Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ undersøgende journalistik Mon, 21 Jan 2019 15:57:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://danwatch.dk/dw-content/uploads/2017/09/cropped-Danwatch_fav-450x450.gif Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ 32 32 Carlsberg admits pollution from Nepal brewery https://danwatch.dk/en/carlsberg-erkender-forurening-ved-bryggeri-i-nepal/ https://danwatch.dk/en/carlsberg-erkender-forurening-ved-bryggeri-i-nepal/#respond Fri, 25 May 2018 09:56:59 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/carlsberg-erkender-forurening-ved-bryggeri-i-nepal/ Carlsberg were adamant in their response, when they were confronted earlier this year with water samples indicating serious pollution of the great Narayani River, a river which is home to  several endangered animal species, just off the Carlsberg brewery in Nepal.

Water samples obtained by Danwatch and P1 Orientering in December 2017 and again in February 2018, showed pollution levels exceeding the national maximum permissible limits in both Nepal and Denmark.

Experts estimated that there was a risk of oxygen deficiency and fish kill in the river because of the pollution. They also stated that the source of the pollution most likely came from Carlsberg’s  brewery in Nepal, Gorkha Brewery, because samples taken 500 meters upstream from the brewery showed a river which was not polluted.

Carlsberg disagreed though.

The Danish beer giant could “only conclude that the water samples collected by Danwatch do not represent values from Gorkha Brewery”. Therefore, the samples had been collected incorrectly, Carlsberg claimed.

Today, it’s a different story coming from the company which, backed by Danish development funds, is now dominating the beer market in Nepal.

Found three sources of pollution

Since the publication of our investigation in March, Danwatch has been in touch with local sources. They have informed us, that the brewery has made operational changes as a result of investigations conducted in the wake of Danwatch’s revelations.

When asked about the results of these investigations, Carlsberg Group’s media director now acknowledges that Gorkha Brewery was indeed a source of pollution.

“Our Supply Chain team traveled to Nepal to see this first hand, because we could not recognize the results of your tests. There were obviously circumstances that did not conform to our own internal measurements,” Carlsberg’s media director Kasper Elbjørn told Danwatch.

Carlsberg’s experts found that the brewery’s wastewater treatment plant was working well, but that there were other effluents from the brewery which caused pollution of the Narayani river.

“When they did not find problems with the wastewater treatment plant, they examined the area and the river around the brewery, where they identified three possible sources of the increased values”, Kasper Elbjørn said.

Blaming the farmers

One of the culprits was drainage from spent grains, which is organic waste from beer production which can be used for animal feed. The brewery distributed the spent grain to local farmers from an area next to one of the brewery gates, situated right next to the river.

Therefore, they immediately halted the distribution of spent grain to local farmers from the area next to the river, Elbjørn said.

“They identified the wet spent grains as a source of pollution, because the farmers handled the spent grains inappropriately. We take responsibility for this pollution, which is why we stopped it immediately. Now, Gorkha distributes spent grains directly to the farmers”, he said.

The organic waste is not the only cause behind the pollution of the river. When it rains in Nepal, it can rain a lot. Rain water accumulated on the brewery grounds, can also lead to pollution of the river.

“We also found evidence that rainwater that runs into the river from the brewery, may contain excessively high values. We have solved this issue now with some minor investments in rainwater drainage, which is now directed through Gorkha’s wastewater treatment plants”, Elbjørn said.

Typical causes of pollution

The results of Carlsberg’s studies do not surprise Henrik Rasmus Andersen, professor and wastewater expert at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Henrik Rasmus Andersen has continuously maintained that the pollution most likely came from the Carlsberg brewery.

“These are plausible explanations from Carlsberg. These are the typical reasons why breweries operating in poor countries, despite the fact that they have established wastewater treatment plants, often contribute to water pollution”.

He explains that it is common practice – also in Denmark – that spent grain from breweries is distributed to farmers.

“It is organic waste, which will result in pollution if it flows into the river. The spent grains are probably the main cause of pollution, it also explains the results we saw in the water samples”, Andersen said.

Is it Carlsberg’s responsibility if the spent grain is the cause of pollution? They claim the pollution is caused by the farmers handling the spent grains poorly?

“I do not know what a court in Nepal would conclude, but in Denmark it would be their responsibility. Carlsberg certainly has moral responsibility for the pollution. The spent grain is a byproduct of their production, and the distribution takes place on their grounds”, Andersen said.

Digging into the river

Carlsberg says that in addition to stopping the distribution of spent grains from the river bank and treating the rain water, they have also been digging into the Narayani River.

“We found that there is a reduced water flow in the river branch receiving the treated wastewater from the brewery. Therefore, they made a dredging to improve the flow during periods of low water levels,” said media director Kasper Elbjørn.

That, however, puzzles the DTU professor. The water pollution will become more difficult to detect if the water flow in the river increases, he imagines.

“The low water flow in the river does not in itself explain the high values. Rather, this is about increasing the flow in case you would return to take additional samples”, Andersen said.

Carlsberg tightens procedures

Nepal is not the only country where Carlsberg has caused water pollution in recent years. In both Laos, Malawi and China, breweries owned by Carlsberg have polluted their surroundings.

Now they are gathering the experiences from the pollution case in Nepal, they say.  

Will this case have impacts on your production elsewhere?

“This is an isolated case, but obviously we have gathered the experiences and shared them with breweries in other parts of the world, because of this incident in Nepal. We now know, that potential sources of pollution that are not connected to the sewage system, may occur. And we are affected just as much as society is, if rivers or groundwater at our breweries are polluted”, Elbjørn told Danwatch.

The case also has consequences for Carlsberg’s sustainability strategy, which among other things is about protecting water in high-risk areas around the Carlsberg breweries towards 2030.  

“We have compiled the experiences and shared them with those in charge of implementing the strategies, due to Danwatch’s inquiries about Nepal”, Elbjørn said.


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Pension Fund blacklists four companies after Danwatch investigation https://danwatch.dk/en/pension-fund-blacklists-four-companies-after-danwatch-investigation/ https://danwatch.dk/en/pension-fund-blacklists-four-companies-after-danwatch-investigation/#respond Tue, 10 Oct 2017 11:18:22 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/pension-fund-blacklists-four-companies-after-danwatch-investigation/ The third largest pension fund in Denmark, Sampension, excludes four publicly traded companies from their portfolio. The blacklisting happens after Danwatch in January this year, in the investigation Business on Occupied Territory, documented that Sampension is the Danish pension fund that has invested the largest sum of money in companies doing business in or around the illegal Israeli settlements. The Danwatch-investigation has lead the pension fund to revise its investment guidelines, the fund stated in a press release dated 2. October (Links to Press Release in Danish).

