

The Brazilian Government under the current leadership will not hold those responsible for these fires to account. Instead, they will create more space for companies to continue to operate in an unethical fashion and, in the process, gradually destroy our planet.

The tactics of the Bolsonaro Government are straight out of the political playbook of populist leaders – they attempt to delegitimise NGOs and indigenous peoples’ groups who are, in fact, trying to protect environmental resources as well as rights and livelihoods.

This is something that is happening worldwide. Populist leaders are attempting to smear environmental groups and Human Rights Defenders and we see this regularly in various parts of the world and in countries where Trócaire work.

Three-quarters of Human Rights Defenders who were killed last year were killed for defending indigenous and environmental rights – that’s 247 people murdered for speaking the truth.

Trócaire works with Irish missionaries and I personally met with two of them last week who have been living in Brazil for the last 50 years. They have seen the darkest days of governance in Brazil and they are concerned by the toxic policies of Bolsonaro’s Government.

Here at home, we need to consider the impact of Irish and multinational companies. For instance, Ireland has a trade of €2billion with Brazil. It is essential that we introduce due diligence and Human Rights legislation to address all of Ireland’s corporate operations in Brazil and worldwide.

There must be due diligence for all business operations, no matter where they happen, across the globe. Companies operating in the Amazonian rain forest will not be brought to justice for their unethical business practices and their infringement of human rights.

This is why we need a binding international treaty on Business & Human Rights to ensure that companies – regardless of where they are headquartered – are held to account for these abuses. You can find out more here.


Caoimhe de Barra is the CEO of Trócaire


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