BlackRock has yet to produce a concrete policy addressing land rights, deforestation, and human rights abuses in its portfolios.
San Francisco, CA – Today, over 80 renowned Indigenous and frontline activists from around the world issued a public letter criticizing BlackRock’s role in violating the land rights and human rights of Indigenous peoples and other traditional communities. The signatories, including several recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, point to BlackRock’s continued large-scale investments in fossil fuel and deforestation-linked companies that violate human rights, and demand that the asset manager cease these investments.
The full text and full list of signatories of the letter are below.
Eloy Terena, Legal Coordinator of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), and one of the letter’s signers said: “BlackRock’s investments have an impact on our lives and our communities, and the company’s leadership, therefore, has a responsibility for our future. If the Amazon is destroyed, the future of the entire planet is at risk.”
Last week, BlackRock released a memo on “natural capital”, a memo on human rights impacts, and updated engagement priorities. In these memos BlackRock encouraged the companies it invests in to adopt “no deforestation” policies, to account for biodiversity in their operations, and to obtain the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples “for initiatives that affect their rights.”
Despite the urgency of these issues, BlackRock did not lay out any clear accountability mechanisms to assure that its “engagement” results in concrete improvements for communities, ecosystems, and the planet in these new memos. But this new acknowledgment is a step in the right direction that comes after years of campaigning by Indigenous leaders and civil society organizations demanding that BlackRock take responsibility for its role in deforestation and human and Indigenous rights violations.
Sonia Guajajara, Executive Coordinator of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), said, “Despite its latest announcement on ‘natural capital,’ BlackRock does not have a concrete policy in place to handle investments that impact Indigenous peoples and our territories. BlackRock has not pledged to pressure companies to end deforestation in the Amazon. Our challenge to BlackRock is clear: safeguard Indigenous peoples’ rights and eliminate deforestation and human rights violations from its portfolios.”
Today’s letter outlines the urgent need for action, stating: “While BlackRock makes pledges to ask portfolio companies to cut emissions in the future, our forests are being razed, our land is being stolen, and our people are being killed, today.”
Despite BlackRock’s January commitment to achieve net-zero by 2050, the asset manager has, according to the letter, done “little to ensure [its] investments respect human rights, land rights, and the self-determination of Indigenous and local communities.” BlackRock remains one of the largest investors in the two biggest drivers of the climate crisis: fossil fuels and industrial agricultural commodities linked to deforestation, such as palm oil, soy, cattle, pulp, and paper. These industries regularly violate the rights of Indigenous and local communities. BlackRock has no policies in place that address deforestation, human rights, or land rights.
The signers of today’s letter hail from some of the world’s most sensitive biomes, including the Amazon and the rainforests of Indonesia and West Africa. They write that it is not just their land, homes, and cultures that are at stake, but their lives.
Goldman Prize recipient Alfred Brownell, Liberian human rights and environmental lawyer, who was forced to flee his country after threats to his life, said: “I am quite surprised that Mr. Fink and BlackRock have not yet responded to my 2019 letter. The agribusiness companies BlackRock finances in Liberia’s Upper Guinea Forest are not only destroying the precious habitat of endangered pygmy hippos and chimpanzees, they are dispossessing my people of their land and the right to choose their own model of development. Instead of adding value to community-driven enterprises that coexist with nature, BlackRock’s investments are obliterating shrines and burial grounds and wiping out centuries of history, culture, religion, customs, and values that indigenous communities hold sacred, further impoverishing indigenous communities.”
In April 2019, Brownell publicly charged BlackRock with financing palm oil companies destroying the lands, livelihoods, and cultural sites of Liberian communities. A month later, Indigenous leaders from the Amazon, including Mr. Terena, confronted CEO Larry Fink at BlackRock’s annual general meeting in New York for the firm’s support of companies complicit in widespread forest fires.
“Communities around the world are facing an epidemic of violence, murder, and criminalization at the hands of extractive industries. In 2019, more than four land and environmental defenders were murdered each week for protecting their traditional lands. Frontline communities and activists are often the first responders to the destructive – and deadly – impacts of the climate crisis as they confront companies that destroy forests, pollute water sources, and drive species into extinction,” the letter states.
