The following is an English translation of a statement made by Judson Barros, the president of FUNAGUAS, as he protested the Bunge Corporation outside its annual stockholders’ meeting in New York.
Bunge Food Inc. has been in the public eye over the last two months in many media outlets in Brazil (magazines, websites and newspapers) for two reasons:
- A Federal Court finding mandates Bunge to stop using a scarce native hardwood as the fuel for its soy processing plants in Piauí
- Despite this judicial mandate the company has not followed the judicial decision, in other words, Bunge is breaking the law in Brazil.
How did Bunge get into trouble with the Courts in Brazil? Because in the Northern part of the state of Piauí , Bunge has developed its activities without the least respect for local ecosystems, human rights and the culture of local people and communities.
Let’s look at some examples: Bunge uses native species of trees of the Brazilian savannah (Cerrado) as its energy source to process soybeans. A Thousand cubic meters a day. In Piauí, Bunge has been using local trees fro fuel for 5 years and even longer in the other parts of Brazil. The deforestation and destruction of forest reserves has had a severe environmental impact, resulting in the elimination of local fauna and flora and overexploitation of water reserves that has provoked river failures. It has also caused observable temperature increases. The excessive use of toxic agrochemicals has caused the death of many farmworkers on the soybean plantations financed by Bunge – 15 farmworkers died of toxic poisoning in 2005 in the municipalities of Ribeiro Gonçalves and Baixa Grande; Bunge’s production of soy and its logging activities have been associated with to the use of laborers kept in degraded conditions referred to by Brazilian law as slave-labor. A farmworker earns $ 30 cents of dollar for the logging of a cubic meter of timber. Three dollars per day is the daily wage of a farmworker who is required to work daily shifts of 10 hours.
This irresponsible and unsustainable model of soybean production has also involved land loss for peasant small holders who have been pushed off their lands, often through violent means, by large producers hungry fro more acreage for their large scale industrialized production. These displaced peasants often have no other choice left than to migrate to urban areas where the end up living in urban slums where the join the ranks of the unemployed. These peri-urban areas are violence prone areas where crime and youth prostitution are common.
This situation is aggravated by the lack of enforcement of the existing environmental legislation in Brazil and in Piauí state. For this reason, Fundação Aguas (Waters Foundation) sued Bunge for its wrongdoings and won the case on March 5th of 2008 with a unanimous vote from a grand jury. Fundação Aguas ended up suing Bunge because the company refused to dialogue or negotiate with environmental organizations. Further, the company still uses intimidation to tray and impede the just work of environmental organizations like ours.
I am the coordinator of Fundação Águas. I am a Brazilian citizen from the state of Piauí, but also I am a citizen of the World. My optimism and hope for a better world has brought me to New York to talk to the shareholders of Bunge that maybe do not know about the behaviors of his/her company in the state where I live. I speak here on behalf of many children from communities affected by the environmental degradation caused by Bunge’s methods of soy production. I speak in defense of the forest reserves of my region, of the place where I was born and live. I speak on the behalf of many who are not able to speak and who are not heard. I represent my people. I do not speak on my behalf or in defense of my personal interests. I speak ultimately in the name of the Planet Earth and all citizens of the World. I believe here at this moment that today we must and will find a solution to the situation of destruction of life in the Brazilian savannah that is home to a considerable number of people of the state of Piauí in Brazil.