All of the four companies are excluded for violating Sampension’s new guidelines for investments in occupied territories.

”Based on our new policy we have reviewed whether or not there are companies in our portfolio which are listed in Vigeo Eiris’ BIOL-database (Business in Occupied Lands)”, explains director of investments in Sampension, Henrik Olejasz Larsen, in the press release.

“The result of our review is that two Israeli banks, Hapoalim and Leumi, as well as Heidelberg Cement and Bezeq, has been placed on our list of excluded companies due to the financing of settlements, and the extraction of natural resources and establishment of infrastructure for telecommunication on occupied territory”, the press release states.   

Six more companies are being examined

Last week the organisation Human Rights Watch documented that Israeli banks are violating the human rights of palestinians, as well as international law, through their financing of new infrastructure projects that cement the occupation of Palestinian territory.

Investments in the occupied territories are problematic also because Danish investors are undermining both Denmark’s and the EU’s official policy of supporting a two-state solution as a solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Sampension had invested a total of 400 million Danish kroner in Israeli and international companies with activities in settlements on the West Bank when Danwatch investigated the investments in January this year.

Then, Sampension stated that they had no specific investment policy for the occupied territories, but that all of their investments must respect human rights, no matter where the companies are doing business.

Today Sampension informs that they, apart from the four blacklisted companies, are also initiating a dialogue with an additional six companies about their possible business activities in the settlements.

See the full list of companies excluded by Sampension here.

Stays on occupied land

Sampension’s policy change does not lead to any immediate policy changes with other Danish pension funds who hold similar investments.

In a survey Danwatch has asked seven investment funds, who all held investments in banks operating on the West Bank when Danwatch investigated the matter in January 2017, if they plan to exclude or in other ways take action against the companies.  

Only three of the funds have replied to the survey – none of which have ended their investments in banks doing business on occupied land.

Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, confirms that they still hold investments in the two banks excluded by Sampension, Hapoalim and Leumi. In their latest investment portfolio made available to the public Danske Bank held 560.000 Danish kroner in Bank Hapoalim, and 930.000 Danish kroner in Bank Leumi.

They do not intend to keep an extra eye on the Israeli banks operating on the West Bank.

“We do not have a specific investment policy towards Israeli companies, but all companies we invest in have to comply with our internal guidelines for responsible investments, Robert Bruun Mikkelstrup, assistant director for Investment Risk and Implementation in Dansk Bank, says in an e-mail.

Neither Nordea has ended their investments in the banks, but they have initiated a dialogue.

“We have been in dialogue with the relevant banks about their investments in occupied territories, and we will include aspects of Human Rights Watch’ framework in our future dialogue with the banks. Depending on the results of this dialogue, we will consider our future investments”, states both Nordea Liv & Pension and Nordea Invest.  

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Danwatch and IMS to develop new digital “clearing-house” platform with Google Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund https://danwatch.dk/en/danwatch-and-ims-to-develop-new-digital-clearing-house-platform-with-google-digital-news-initiative-innovation-fund/ https://danwatch.dk/en/danwatch-and-ims-to-develop-new-digital-clearing-house-platform-with-google-digital-news-initiative-innovation-fund/#respond Thu, 06 Jul 2017 20:52:10 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/danwatch-and-ims-to-develop-new-digital-clearing-house-platform-with-google-digital-news-initiative-innovation-fund/ International Media Support og Danwatch will be working with Google to develop a new digital platform that will help local media in conflict zones reach global audiences and will support international media in verifying the origin and authenticity of footage and stories emanating from local media in conflict zones. This new initiative will also be an opportunity for local media in poverty and conflict-ridden countries to find a place in the global media market as a trusted source of information and in the long run, build a profit base from this.

Danwatch and Danish media outlets like Kristeligt Dagblad, Zetland and international media like the Financial Times, Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are amongst those who have previously benefitted from grants from the Google Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund. The Fund supports innovative ideas within digital journalism.

“What we find is that the stories and footage produced in many of the places in which both Danwatch and IMS work seldom make it onto the global news agenda. This is a problem because this is, in effect, documentation of what is happening in some of the world’s most inaccessible conflicts and that is indeed relevant to a global audience,” says Jesper Nymark, Director of Danwatch.

”Documentation of the chemical weapons attack that took place in Syria in April 2017 is an example of this,” adds Jesper Højberg, Director of International Media Support.

“Our partners in Syria had documented the attack and its aftermath, but the footage was only aired in international media several days after the attack. The new digital platform will remedy this and ensure quicker distribution.”

According to IMS, a non-profit organisation that supports local media in countries affected by armed conflict, human insecurity and political transition, the new digital platform will crucially allow locally produced investigative stories to reach global audiences while supporting the provision of verified content to big international news agancies like AP, The Guardian, BBC, AFP, Reuters and DPA.

”Local is the new global”, says Jesper Højberg. “As the example of the Syria chemical weapon attack showed, the lengthy verification process tied to the footage meant that broadcast of this documentation was delayed by several days. In addition, most media do not have the resources to send staff to the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, or they choose not to do so for safety reasons or simply because it isn’t a priority. However, over the years, IMS has built a strong network of local journalists with whom we have worked and who are able to deliver strong documentation from conflict zones,” says Jesper Højberg.

The long-term aim of the digital platform is for local media to increasingly ”own” the platform and use it as a way to develop a sustainable financial business model that will enable them to survive on the delivery of good local journalism.

The Google DNI-Project is one of several joint Danwatch and IMS projects. The development of the digital platform begins in fall 2017.

For more information, contact Danwatch Director Jesper Nymark, on jn@danwatch.dk or Helle Wahlberg, IMS Head of Communications, email: hwa@mediasupport.org.

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Activist receives death threats following Danwatch avocado investigation https://danwatch.dk/en/activist-receives-death-threats-following-danwatch-avocado-investigation/ https://danwatch.dk/en/activist-receives-death-threats-following-danwatch-avocado-investigation/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 14:14:38 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/activist-receives-death-threats-following-danwatch-avocado-investigation/ On Monday, March 20, Rodrigo Mundaca received an anonymous call on his mobile phone.

“The voice on the phone just said that I should keep my mouth shut and then asked, ‘What size are you? We have to find your traje de madera (wooden suit, ed.).’ In Spanish, that refers to a coffin,” explains Mundaca.

Mundaca is an activist that works with the organisation MODATIMA to promote water rights in Chile.  The water shortage in the Chilean province of Petorca has worsened in recent years, both because of drought and because of a massive increase in the water-intensive production of avocados.

