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  • A worker holds fruit of the African oil palm, from which palm oil is extracted.

    A worker holds fruit of the African oil palm, from which palm oil is extracted. | Photo: AFP

Published 12 November 2015

A coalition of nongovernmental organizations has called on the palm oil industry to clean up its dirty habits and human rights abuses in Latin America.

Environmental destruction, displacement, human rights violations, and murder linked to expanding palm oil production in Latin America has led a coalition of environmental and advocacy organizations to call on the world’s major palm oil traders Thursday to put an end to the industry’s grave violation of human rights.

The coalition has called for big buyers of palm oil from the region to intervene into palm production activities in Latin America to put an end to alarming acts of violence against communities, especially environmental activists and human rights defenders.

An oil palm plantation in Guatemala. I Photo: EFE

“Today, we have alerted the world’s biggest palm oil traders and processors to the human rights crisis unfolding in palm oil industry in Guatemala and Honduras,” said Rainforest Action Network spokesperson Gemma Tillack in a statement. “They have the responsibility to ensure their suppliers uphold strict environmental and human rights standards.”

Campaigners highlight the targeted assassination of Rigoberto Lima Choc, a Guatemalan environmental and human rights activist fighting the contamination of Pasion River by polluted runoff from an oil palm plantation, as a particularly egregious example of the abuses caused by the rapidly expanding industry in the region.

Lima Choc was murdered shortly after courts ordered the palm oil company Repsa to suspend operations based on activists’ charges that palm facilities caused a massive fish die-off and polluted communities along the Pasion River.

“Ecocide in Guatemala, African palm producers dumped chemicals and killed the fauno of the Pasion River.”

“Communities in Guatemala are being forced off their land to make way for palm oil production. These human rights abuses will not be tolerated,” said ActionAid’s Soren Ambrose. “We are calling on global palm oil companies to come clean on their links to dirty suppliers, and to make clear commitments showing how they will address the social and environmental impacts of their partners in Latin America.”

Similarly, in Honduras, massive African oil palm monocultures in the northern Aguan Valley region are at the heart of an intense land struggle and brutal campaign of repression and criminalization against campesinos struggling for their rights to land and food sovereignty.

RELATED: Aguan, Honduras: World Bank Backs Death Squads and Displacement

While large landowners in the Aguan region aim to expand their palm oil empires, campesinos systematically suffer grave human rights violations included eviction, intimidation, kidnapping, and murder at the hands of the palm oil magnates’ private security forces, often in concert with military and police. Since 2010, more than 120 campesinos have been murdered in the Aguan Valley.

Members of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan protests with a banner that reads, “No more murder of campesinos in the Aguan.” I Photo: AFP

The coalition of NGOs sent a letter to palm oil traders, including agribusiness giant Cargill, calling on them to make their supply chains public and reveal their links to right-abusing palm producers.The letter also called for big buyers to implement a zero tolerance policy for rights abuses within their supply chains.

RELATED: The World Bank’s Long War on Peasants

“In Guatemala, community members engaging in legitimate actions to protect their water quality and environment consistently face threats, attacks, and assassinations, often committed with impunity due to a lack of judicial independence, widespread government corruption, and ineffective oversight of corporate practices,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission. “A zero tolerance policy must be put into effect immediately for any suppliers using or benefiting from violence and human rights abuses in their palm oil operations.”

The campaigners have vowed to keep tabs on the efforts of global palm buyers and palm oil producers in the region to reform their systems and take action to address abuses at the hands of the industry in Latin America.

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