- Full analysis of BlackRock’s newly released approaches to “natural capital,” human rights, and 2021 engagement
- Doubling Down on Deforestation (Friends of the Earth, 2020) analyzes BlackRock’s publicly listed investments to identify the supply chain links between the companies in which BlackRock is invested and deforestation and land conflict.
- Complicity in Destruction III (Amazon Watch, 2020) focuses on conflicts on Indigenous lands and human rights violations in the Brazilian Amazon enabled by corporations in which financial institutions, such as BlackRock, are complicit.
- Investing in Amazon Crude (Amazon Watch 2020) exposes five financial institutions, including BlackRock, that made available tens of billions of dollars for oil companies operating in the Amazon, including GeoPark, Amerisur, Frontera, and Andes Petroleum from 2017-2019.
- BlackRock’s Big Deforestation Problem (Friends of the Earth, Amazon Watch, and Profundo 2019) details BlackRock’s investments in companies driving deforestation, land grabs, and human rights abuses.
To the BlackRock Executive Leadership Board and Investment Stewardship Team:
As community leaders, environmental and land defenders, and civil society activists from around the world, we write to you today about your continued failure to recognize and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant peoples, women, and local communities through your investments.
Your firm has made headlines again for pledging action on climate change. However, these renewed commitments do little to ensure that your investments respect human rights, land rights, and the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. While BlackRock makes pledges to ask portfolio companies to cut emissions in the future, our forests are being razed, our land is being stolen, and our people are being killed, today.
BlackRock has received praise for stating that it will place climate change at the center of its investment approach and for acknowledging the need to consider stakeholders — not just shareholders — as part of a just and equitable transition. We would like to think that your concern about social responsibility includes respecting the fundamental human rights, land rights, and livelihoods of communities, like ours, that stand on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
Yet, your investments continue to threaten our health, our security, and our very future.
The current crisis is the result of centuries of racism, exploitation, and colonization. As the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels and deforestation-linked agricultural commodities, your investments are tied to gross environmental and human rights violations: land grabbing and dispossession, increased deforestation and carbon emissions, and violence and criminalization. Climate change is not simply a risk to be calculated in terms of profit margins. It is a constant stream of risks to our peoples and our planet, which we face every day.
Communities around the world are facing an epidemic of violence, murder, and criminalization at the hands of extractive industries. In 2019, more than four land and environmental defenders were murdered each week for protecting their traditional lands (1). Frontline communities and activists are often the first responders to the destructive – and deadly – impacts of the climate crisis as they confront companies that destroy forests, pollute water sources, and drive species into extinction.
What action has BlackRock taken to ensure respect for our rights and uphold international standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent? When has BlackRock ever sought to hear the voices of the peoples impacted by your investments? What will you do to stop the companies you finance from violating our rights and attacking our communities, redress grievances, and ensure that these violations do not continue in the future?
There is no way to address the climate impacts of your investments without respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We challenge BlackRock to stop financing companies that destroy the planet and violate communities’ rights. What you do – or fail to do – will make your intentions clear. We look forward to an honest and public response to this letter.