Privatization of water rights and illegal pipes that carry water from rivers to private wells have dried up Petorca’s waterways to such an extent that local residents must receive water deliveries by truck, and avocado plantation owners have been assessed fines for violations of the water law.  This state of affairs was described by Danwatch in the investigation Avocados and stolen water, published the day before the anonymous phone call, in which Mundaca is quoted by name.

Mundaca is receiving assistance from Ingrid Wehr from the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, which has partnered with MODATIMA for the last three years.

“Our office and lawyers in Chile say that this is the most serious threat against Rodrigo Mundaca’s life in years,” says Wehr, who has helped to secure legal representation and security consultants for Mundaca and MODATIMA in the wake of last week’s threat.

“We do not regret it”

Danwatch’s investigation was covered in the media in Denmark and abroad, and both Dansk Supermarked and Aldi have made statements saying they will no longer do business with plantations that have been convicted of water theft.  Chilean television reported that Danish supermarkets are planning to stop buying avocados that are produced under illegal conditions.

“In the days after publication, we were getting a lot of attention, and several trade organisations and plantation owners came out to criticise and attack us,” says Mundaca.

“They (the avocado industry, ed.) claim that my colleagues and I want to damage Chilean exports.  They say that we are irresponsible and that our actions will cost many Chileans their jobs.  They call us eco-terrorists, and allege that we are working against the best interests of the country.”

Mundaca has an earlier conviction for slander, based on his 2015 claims in the Chilean press that plantation owners had been convicted of water theft.  The plantation owners themselves insisted that they had merely been assessed administrative fines for water law infractions.

“We do not regret our participation in Danwatch’s investigation, and we will not retract our statements.  We have fought for Chileans’ right to water, and we will continue to do so. Sadly, we are accustomed to the fact that threats, assaults and defamation are the price of human rights work in Chile, where it is unfortunately commonplace for the powerful to escape responsibility,” declared Mundaca.

Pointless to file a police report

Mundaca has no real evidence of the threats, and has therefore not reported them to the police.

“They called my colleagues too, with the same threats.  We don’t know who is doing the calling, and we have no proof. We have an idea of who may be behind them, but we have no concrete evidence, and in our experience, the police do not investigate these cases.  In 2015, I was assaulted in the street in broad daylight, and the police have done nothing to investigate that case,” he says.

Poul Hauch Fenger, a specialist in criminal law and legal advisor to Danwatch, believes that the threats should be reported to the police, however.

“There can be no doubt that these are actual death threats.  I see lots of these cases.  Even if a more subtle word than ‘wooden suit’ had been used, I would construe it as a threat that should be reported to the police, who ought to take this case very seriously,” says Fenger.

“The person making the threat has a criminal purpose – that is, to use the threat to stop this case – and so there can be no doubt that there is a lot of money at stake here.  It is a huge industry, and you spare no expense when it is threatened.  So unless there are other controversial issues in his life, then in particular the timing would suggest that he has been threatened because of his involvement in Danwatch’s investigation.”

The supermarkets’ dilemma

Thomas Bang, director of communications at Aldi Danmark, says that the supermarket “strongly objects to those kinds of methods.”

“We have no desire to do business with suppliers that are involved in illegal activities of any kind,” declares Bang.

Aldi told Danwatch earlier that it only obtains a very small fraction of its avocados from Chile, and that in the future it would avoid buying avocados from the plantations in question.

At Dansk Supermarked, director of communications Mads Hvitved Grand says that death threats are obviously “absolutely reprehensible.”

“A case like this shows that there is even more reason to shine a spotlight on production conditions.  It is always a question of balance.  It is not without risk to call attention to situations like these, but that does not make it any less important – both the work of Danwatch and the responsibility taken on by NGOs,” says Grand.  He goes on to explain the difficulty facing the supermarket chains.

“The dilemma for us is that leaving the area altogether would be the simplest solution.  But in this situation, if we pull the plug entirely, it affects other people’s livelihoods.  And now we see that some people’s personal safety is threatened.  So that is not the right solution.  It is a predicament, but we will continue the work and stay in the area, which means that conditions will have to be documented first.”

 Avocado ​industry strongly condemns threats

One of the avocado plantations in Chile, which is a part of Danwatchs’ investigation and have been fined for water code violations, is represented by lawyer Juan Pablo Cerda L:

“First of all, we completely condemn the threats received by Mr. Rodrigo Mundaca’s. We consider them absolutely unacceptable. Threats of any kind are illegal and we strongly believe that if there is a discussion, it must be resolved from a legal point of view”,  Juan Pablo Cerda L, writes in an email to Danwatch.

At the trade organisation for fresh fruit, ASOEX, chairman of the Board, Ronald Bown Fernández writes in an email to Danwatch​:​

​”​According to our association’s core values and principles, ASOEX acknowledges and respects the right of people to express their opinions publicly without interference or threat, as expressly stipulated in our national Constitution. Therefore, ASOEX utterly rejects all statement or action aimed at infringing the freedom of speech​”​.

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Supermarket avocados take water from local communities https://danwatch.dk/en/supermarket-avocados-take-water-from-local-communities/ https://danwatch.dk/en/supermarket-avocados-take-water-from-local-communities/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 14:47:32 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=18822 Danes love avocados. Over the last ten years, Denmark’s avocado imports have more than doubled. But avocados are an exotic fruit that require a great deal of water. A large share of the avocados in Danish supermarkets comes from Chile, one of the world’s primary exporters of avocados.

Since the avocado plantations moved in to Petorca Province in Chile, the rivers have dried out, smallholders have lost their livelihoods, and community wells have dried up, making the locals reliant on deliveries of water by truck.

According to Matias Guiloff, human rights lawyer and professor at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, the local residents in Petorca have had their human right to water violated.

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“We are talking about people that face water shortages on a daily basis and rely on water brought to them in trucks. I would say that this not only affects the possibility of living their lives with dignity but also the very possibility of maintaining their traditional form of subsistence economy,” he says.

Because of Chile’s water code, which privatises water rights and views water as a commodity governed by private property laws, the avocado plantations in Petorca Province have legally been able to empty the rivers of water. However, a number of plantations have been accused by local interest groups and politicians of water theft. According to CIPER, a Chilean investigative media centre, as well as court documents obtained by Danwatch, several plantations have been convicted of various violations of the water code.

In the country’s largest avocado-producing region, the drought-prone Petorca Province, where the climate is hot and dry, avocado plants are even thirstier. On average, it requires 70 litres of water to grow one avocado, but in Petorca, it requires more than four times as much – 320 litres. When you put an avocado in your grocery basket, therefore, you risk buying a product that has exacted a steep price from local Chileans.

