• The GCC Financial Forum 2019
Bolsonaro wants to plunder the Amazon. Don’t let him

Bolsonaro wants to plunder the Amazon. Don’t let him

The rise of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has put the environment and human rights in peril. His promises to open the Amazon for business could result in huge deforestation and the release of vast greenhouse gas emissions. His threats to slash fundamental environmental and indigenous rights standards that help keep the Amazon standing are a threat to climate stability. Bolsonaro, however, wouldn’t be the only one to blame for devastating the Amazon. Companies that accept his invitation to reap profit from Amazon destruction, and the financial institutions that provide the capital, will also bear great responsibility.

And those poised to benefit from Bolsonaro’s reckless policies include American companies and financial institutions. Two of the largest publicly traded agribusiness firms operating in the Brazilian Amazon — Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge — are American-based companies. Agribusiness, in particular soy and beef production, is a leading driver of forest loss and human-rights abuses in the Brazilian Amazon, and ADM and Bunge are two of the largest soy traders in Brazil. As producers seek more and more land for growing crops and grazing cattle, they push ever deeper into the Amazon.

According to a report published in 2014, an estimated 90 per cent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is due to agribusiness activities. Where would these powerful agribusiness companies get the capital they need to bulldoze deeper into the Amazon, if they should take Bolsonaro up on his offer to eliminate environmental protections? In no small part from American-based asset managers BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard, which are shareholders in all five of the largest publicly traded agribusiness companies operating in the Brazilian Amazon. As a group of researchers recently demonstrated, the “Big Three” asset managers hold 15pc to 20pc of all of ADM and Bunge’s available shares (finance researchers call ownership above 5pc of all shares “blockholding” and generally assume it to imply significant influence).

This means they have the potential to exert pressure on the very companies that could either moderate or enable Bolsonaro’s threats to the future of the Amazon — and the climate. Many Americans, in turn, have a direct relationship with those asset managers, since those firms manage many pension funds and retirement accounts. Of course, Bolsonaro’s agribusiness-friendly agenda should not be seen in isolation. Previous Brazilian administrations also worked to undermine environmental and human rights protections to benefit the industrial exploitation of the Amazon. It required the concerted efforts of Brazilian indigenous and social groups and their global allies to force governments and corporations operating in the Amazon to curb deforestation, which until recently had been relatively contained.

Long before Bolsonaro’s rise, numerous agribusiness companies made commitments to end Amazon deforestation from their supply chains. Both Bunge and ADM, for example, have committed to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains, although they haven’t always lived up to those promises. In May 2018 Bunge was fined for activities related to illegal deforestation, and some deforestation-watchers have criticised its subsequent policy update as inadequate. BlackRock, for its part, has supported the Paris climate accord and its chief executive, Larry Fink, has been called the “conscience of Wall Street” for his exhortations to companies to “benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”

Yet Fink’s most recent letter to investors, published this month, makes no direct mention of climate change, and BlackRock’s statement after Brazil’s election in October appears to celebrate Bolsonaro’s win, lauding his commitment “to building on the reform agenda put in place over the past two years.” Though the role of asset managers might seem far removed from the felling of trees in the Amazon rain forest, the world’s largest asset managers could play a pivotal role in safeguarding the global climate by way of their investments in companies operating in biomes crucial to climate stability like the Amazon rain forest. The world could have less than 12 years to turn this sinking climate ship around, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report makes clear.

Bolsonaro’s rise to power will test companies’ promises to be responsible. Will leading global agribusiness companies be complicit in Bolsonaro’s assault on the Amazon and its people, thus sacrificing their commitments, their reputation and our climate? And will financial institutions like BlackRock heed their own calls for companies to pursue purpose and not just profit? Or will they put short-term profits ahead of the planet’s future? If these influential companies don’t take a clear and principled stand against Mr Bolsonaro’s promises to open the Amazon for business, they will also bear responsibility for abetting his plunder of the world’s largest tropical rain forest.





Sangamam pays tribute to CRPF Martyrs

Sangamam pays tribute to CRPF Martyrs

Sangamam Irinjalakuda held the inauguration of its 2019 executive committee at Bang Saeng Thai restaurant on Thursday evening. Chief Guest was SPAC Chairman P Unnikrishnan. The meeting paid tribute to the martyrs of the Pulwama at

Holistic approach to reduce stress

Holistic approach to reduce stress

Indian Embassy in Bahrain yesterday launched a new yoga initiative aimed at bringing wellness into workplaces to help workers deal with dayto-day stress.  The new initiative, a yoga-based approach is organised by the Indian embass

All eyes on Sharm el-Sheikh

All eyes on Sharm el-Sheikh

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa will lead Bahrain’s delegation to the first Arab-EU Summit, which kick-offs tomorrow in the presence of European and Arab leaders at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The R

Lending a helping hand

Lending a helping hand

The supporting activities of the second edition of the Strongest Bahraini Championship were held yesterday at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) under the patronage of HH Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The move was part of humani

Saudi bags $10bn oil deal

Saudi bags $10bn oil deal

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud met China’s President Xi Jinping yesterday and bagged a $10-billion oil deal. Prince Mohammed arrived in Beijing on Thursday following visits to Pakistan and India. &ld

Hsieh upsets Pliskova

Hsieh upsets Pliskova

Hsieh Su-wei won the last six games to beat fourth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 yesterday in Dubai and will face a woman she has never beaten, Petra Kvitova, in the semi-finals. Second seed Kvitova, winner of the event in 2013,

Kim Kardashian sues fashion company

Kim Kardashian sues fashion company

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West has filed a lawsuit against an online retailer for using her name and image without permission to advertise their own designs. Kim on Wednesday filed a case against Missguided USA, seeking damages in