Worthy of the FSC logo? Dispossession and misery in Brazil’s plantation industry

We are taking the liberty of reproducing here a powerful personal insight into the proposed FSC certification of Brazilian eucalyptus plantation company, Veracel, which was published in the latest edition of the bulletin of the World Rainforest Movement.

The certifying firm SGS has launched a consultation process for the FSC certification of Veracel Celulose’s eucalyptus plantations. This company is owned by the Swedish-Finnish company Stora Enso and the Norwegian-Brazilian company Aracruz Celulose and its plantations are established on 78,000 hectares of land in the extreme south of the State of Bahia. The negative impacts of those plantations are resulting in considerable local resistance (see Bulletin No. 109). The main assessment will be made between 23 and 27 July 2007.

Here below is an Open Letter aimed at preventing Veracel from obtaining FSC certification, which reflects indignation over the attempt at certifying a company that has caused, and continues to cause, so much pain and suffering.

Open Letter to women and men of goodwill

I am going to talk about things that I consider to be very contradictory. How does one understand certification of TREE PLANTATIONS? Well, it is not as simple as it would seem. This does not involve native trees from the ATLANTIC RAINFOREST biome where I was born and raised. Where I lived through various cycles of destruction, but nothing compares with this: monoculture eucalyptus plantations! I saw the forest felled to give way to eucalyptus plantations! I SAW IT. I saw rivers, streams and springs dry up! I saw a rural worker, a country man who did not know how to read or write and who had only learnt how to work the land, with his ten or eleven children coming to the city in tears, fearing an uncertain fate. Presently, the older children are selling drugs on street corners, some of them have even been to prison, and the eldest was killed by a police officer. A very dangerous bandit! Just imagine. And the father in tears, repeating as if to convince himself that he was not to blame – I didn’t teach my son to steal or to kill. I taught him how to plant and to harvest, I taught him the crop cycle, what to plant in each season. And he learnt, he was very good at it, but the land was missing.

The younger ones and the grandchildren, the children of the dead son, have gone to the Recovery House SOS Life, to recover from serious under-nutrition caused by the lack of food.

And now I receive a text from the newspaper “Valor Econômico” under the heading “Veracel is taking up arms against the factory’s opponents,” that states: “The pulp mill industry is gathering statistical information commissioned to independent institutions to show the economic and social effects of their investments and to refute criticism against their factories.”

Veracel, a company with a pulp mill located at the extreme south of Bahia, today disseminated a study indicating that it is already responsible for 15 % of the agricultural GDP in the region. The mill, which started operating in May 2005, answered for 60% of the total economic growth of the region for the period 2003-2006.

“We know that Veracel has a positive effect on Bahia and on the region, but we do not know precisely how much,” stated the president of the company, Renato Gueron.

He explained that one of the reasons for preparing the study undertaken by the Project Division of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) was to obtain concrete data to counteract the opinion of people contrary to the pulp mills. “There are ideologically-motivated non-governmental organizations and other groups lacking technical arguments who are opposed to our type of activity,” alleged Gueron.

I am part of the group that, according to the director of the company, is ideologically-motivated and does not have any technical arguments. So I suppose that what I see is not reality, it has not been scientifically proven. In order to scientifically prove something I need a technician, an academic to follow pre-established and manipulated standards and rules, a person who has read hundreds and hundreds of books and who states in a lengthy and incomprehensible report that what I have seen and experienced is true!

But this situation has been seen and experienced by men, women, teen-agers and children in the worst way possible. Every day we feel in our skin the noxious consequences of regional economic growth corresponding to 60% between 2003 and 2006. What growth are they talking about, and for whom? Probably they are talking about the profits distributed between Aracruz and Stora Enso, Veracel’s partners. This is the only truth: profits are technically verifiable. And what if later on no-one is willing to prove that the people in this region are living in poverty? How can it be proved? Poor people going hungry, poor people assaulting and robbing, what is wrong with this? What we have to do is to build prisons! Eunapolis should already have its own prison!

Justice, politicians, scientists, shareholders, they do not live here and the few ones who do have private security and build high walls to protect their houses and their families. They are honest men, who hold the truth. And the truth is that the region has grown economically and is responsible for 15% of the GDP. Considering this, we will forget that to obtain this result, the company cut down the Atlantic rainforest; that the company was fined by IBAMA in 2005 for having prevented regeneration of 1200 hectares of forest in process of regeneration; that it was again fined by IBAMA in 2007 for having dumped poison in springs; that justice determined that the law should be enforced and the eucalyptus plantations should be removed from the surroundings of National Parks (Pau Brasil, Descobrimento and Monte Pascoal); that it is being obliged by federal justice to pay labour rights that had not been paid to the workers of the Veracel Institute.

We will also forget that this institute is a façade where children are given new clothes and shoes to receive illustrious visitors from Sweden and Finland and when the visitors depart, the officials are obliged to remove the clothes and shoes, leaving the children crying with no shoes and torn clothing. We will forget that the company does not comply with the conditions set out in the environmental permit granted by the Environmental Council of the State of Bahia, for example providing timber for other purposes to avoid pressure on what is left of the Atlantic rainforest, or not acquiring smallholding areas without the endorsement of the Rural Workers Trade Union. We will forget that in one single municipality, Eunapolis, between 1996 and 2000 almost 7000 families left rural areas because the lands were sold to Veracel, that they destroyed a community (Maurília) to build the mill and that the people of this community are now living in the outskirts of cities, without jobs and in poverty. That in the community neighbouring the Mill (Barrolândia) there are people who are dying of starvation because they can no longer obtain their livelihood from rural activities as they are surrounded by eucalyptus trees; that in addition to hunger, people in this community are dying of leprosy and tuberculosis. We will forget the company’s lack of respect for the Brazilian legislation and go ahead and CERTIFY IT.

The objective of Veracel is to achieve FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. FSC is a non-governmental organization that was established in 1993 in Canada. This certification verifies that the entire productive process of a factory, from the production of eucalyptus seeds to the manufacturing of paper, is carried out in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable way. However, the only thing we can verify is that it is economically viable for foreign shareholders. Only poverty, hunger and unemployment is left for the BRAZILIAN PEOPLE!

Uncontrolled plantation of eucalyptus in the extreme South of Bahia has already taken over almost all the productive land, traditional farms, rural reference communities, farming towns, highways, streams, hundred year-old settlements, in fact all the components of a peoples’ culture.

All this was conquered by the company through false promises and deceit. The regional population was deceived by the economic power and intellectual capacity of the company’s experts. Today the peoples of the region are aware of the curse caused by Veracel and periodically we find in the press statements made by grassroots organizations, accusing the company of lack of respect and irresponsible behaviour.

Granting certification to a company such as Veracel is the same as saying that the BRAZILIAN PEOPLE should not exist, that the BRAZILIAN PEOPLE are condemned to die of hunger!

Eunapolis, 20 June 2007

By Ivonete Gonçalves, Educational Teacher and Executive Coordinator of CEPEDES – Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas para o Desenvolvimento do Extremo Sul – Bahia. She was born and bred in Eunapolis, a municipality impacted by monoculture eucalyptus plantations and the Veracel Pulp mill.

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