Avocado plantations convicted of water code violations

One example is the avocado plantation Sociedad Agrícola Los Graneros, which was fined for unauthorised extraction of ground water, according to court documents from 2011. Another, Agrícola Pililén, was found guilty in 2013 of having used water at a higher rate than permitted – over 600% higher, in fact – as well as for taking water from an unauthorised location. A spokesperson for Agrícola Pililén confirmed to Danwatch that the company had received the judgment and paid the associated fine, but denied that any illegal water extraction had taken place.

“We do not deny having been fined for minor offenses related to procedural issues before the Dirección General de Aguas [the Chilean water authority, ed.], but we roundly deny the existence of any kind of judgment against Agrícola Pililén Ltda. with respect to the crime of water theft and associated impacts on the rights of third parities,” writes Ana María Cerda Lecaros of Agrícola Pililén in a statement to Danwatch.

Osvaldo Jünemann Gazmuri, owner of Sociedad Agrícola Los Graneros, likewise admits to having been assessed and having paid a fine, but said in a written statement that the judgment was for an administrative error.

“This judgment, though adverse, is not a judgment for water theft, since what is being sanctioned is the extraction of water from an unregulated point. The difference is that the ruling does not question whether Sociedad Agrícola Los Graneros Ltda. extracted more water than its permits allowed, but that it did so from a location that was not the same as the one specified in the resolutions allocating its water rights. This constitutes an administrative error, which is the exact opposite of water theft,” he concludes in a twenty-one-page response.

Avocados from sanctioned plantations sold in Denmark

Danwatch can document, however, that avocados from the plantations Agrícola Pililén and Sociedad Agrícola Los Graneros have been exported to Denmark.

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Danwatch’s documentation of the supply chain shows that some of the largest supermarket chains in Denmark, like Dansk Supermarked, Lidl and Aldi, sell or have sold avocados from Chile’s Petorca Province, but have not bought avocados from the mentioned plantations. Rema 1000 could not say with certainty whether or not it has sold avocados from Petorca, and Dagrofa declined to say whether or not it does or has done.

Danwatch therefore asked a number of the country’s largest supermarket chains whether they had bought avocados from these two plantations. Half of the chains answered that they had not. However, Aldi, Lidl and Dagrofa (owner of the Spar, Meny and Kiwi chains) declined to say whether or not they bought avocados from Agrícola Pililén or Sociedad Agrícola Los Graneros. Lidl did disclose, however, that it has bought avocados from the exporter Cabilfrut, which has the same owner as Agrícola Pililén.

Supermarkets can put pressure on suppliers

According to Andreas Rasche, a professor at Copenhagen Business School who researches corporate social responsibility, supermarkets have the power to put pressure on their avocado suppliers. “Supermarkets can contact their suppliers and ask whether they can guarantee that the avocados they buy and sell do not come from regions affected by water shortages,” he says. According to Rasche, if wholesalers knowingly buy avocados from a region like the Petorca Province, where water shortages are critical, they have direct responsibility and are complicit in human rights abuses. Supermarkets have less direct responsibility, according to Rasche, since they sell tens of thousands of products, and it can be difficult in practice to monitor the supply chain for every product.

“The big supermarket chains can put pressure on avocado wholesalers and distributors to ensure that responsibility is taken down along the chain of suppliers,” says Rasche.

Several of the supermarkets were unaware of the water shortage problem prior to Danwatch’s investigation, but both Dansk Supermarked (owners of Netto, Føtex and Bilka) and Aldi expressed an intention to change their procurement policies.

“We are in dialogue with our supplier about this issue and are discussing at the moment how we can ensure that we do not contribute to water shortages in the future,” writes Aldi.

Prominent politicians own plantations

Water theft continues in Petorca Province despite the fines assessed to certain avocado plantations for violations of the water code, according to numerous sources interviewed by Danwatch, including Gustavo Valdenegro, mayor of the town of Petorca.

“We have fought against the illegal extraction for a long time. The politicians say they will do something about it, but the problem is that the plantation owners are connected to the politicians,” says the mayor.

Several of the avocado plantations that have been convicted of water code violations in Petorca Province belong to prominent Chileans. One of these, Agrícola Cóndor, is owned by Chile’s former minister of the interior, Edmundo Pérez Yoma, who was convicted of laying pipe from a well outside of his property and through a riverbed without permission from the authorities.

Pérez Yoma confirms that Petorca Province suffers from illegal water extraction, but denies that his avocado plantation has been guilty of the practice.

“I strongly deny that Agrícola Cóndor has ever drawn water illegally. The construction (in the river, ed.) was deemed illegal for installing a pipe from a well, not for illegal extraction of water,” wrote the former interior minister in a reply to Danwatch.

Danwatch requested comment from the association of plantation owners and farmers in Petorca Province, Agropetorca, whose members include many large avocado plantation owners, but received no reply.

The investigation has been conducted in accordance with the ethical principles of Danwatch and international press ethical guidelines. The contents of this investigation are the sole responsibility of Danwatch. Legal advice on the investigation by Lawyer Poul Hauch Fenger. This publication is produced with financial support from Danida.

Danwatch is an independent media and research centre that investigates the influence of businesses on humans and the environment globally. Danwatch commits to national and international rules and principles on good ethics of press practice, including the Media Liability Act (Denmark) and the International Federation of Journalists’ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists (international).

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Rohingya testimony https://danwatch.dk/en/rohingya-testimony/ https://danwatch.dk/en/rohingya-testimony/#respond Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:15:50 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/rohingya-testimony/

My husband was beaten to a pulp. We left him behind on the other side. I couldn’t find my youngest child.


Danwatch photographer Shafiur Rahman has visited the border area of Bangladesh close to Myanmar. At the moment members of the Muslim minority, Rohingya are fleeing murder and rape committed by Myanmar’s security forces.

Shafiur’s portraits and the testimony of the women describes a horrifying situation in Myanmar, one which the writer Azeem Ibrahim describes as a hidden genocide in his aptly named book “The Rohingyas – Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide” ( 2016).

These developments are not new and a UN report from last week suggests that gang rapes, beatings, and killings of men, women, and children are common in the northern Myanmar. Of the 204 interviewed people, the vast majority reported witnessing killings. Half reported having a family member who was killed, while half of the women interviewed reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence.

They kept me as long as they wanted to. Those who came at 8pm raped me till 12am; and those who came at 12am, stayed till 1am. In this way, they did whatever they wanted to.