The world is watching,
Abdul Haris, WALHI Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia
Agung Wibowo, Perkumpulan untuk Pembaharuan Hukum Berbasis Masyarakat dan Ekologis (HuMa), Indonesia
Alberto Terena, Terena People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Alejandra Parra Muñoz, Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales, Chile
Alfred Brownell, 2019 Goldman Prize Recipient, Liberia
Anabela Lemos, Justiça Ambiental! (JA!), Mozambique
Andreia de Matos, Operação Amazônia Nativo (OPAN), Brazil
Andrey Laletin, Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia
Anildo Lulu, Guarani People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Bernadette Demientieff, Gwich’in Steering Committee, United States of America
Bestang Dekdeken, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Philippines
Bharati Pathak, Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), Nepal
Célia Xakriabá, Xakriabá People, Brazil
Charles Trocate, Movimento pela Soberania Popular na Mineração, Brazil
Clayton Thomas-Muller, Pukatawagan Cree Nation, Canada
Daniel B. Krakue, Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SESDev), Liberia
David Alberto Hernández Palmar, Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas (CLACPI), Venezuela
Devi Anggraini, PEREMPUAN AMAN, Indonesia
Diego Oyarzo, Colectivo VientoSur, Chile
Dimas Novian Hartono, WALHI Kalteng, Indonesia
Dinamam Tuxá, Tuxá People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Don Tom Chief, Tsartlip First Nation Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Canada
Donna Chavis, RedTailed Hawk Collective, United States of America
Eloy Terena, Terena People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, Indigenous Climate Action, Canada
Erwin Basrin, AKAR Foundation, Indonesia
Ferry Widodo, Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA), Indonesia
Gam Shimray, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Thailand
Inés Franceschelli, Centro de Estudios Heñói, Paraguay
Ivette González, Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), Mexico
James Otto, Oil Palm Working Group, Liberia
Joan Carling, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), Philippines
Judy Wilson Kukpi7, Neskonlith Indian Band-Secwepemc Nation — Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Canada
Juana Vera Delgado, Gender and Water Alliance, Peru/Netherlands
Kerexu Guarani, Guarani People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Kretã Kaingang, Kaingang People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Kwami Kpondzo, Les Amis de la Terre Togo, Togo
Jane Elizabeth Dwyer, Comissão Pastoral da Terra, Brazil
Jonathan Yiah, Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia
Lizardo Cauper, Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), Peru
Lucie Pinson, 2020 Goldman Prize Recipient, France
Luís Donisete Benzi Grupioni, Institute for Research and Indigenous Education (IEPE), Brazil
Manja Bayang, Indigenous Peoples Rights International, Philippines
Maria Di Paola, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Argentina
Marlon Vargas, Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (CONFENIAE), Ecuador
Martje Leninda, Bantaya Association, Indonesia
Matt Remle, Mazaska Talks, United States of America
Maurits Rumbekwan, WALHI Papua, Indonesia
Meenakshi Raman, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Malaysia
Mirta Pereira, Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas (FAPI), Paraguay
Natalia Salvatico, Amigos de la Tierra Argentina, Argentina
Nema Karika Grefa Ushigua, Nación Sapara del Ecuador (NASE), Ecuador
Nemonte Nenquimo Pauchi, 2020 Goldman Prize Recipient, Ecuador
Nine, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Malaysia
Nora Bowier, Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia
Norman Jiwan, TuK Indonesia, Indonesia
Nur Hidayati, WALHI National, Indonesia
Patricia Zuppi, Rede de Cooperação Amazônica (RCA), Brazil
Paul Sein Twa, 2020 Goldman Prize Recipient, Burma/Myanmar
Prafulla Samantara, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), India
Prabindra Shakya, Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ), Nepal
Rita Uwaka, Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria
Rodrigue Mihindou, Muyissi Environment, Gabon
Rudi Putra, 2014 Goldman Prize Recipient, Indonesia
S. Bobby Peek, 1998 Goldman Prize Recipient, South Africa
Sara Omi Casama, Congreso General Embera de Alto Bayano, Panama
Silas Siakor, 2006 Goldman Prize Recipient, Liberia
Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition, Paraguay
Sinan Ouattara, Alliance pour le Développement Durable et pour l’Environnement (ADDE), Ivory Coast
Sonia Guajajara, Guajajara People — Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), Brazil
Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief, Penticton Indian Band Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Canada
Sviatoslav Zabelin, Socio-Ecological Union, Russia
Tara Houska, Giniw Collective, United States of America
Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva, 2006 Goldman Prize Recipient, Brazil
Tupac Viteri, Pueblo Kichwa de Sarayaku, Ecuador
Tom BK Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, United States of America
Vanessa Cabanelas, Justica Ambienta!, Mozambique
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba, Philippines
Wahyubinatara Fernandez, Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment (RMI), Indonesia
Wirya Supriyadi, WALHI Papua, Indonesia
Wrays Perez, Wampis Nation, Peru
This letter was facilitated by Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth US, and Rainforest Action Network