The European Parliament’s Environmental Commission is currently debating the text of the Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products (FERC), also called the deforestation-free law, which will be voted on in September. The legislation contains some extremely important gaps to guarantee the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the protection of their territories.

European countries, importers of Brazilian commodities such as beef, soy and leather, need to take responsibility for the impacts that these large-scale production chains have on Indigenous Lands in Brazil. Europe is the second largest market for selling soybeans produced in Brazil, as well as a major importer of Brazilian beef and other forest-risk products. Agribusiness, mining and other large-scale exploration put strong pressure on the protection of Brazilian biomes, the guarantee of indigenous rights and climate change. European demand for commodities amplifies these conflicts. Therefore, it is necessary to impose limits and create traceability mechanisms committed to human rights and the environment. Brazil is currently experiencing a delicate moment of dismantling of policies and institutions, in addition to an increase in violence in the countryside, as the murder of indigenist Bruno Araújo and journalist Dom Phillips has shown. According to the 2021 Global Witness report, Brazil is the fourth most violent country for environmental and human rights defenders.

To focus on this debate, APIB toured Europe with a delegation of indigenous leaders between June 8th and 17th. In the first days, the delegation was in Paris, France, following the investigation of the Casino case, an international supermarket retailer accused of selling products linked to deforestation and land grabbing in Brazil and Colombia (you can read more about the case and the APIB tour in Europe here). In the second part of the trip, between the 13th and 17th of June, the entourage of indigenous leaders from APIB was in Brussels, Belgium, and held several meetings with members and committees of the European Parliament to position themselves on the law on deforestation-free (FERC) and to demand that Parliament include the demands of Indigenous Peoples in that legislation.

The ministers representing the member states of the European Union will put their positions in relation to the law at the next European Environment Council, which will take place on June 28th. Subsequently, the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee – which is responsible for drafting the FERC law – will vote in mid-July on the proposed amendments to the draft presented, with the aim of having the final text for voting by the law in the plenary of Parliament in September 2022.

What is currently proposed by the Law on deforestation-free (FERC)?

The European Commission’s Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products (FERC) pretends to avoid the importation of products that promote illegal deforestation within their production chains. The proposed law, presented on November 17th 2021, seeks to create sanctions for products that pose a risk to the environment, but would only be implemented on lands considered forests according to the definition of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This definition disregards a large part of the Brazilian biomes and, as a consequence, also excludes the reality of a good part of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

If the FAO definition of forests is the only criterion taken into account, Brazilian biomes would be at risk due to large-scale commodity production chains: 75% of the Cerrado, 89% of the Caatinga, 76% of the Pantanal and 74% of the Pampa, according to data from MapBiomas.

The proposed law would be applied in only 15% of the Pantanal region, one of the biomes most affected by fires in recent years, and completely disregards the Pampas biome in the south of the country, where historical processes of invasion and occupation of indigenous lands are taking place, caused mainly by the advance of soy and livestock. The Cerrado biome, with only ¼ of its area recognized as forest within the FAO definition, is today one of the regions with a significant advance in agribusiness and livestock, in addition to the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the MATOPIBA (forest region between Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia States), which already brings impacts to the contamination of soils and water due to the excessive use of pesticides. The Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlántica) and Caatinga would also not be fully recognized as a forest despite being intensely consumed and threatened by industrial activities and agribusiness, respectively. The Amazon would be the only biome with the greatest extent recognized as a forest within the considerations of anti-deforestation legislation. However, about 15% of the biome would be unprotected by this law, as in the case of Lavrado (vegetation present in parts of the state of Roraima, in addition to other patches of Cerrado present in the Amazon).

Another loophole in the FERC proposal is that it only requires each country to be responsible for complying with its national laws. However, this implies a great risk in the current context of dismantling of public policies promoted by the current and anti-indigenous Brazilian government that could continue marketing certain products without violating any national law. The proposed law also does not talk about the exclusive right of possession and usufruct of Indigenous Peoples over their lands or the obligation to comply with international laws such as article 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organization).

And the third and final weakness of the legislation pointed out by APIB is what it says in relation to the products that could be traced and the commercialization deadline. The draft text proposes that six commodities, coffee, cocoa, cattle, palm oil, soy, wood, and derived products, will have to go through due diligence before being placed in the EU market. Importers and traders will have to ascertain that the commodities were not produced or grown in a land that suffered deforestation or degradation after December 31st, 2020 and are in accordance with the producing country’s laws. The law excludes the traceability of canned meat, corn and cotton, among other products at forest risk. At the same time, the time frame for commercialization allows, for example, that frozen meat, as well as stored cereals (such as soy) that were produced on deforested pasture in 2019 can be commercialized.

What are APIB’s demands in relation to deforestation-free legislation (FERC)?

APIB appeals to the European Parliament to recognize the reality of the multidimensional impacts and responsibility of European economic and commercial dynamics on indigenous lands in Brazil. To that end, it specifically requests:

  • Effective mechanisms for tracking commodity production chains are needed because productive, economic and financial pressures have a major environmental impact and an increase in violence against Indigenous Peoples, especially against their leaders.
  • All of Brazil’s biomes need to be included in the European deforestation-free law, as a concrete response to the climate emergency and the cases of violence that have multiplied in our territories, with the encouragement of the Brazilian government. APIB wants the FAO definition of forests not to be used, and thus allow that, in addition to the Amazon, this legislation also includes the protection of the Cerrado, Pantanal, Pampas, Mata Atlántica and Caatinga.
  • It is necessary to consider the position of Indigenous Peoples: to go beyond the goals established in international agreements, to consider the vital role that indigenous communities play in climate responsibilities as guardians of the forest and to take into account the opinion of those who directly suffer the impacts of the predatory production chains of commodities in Brazil.