The conflicts in Myanmar

The violent attacks against the Rohingya’s are primarily committed by Myanmar’s security forces in the Rhakin State, but there is a general tendency in the predominantly Buddhist population towards discrimination and exclusion of the Muslim minority. A UN report shows that the segregation between Muslims and Buddhists is excessive in Myanmar, especially in the Rhakin State where the majority of Muslims live.

The Muslim minority Rohingya is not recognized as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar because the Buddhist minority view the Rohingya population as illegal immigrants. This means that the majority of the Muslims are stateless and have no civil rights.

The same UN report shows that the conflicts in the Rhakin State have increased during the last couple of years while the military has become more and more aggressive. The military junta surrendered in 2011, but the military still has excessive influence in Myanmar and in the Rhakin State. The UN report shows that the military controls the western province of Myanmar.

UN estimates that 66,000 Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since October 2016.

They taunted me and tortured me. They put pictures of my rape on the internet. Even the people of my neighbourhood tormented me a lot.


My husband was a religious scholar. They took him away. How will I manage with my children?

Rashidas daughter was slaughtered in front of her. Husband taken by the military. Raped.
Yasminas mother and father was slaughtered in front of her. Gang raped.
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Europe’s Largest Pension Funds Heavily Invested in Illegal Israeli Settlements https://danwatch.dk/en/europes-largest-pension-funds-heavily-invested-in-illegal-israeli-settlements/ https://danwatch.dk/en/europes-largest-pension-funds-heavily-invested-in-illegal-israeli-settlements/#respond Tue, 31 Jan 2017 08:18:55 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=20465 European investors have billions of euro invested in companies with activities in and around illegal Israeli settlements, according to a new investigation from Danwatch that screened the investment portfolios of Europe’s top five pension fund managers.

Statens pensjonsfond utland (Oljefondet) (NO), Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP (NE), Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (NE), Arbejdsmarkedets Tillægspension (DK), and Alecta Pensionsförsäkring (SE) have a total of €7.5 billion invested in 36 Israeli and international publicly-traded companies, most of which have long been under public scrutiny because of their activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.Not a valid elementor pageHugh Lovatt, expert on Israel and Palestine at the respected think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations, explains the problem with settlements:“Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and have led to the dispossession of Palestinians and the fragmentation of Palestinian land. They infringe on Palestinian rights and exploit Palestinian natural resources.”Business activities in and around settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are not necessarily against the law, but according to the United Nations, investors are obliged to carry out enhanced due diligence and to demonstrate that their activities do not contribute to negative effects on human rights.

Overview from the European Council on Foreign Relations of the 18 EU countries (in green), which to date has published indicative warnings to citizens and businesses about the risk of legal, financial and reputational consequences of financial and economic activities in the settlements. 

Warning from European governments

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In addition, 18 European countries warn their citizens and businesses in no uncertain terms against undertaking financial and economic activities that could support illegal Israeli settlements.

“Financial transactions, investments, purchases, tenders, and other economic activities (including services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements are associated with legal and economic risks due to the fact that, according to international law, the Israeli settlements are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a lawful part of Israel’s territory,” wrote the Danish Foreign Ministry in a 2014 statement similar to statements published by other countries.

“One should also be aware of possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights,” the statement warns and refers to OECD Guidelinesfor Multinational Enterprises (2011) and United Nations Guiding Principles on Businessand Human rights(2011).

Undermining the two-state solution

In addition to the “increased risk of adverse human rights impacts”, as the UN puts it, European investors are also actively undermining the official policy of the EU regarding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“When European investors finance, fund or facilitate the settlement enterprise and illegal actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, they are contributing to the undermining of the two-state solution and therefore the undermining of the EU’s own foreign policy objectives. And these investments are illegal under international law – or at least very problematic – and exposes European investors to reputational, financial and legal risks,” says Lovatt.Investments in companies with business activities in and around settlements tie European investors to potential violations of international humanitarian law and Palestinians’ human rights.Lars Erslev Andersen, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), agrees that it is problematic when companies have activities in settlements.“In my opinion, businesses that have branches or factories in the occupied Palestinian territories help to maintain the occupation and facilitate Israel’s continued construction of settlements, infrastructure and security apparatus in the West Bank,” Andersen tells Danwatch.Not a valid elementor page

Norwegian fund biggest investor

The largest single investor by far is Statens Pensjonsfond Utland, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, with €5.2 billion out of the total €7.5 billion invested in all 36 companies on Danwatch’s list.

This includes €135 million in Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers for the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories; €286 million in HeidelbergCement, which has been blacklisted by several other European investors due to exploitation of Palestinian natural resources; and €1.5 billion in Siemens, which has installed traffic systems on Israeli roads in the West Bank and placed bids on projects on occupied territory with Israel Railways.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund also has €233 million in five Israeli banks financing settlement construction and operating in the West Bank in various ways: Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel Ltd, Israel Discount Bank Ltd and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd.

These same banks are blacklisted by Europe’s third largest pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW) (NE) which in 2014 ended several years of dialogue.

“Given the day-to-day reality and domestic legal framework they operate in, the banks have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” wrote PFZW (formerly PGGM) about the decision to divest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot because they finance settlements and operate branches on occupied territory.

Danwatch asked The Norwegian Government Pension Fund specific questions about each of their investments in the 36 specific companies, but received no specific reply. Instead the fund answers in general terms about how they expect companies they invest in to strive to observe “the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Global Compact.”

“Our expectations are especially relevant for companies with direct operations, supply chains or other business relationships in high-risk sectors, high-risk geographical areas, or otherwise high-risk operational environments,” they explain.

The Norwegian oil fund’s decisions about excluding specific companies is regulated by an independent council appointed by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

New  findings will be considered

Of the five largest European pension funds, Denmark’s ATP is by far the smallest investor in companies on Danwatch’s list, with about €1 million in total in Siemens and The Priceline Group Inc, the owner of booking.com, which facilitates hotels in a number of settlements. However, ATP’s publicly available stock portfolio does not include index futures, which amounts to almost 95% of ATP’s entire foreign holdings.

On the two specific investments, ATP explains that Danwatch’s findings includes new information not covered by their external screening partner, and that they will have to consider this before they can answer specific questions.

Sweden’s largest pension fund, and Europe’s fifth-largest, Alecta Pensionsförsäkring, only has investments in one company on Danwatch’s list: Volvo Group. The Swedish industrial conglomerate partly owns Merkavim, which provides armoured busses for Egged bus lines in the West Bank, where Volvo busses are also used for transport. Two Volvo-certified garages operate in the illegal industrial zones of Mishor Adumim and Atarot in the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, Volvo excavators are used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses on occupied land, as documented in FebruaryApril and October 2016 in the Palestinian villages of Jinba, Halaweh, Um Al Kher and in the Jordan Valley. Danwatch presented these findings to Volvo Group, but received no reply.

On the subject of house demolitions, Volvo Group stated in 2011 that “Volvo neither can nor wants to take a position in international conflicts […] We regret if they are used for destructive purposes, but it does not stop us from believing that our excavators and vehicles largely play a part in making the world a little better.”

Alecta Pensionsförsäkring explains to Danwatch that their due diligence is outsourced to external partner GES, and that GES confirm their knowledge about the issue and have concluded that Volvo Group’s activities is not a breach against international conventions.

“Volvo has limited possibilities to influence how their products are used and we believe that Volvo cannot be directly linked to human rights violations,” Swedish investor Alecta therefore tells Danwatch.

“Alecta has an active and ongoing dialogue with Volvo as well as with our external partner GES and has so far not received any indication pointing towards an exclusion. If necessary we will as a first priority engage further in our dialogue with Volvo to make them comply with international law, rather than exclude them as an investment,” Alecta says.

Danwatch also contacted the two Dutch pension funds Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP and Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW), but received no reply.



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Hydro boom sparks violent conflicts in Nepal https://danwatch.dk/en/hydro-boom-sparks-violent-conflicts-in-nepal/ https://danwatch.dk/en/hydro-boom-sparks-violent-conflicts-in-nepal/#respond Thu, 27 Oct 2016 13:21:14 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=20445 The paradox is easy to spot.  Running water is Nepal’s strongest asset at the moment, not only for investors in hydroelectric power plants, but also for communities that still lack electricity.  Nevertheless, a steady stream of disputes has arisen between local populations, the government, and an increasing number of hydro plants that are meant to create electrical currents out of water currents.

Take for example the Khimti Dhalkebar power plant in Nepal’s impassable mountains.  Khimti Dhalkebar will be able to provide up to 17 percent of the country’s electricity needs, but it is currently four years behind schedule because of a battle over power cables and the eviction of more than one thousand villagers.

Recently, violent conflicts and accusations of police brutality have flared up around the Khimti Dhaldkebar plant, which is now mired in a court case.

The Khimti Dhalkebar project is one of six cases of illegal land seizure before Nepal’s courts, while additional complaints have been filed with Nepal’s Human Rights Commission (NHRC), according to Tahal Thami, director of the Lawyer’s Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP).

“These conflicts arise because locals are rarely asked before the government has transferred their land to a company and they are removed.  Fundamentally, the biggest problem is that neither the government nor businesses consult local people as they are required to do by national and international human rights statutes,” says Thami.

According to Thami, Khimti is built particularly to sell electricity in India, which will not help to electrify Nepal, he says.

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Energy crisis triggers state of emergency

Nepal has no major fossil fuel reserves, and historically, the country’s per capita energy use has been very low, at about one-third of the Asian average and just one-fifth of the global average, according to Energypedia.

In 2008, the country experienced a serious energy crisis, worsened at one end of the country by severe drought that made hydro plants unusable, and at the other end by floods that ruined power cables transmitting electricity from India.  According to the World Bank, the energy crisis was of “unprecedented severity, caused by years of under-investment and sharp growth in electricity demand.”

In Kathmandu, Gyanu Maskey of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies researches the social effects of hydroelectric plants.  She is co-author of a report entitled Justice brokers, global indigenous rights and struggles over hydropower in Nepal.

She explains that the government enacted a plan in 2011 in response to the emergency. The Energy Crisis Management Action Plan suspends procedures meant to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights to consultation and compensation when their land is confiscated, making it easier to “use measures to compulsorily acquire land.”

The government had already implemented limits on compensation to local communities in connection with hydro power plants the previous year, but all the political plans came into force when authorities declared the state of emergency in 2011.

Money or rights?

Maskey studied a hydroelectric plant project of this kind in Lamjung, where locals demanded compensation for damages connected to its construction, like cracks in their houses that were caused by the drilling of holes in the mountain wall for power lines.

Sixty-five-year old Farsi B. K. has been temporarily removed from his home in Tanglichwok in southern Nepal in order to make room for the hydroelectric project in Lamjung.  He is only 100 metres from his former home, but it makes a world of difference.  His new home is little more than a shack and not at all to the older man’s liking.

“I am sorry to have to leave my house.  I don’t know if it was force or fear that made me leave, but this is not in my best interest,” says Farsi B. K.

Maskey says that local people have also insisted on their proper share of the profits from the hydro plant, an amount that has been significantly reduced under the government’s energy plan.

“The residents wish to be compensated for damages to their property and to receive a share of the profits from the hydro plant.  This is in line with Nepalese law regarding hydro projects, in which the distribution of resources is prioritised over rights,” says Maskey.

But giving cash to individuals rather than securing collective rights makes it hard for groups that fight for the rights of indigenous peoples, Maskey points out.

“These are organisations like the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), which speak out on behalf of indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent before the confiscation of their land, according to the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (#169, ed.).”

Local communities, therefore, are not only struggling against the government’s suspension of applicable law, but also amongst themselves, as collective rights are pitted against the individual’s right to compensation for lost land or property.  But why should there be such resistance, when the 107 planned hydro projects can bring electricity to large swaths of Nepal that until now have been in darkness?

Rights of indigenous people under pressure

At an elaborate press conference in Kathmandu last April, the government launched yet another energy plan: the National Energy Crisis Reduction and Electricity Development Decade master plan.  The plan was meant to give new momentum to hydroelectric projects and bring more energy to Nepal by clearing certain “obstacles” out of the way, said Minister of Energy Top Bahadur Rayamajhi to the gathered mass of journalists.

“The government will initiate the process to speed up the construction of a few large hydropower projects that have been stalled due to various problems within a few weeks.”

Around the same time, the government sent a paramilitary group, the Armed Police Force (APF), to ensure progress in the construction of the Khimti Dhalkebar project’s power lines.  This led to violent conflict between demonstrators and the police that was described by activists who witnessed the clashes in an open letter to the World Bank in Washington.

“Community members were beaten, arrested, and detained while taking part in peaceful protests. Additionally, armed police officers were deployed to guard construction sites, militarizing areas located amidst homes, fields, and schools,” the letter states.

On July 2 and 3, it happened again, with several local residents detained and arrested following a peaceful demonstration.