“For us Indigenous Peoples, no biome is different, they are all part of the Brazilian territory, which is an indigenous territory. And we, the indigenous people, live in all these biomes. So it is important that European anti-deforestation legislation considers all of them”, declares Kretã Kaingang, executive coordinator of APIB. “What hurts with soy, what hurts with murders, what hurts with the invasion of territories, what paralyzes the demarcation of indigenous lands happens in all biomes. With the inclusion of all biomes in this legislation, we have more strength to defend these biomes. We already do this without law, but we know that European countries buy products from all these biomes, not just from the Amazon, and their protection influences our daily lives”, adds Kaingang.

More details in the document prepared by APIB: “Message to the European Parliament on the urgency of passing the European Deforestation-Free Law (FERC)”.

How was the APIB advocacy campaign carried out in the European Parliament?

On Thursday, June 16th, the APIB delegation and Extinction Rebellion spoke out in front of the European Commission to demand that parliamentarians include the demands of Indigenous Peoples in the deforestation-free legislation (FERC). (See photos of the act here).

“Our influence in the European Parliament was very necessary for us to spoke out our situation as Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. Thanks to this dialogue with the European Parliament, it may be possible to modify the draft law. We are here with an opportunity to intervene internationally as indigenous organizations, as it is difficult to be heard in the current context of Brazil with this anti-indigenous and fascist government, which only seeks profit at the expense of those who live on that land like us”, explains Crisanto Rudzö Tseremey’wá, leader of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB).

During the delegation’s stay in Brussels, other important meetings took place, such as meetings with José Manuel Fernandes, chair of the Brazilian delegation to the European Union; Jérémy Decerle, French Member of the European Parliament ; and Anne-Margreet Sas, representative on agriculture on the UK Netherlands standing committee in the European Parliament. In the three meetings, members of parliament were interested in understanding the current situation in Brazil suffered by Indigenous Peoples, but claimed that at this moment it would not be possible to include other biomes in the anti-deforestation law. Possibly, after the law is passed by Parliament (which should take place in September 2022), the inclusion of other biomes and/or a broader definition of forests/vegetation could be included in the regulatory review, which should take place in 2024. This was the same speech used by technicians from the General Council for the Environment and the European Parliament Research Center on the inclusion of biomes. They also reiterated that Human Rights, including those of Indigenous Peoples, should be established in other due diligence legislation (still being drafted by Parliament) rather than in a deforestation-free law. These meetings frustrated the APIB delegation, seeing that the European Parliament is not that committed to mitigating its trail of destruction to guarantee a real deforestation-free supply of commodities.

On the other hand, there were moments of support, such as the meeting with members of the European Parliament’s Group of the Greens, formed by Michèle Rivasi, Grace O’Sullivan, Francisco Guerreiro, Anna Cavazzini, among others. At lunch with part of the indigenous delegation, they strengthened the support network for the construction of an ambitious deforestation-free law, which meets the demands of indigenous peoples and those who are most impacted by the production of commodities. In addition to meetings with members of the European Parliament, the APIB delegation took the opportunity to meet with its network of partners in Europe, such as FERN, Greenpeace, Global Witness, Friends of Earth to strengthen alliances and discuss strategic actions to promote guarantee the fulfillment of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

See more photos from the APIB Tour in Europe:

How important is an international mobilization of Indigenous Peoples?

In a scenario of dismantling of public policies in Brazil and the illegal advance of industries (agribusiness, livestock, mining, energy, hotels), the productive and economic demand coming from the European Union and other countries or economic blocks feeds and accelerates the processes of invasion, expropriation and destruction of Indigenous Peoples and their lands. The right to the territory is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution of 1988, through the demarcation process, being the responsibility of the Brazilian Executive Power. However, in a scenario where the president of Brazil is the greatest enemy of Indigenous Peoples and reinforces the advance of agribusiness and the fragility of inspection institutions, it is up to Brazil’s economic and commercial partners to demand and press for the fulfillment of the indigenous rights. 

In addition, APIB denounces that the murders of indigenist Bruno Araújo and journalist Dom Phillips are not isolated cases, but a consequence of systematic violence promoted by the militarist and anti-indigenous state commanded by the genocidal Jair Bolsonaro. “They found the bodies of Bruno Araújo and Dom Phillips. This is the real situation in our country and that is why we are here in Belgium, to make these complaints and to dialogue with the deputies about the laws that are being created here in Europe and that directly affect our lives in our territories”, says Eunice Kerexu, executive coordinator of APIB. “We are not here to say stop this export, but to reinforce the need to create a legislation that helps us protect our lives and our territories”, adds Kerexu.

About the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB)

APIB is the largest instance of representation of the Brazilian indigenous movement and has, since its creation, fulfilled its commitment to fight for the guarantee of the constitutional rights of Indigenous Peoples. Whether nationally or internationally, APIB and its seven grassroots organizations are mobilized to protect territories, communities and people.

The Indigenous Peoples, articulated through their regional organizations and APIB, seek in all instances the accountability of those responsible for this destruction. Internationally, APIB, in addition to participating in climate events and debates, seeks to make the agents responsible for the dynamics of invasion, illegal exploitation and destruction of indigenous territories accountable, as well as influencing the debate on the formulation of the new Regulation on deforestation-free products (FERC). In Brazil, APIB has historically mobilized the indigenous movement and faced the anti-indigenous policies that are being processed in the Federal Supreme Court and in the Chamber of Deputies, forming the front line of protection of Indigenous Peoples and Lands, and consequently, of the environment and the environment’s future. To protect indigenous territories and ensure respect for constitutional rights, APIB resists and advances on different scales.