Specifically, the project will require that roughly one thousand people from several municipalities in the Sindhuli district be moved, while four thousand will be affected in all.  The power lines will run 75 kilometres through five rural districts in central Nepal.  Two hundred and eighteen towers, each 60 metres high, will be built at 700-metre intervals.  Because each tower requires a 30-metre radius around it, community members say that the land cannot be used for homes or agriculture.

Furthermore, the power lines will pass through several towns, hanging over four schools as well as several areas of historic, cultural and religious importance.  The value of the land will decrease, in part because of a loss of agricultural production.

The Khimti Dhalkebar Hydro Power project, which is partly owned by the Norwegian state hydro company Statkraft and partly financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, has been delayed for several years because of protests from local communities who say that they were not consulted in accordance with international guidelines and Nepalese law.

Dokumentar produceret af: Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS), Nepal


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Maersk scraps ships at dangerous shipyards in India https://danwatch.dk/en/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/ https://danwatch.dk/en/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/#respond Sat, 08 Oct 2016 13:02:14 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/ Right now, the two nearly 300-metre long container ships Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming are lying on a beach in India and being cut into pieces by Indian shipyard workers. The 20,000-ton steel ships have sunk into the sand off Alang beach on India’s west coast, where the Shree Ram shipbreaking yard has been hired to scrap the ships for Maersk.

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This must be done responsibly and in accordance with Maersk’s own standards, according to the company’s stated policy. Maersk also requires that the shipyard uphold the so-called Hong Kong Convention, which was created in part to ensure that scrapyards meet the necessary safety measures for their workers. Safety measures, that are supposed to put an end to gruesome statistics like the 69 who died at the shipyards in Alang between 2009 and 2013, according to the findings of Geetanjoy Sahu, assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has studied conditions there.

Danwatch chose to travel to India to investigate how Maersk’s ships are recycled. We have documented the shipbreaking process at the specific yard, and have interviewed ten shipyard workers who report that neither they nor their colleagues have employment contracts – in direct violation of Maersk’s internal standards and of international conventions.
In addition, the shipyard workers report that they work without necessary personal protective equipment in an industry that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called the most dangerous in the world.

Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming are beached by the Shree Ram yard in Alang, where they lie wedged between other end-of-life vessels in the intertidal zone. The tidal range is 13 meters. Photo: S. Rahman.

Expert: “The shipyard should be shut down”

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We showed photo documentation from the shipyard in India to a series of experts in occupational safety and health, including Hasse Mortensen, the former lead inspector consultant at the Danish Working Environment Authority, who has a thorough knowledge of occupational environment at shipyards. He was shocked by the conditions at the shipbreaking yard handling Maersk’s ships.
Hong Kong Convention
The Hong Kong convention is a global agreement adopted by the International Maritime Organisation. It’s purpose is to ensure that ship dismantling does not pose unnecessary risks to humans and the environment. The convention has not yet entered into force as this would, among other things, require a minimum of 15 countries ratifying the convention.
So far only five countries (Norway, France, Belguim, Panama and the Republic of Congo) have done so. According to the Danish Minister for Environment and Food Esben Lunde Larsen a Danish ratification of the convention is underway, which Maersk is an advocate for.
“There can be a sudden, imminent danger of explosion in the circumstances you’re showing me. I have almost no words to describe how wrong things could go for those workers if these gas lines get damaged and the gas ignites,” says Mortensen, looking at a picture from Shree Ram that shows unprotected gas cables near an open flame.
“In a Danish setting, this would be grounds to close the work site until the lines were hung properly and secured. You have to remember, these are extremely flammable gasses they are working with,” emphasises Mortensen.
Jane Frølund Thomsen, a senior consultant with the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Bispebjerg University Hospital, agrees. She evaluates work-related illnesses among labourers, including shipyard workers, in Denmark.
“Torch cutting involves safety risk. It uses pure oxygen, which is liable to explode if there are sparks around, especially if the sparks get near the gas lines. If the insulation is burned off the lines, and oxygen leaks out, there is a serious danger of explosion and fire,” declares Thomsen.

“I barely have words for, how badly it can get for those workers, if those gas lines are damaged or ignited,” says former chief supervisor and -consultant of the Labour Inspection, Hasse Mortensen. Photo: S. Rahman.

Maersk admits error

Many of the employees at Shree Ram work without necessary personal protective equipment like respirators, safety glasses, work clothes and hearing protectors. This, too, shocked Hasse Mortensen, who has seen many accidents caused by a lack of protective equipment in his 20 years at the Working Environment Authority.
“That is really poisonous smoke they’re breathing. Meanwhile, some are not even wearing flame-retardant clothing. This could be a life-threatening situation if the sparks hit their shirt,” insists Mortensen.

Several of the workers at Shree Ram yard wear flammable cotton shirts, despite working with open fire reaching 1500 degrees celsius. Photo: S. Rahman.

Maersk concedes in an interview with Danwatch that there are areas in need of improvement in order to ensure worker safety.
“We have found few examples where dismantling is being undertaken without the necessary safety equipment. The situation is being addressed by the shipyard. It is of course unsatisfactory if the equipment is not being worn, even in isolated cases. This is one of the issues regarding safety equipment that the shipyard is addressing,” said Annette Stube.
The shipyard workers at Shree Ram earn their pay by cutting the ship into small pieces that can be recycled in the steel industry. They do this by mixing oxygen and gas in a device that can cut through steel and paint with a flame that can reach up to 1500 degrees Celsius. The process is called torch cutting, and it gives off a number of harmful substances, according to Mortensen.
“When you are torch cutting with black steel, microscopic particles and gasses are given off that are extremely dangerous to inhale. It can therefore have disastrous, damaging health effects on the body if you are not properly protected,” says the former lead inspector of the Working Environment Authority.

On the beach in front of the Maersk ships, workers cut the bow of Wyoming, spreading toxic fumes across the yard. Photo: S. Rahman.

Poisonous smoke can cause cancer

Over the years, Danish metal workers have contracted serious illnesses and even died as a consequence of not wearing the necessary safety equipment. Jane Frølund Thomsen of Bispebjerg University Hospital knows exactly how this kind of smoke affects the body, since she sees Danish metal workers in her practice who are suffering from lung disease and cancer.
“The rules here in Denmark require an exhaust system when doing that kind of work. It’s hard to say whether there is an acute danger, but if they perform torch cutting in a confined space for long enough, there is a real risk of suffocation,” says Thomsen.
Protection from welding and cutting smoke is not only a central element in Danish workplace law, it is required by both Maersk’s own standards and the Hong Kong Convention, which both Maersk and Shree Ram claim to uphold.
Some of the workers who spoke to Danwatch reported that they use a white mask when they are welding in the ships at Shree Ram. But an ordinary mask is far from enough to keep dangerous gasses out, says Thomsen.

3M N95 8210. “That mask is not sufficient to protect against particles and smoke from torch cutting,” says former chief supervisor and -consultant at the Labour Inspection, Hasse Mortensen. Workers at the Shree Ram yard wore this type of mask while torch cutting. Photo: S. Rahmann.

“A mask offers hardly any protection. It doesn’t filter out toxic gasses at all, and not much of the smoke, either. The smoke can contain formalin when you’re dealing with painted surfaces, and we know that formalin causes lung cancer, because it’s carcinogenic. But it would have to be present in a certain concentration,” says Thomsen.
Thomsen could not comment on the particular mask used by the workers, but Hasse Mortensen could. He has a thorough expertise in protective equipment, and knows the 3M model N95 8210 mask used by the workers well.

“This mask is not sufficient to protect against particles and smoke from torch cutting. It is specifically designed to protect against dust. Smoke from torch cutting can contain particles that 1000 times smaller than dust. So if the mask cannot filter out particles this size, they pass through, straight into the lungs of the affected worker,” says Mortensen.

Clear breach of the Hong Kong Convention

Kanu Jain is a researcher at the Delft University of Technology in Holland, where he studies shipbreaking. He is about to complete his PhD on the subject, for which a large part of his research has been focused on shipbreaking methods. He agrees with the experts’ assessments of the dangerous working conditions at Shree Ram, and emphasises that it is not only a case of noncompliance with Maersk’s internal standards, but also of clear breaches of the Hong Kong Convention.
“Workers seem to be missing breathing and eye protection during cutting operations, which violates Regulation 22 – ‘Worker safety and training’ – of the Hong Kong Convention,” says Jain, who has authored with Professor J.J. Hopmann from the same university and others a scholarly article on the Hong Kong Convention itself.

The Convention is also the focal point of Maersk’s own standards for responsible shipbreaking. The standards are based on the Convention, but go a step further and are more specific in their requirements of shipyards.
The more specific requirements please Peter Hasle, professor of occupational environment at the Centre for Industrial Production at Aalborg University. He has for many years carried out research in the field of occupational environment management, and has also been a professor at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment.
In his opinion, Maersk’s requirements with respect to safety at the shipyards are an appropriate reflection of the firm’s size and responsibility. But after a careful review of the documentation from the shipyard, he reaches a different conclusion.
“It makes you wonder why Maersk chose this shipyard, because it is obvious that it does not fulfil the company’s requirements. My assessment is that the shipyard was not able to show that they meet Maersk’s standards, and so maybe they prepared some nice paperwork to explain how they plan to make improvements along the way. But the problems I see here are so significant that it seems completely meaningless. They are not even close to meeting the requirements. It’s the absolutely baseline conditions that are the problem,” underscores the professor.
Annette Stube reports that Maersk has invested a great deal in hiring competent people to represent the company at the shipyard.
“We have several people at the shipyard who have the power to stop the work if it does not comply with the standards. They are specialists, employed by us, with their own office at the shipyard so they can be on site.”
Peter Hasle believes that this is a healthy approach, but has a hard time understanding what those specialists are doing at the shipyard if such dangerous conditions are to be found.
“Maersk has a tremendous responsibility here. If they are present and observe these things without taking action, then they are communicating to the local management and employees that these dangerous situations are acceptable. If Maersk is present, but does nothing, then Maersk employees learn that it’s acceptable to conduct business that way – and that Maersk’s requirements do not matter,” says Hasle.
Expert: The standards are not being met at all
Danwatch has interviewed more than ten workers from Shree Ram who were able to document that they are employed at the shipyard. They report that they have no contract and that they do not know what their rights are as employees. This is one more issue that surprises the professor about Maersk’s actions, especially since the company’s standards explicitly emphasise how important it is that all workers have a contract and know their rights.
“When employees don’t have a contract, then they are not in a position to object if they feel that conditions are unsafe. Likewise, they won’t stop working even if they become seriously ill from torch cutting without a respirator, for example, as they apparently do.”
Hasle continues, “It seems that Maersk is using its standards as an image of how nice and tidy their shipbreaking operations are. But in reality, the standards are not being met at all.”
Again Maersk recognizes, that there are conditions that have not been in order, but that they have taken actions on this since Danwatch’s visit to the yard.
“The contractual situation is one of the factors that were not completely in order when we started our cooperation with Shree Ram, and which has recently been brought to order,” said Stube.

The Shree Ram shipyard declined to comment on the documentation collected by Danwatch. Maersk would not say when the company expects the shipyard to be in compliance with their standards.

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Google investors “deeply concerned” over human rights violations in Kenyan wind project https://danwatch.dk/en/google-investors-deeply-concerned-over-human-rights-violations-in-kenyan-wind-project/ https://danwatch.dk/en/google-investors-deeply-concerned-over-human-rights-violations-in-kenyan-wind-project/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2016 12:26:51 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/google-investors-deeply-concerned-over-human-rights-violations-in-kenyan-wind-project/ Controversy has surrounded the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, a prestige wind power park in Northern Kenya that it is estimated will increase the country’s electricity production by 15-20 percent starting in 2017.

According to the Danwatch investigation A People in the Way of Progress, published in June, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project has failed to provide documentation that local tribes around Lake Turkana were properly consulted before their land was requisitioned by the wind power project. In addition, because the consortium wrongfully failed to recognise the tribes as indigenous peoples, their rights as such were not acknowledged, thereby circumventing UN guidelines and possibly breaching the Kenyan constitution.

Read the investigation here

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These potential violations worry Steve Heim, managing director of Boston Asset Management, a longtime investor in Google. Google is currently preparing to buy Vestas’ 12,5 percent share of the wind project for approximately 40 million dollars.

“I think Danwatch’s report should make Google seriously reconsider its plans to buy out Vestas. Google shouldn’t be associated with violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in Lake Turkana,” says Heim.

In addition to his role at Boston Asset Management, Heim is also an expert in the rights of indigenous peoples. He is a former member of the UN Global Compact’s Expert Advisory Group, which authored the Business Reference Guide for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“It seems to be clear in this case that land was actually given away without anyone being asked. The investors – for example, the large Danish government actors and other agencies – have not made sure there was free, prior and informed consent from the affected communities. They could have made other decisions,” Hein says.

Leaked investor letter to Google CEO

The leaked letter obtained by Danwatch was sent by Sonen Capital, a firm that seeks to use its investments to create positive social and environmental impacts, to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

In the letter, dated November 9, 2015, thirty-eight investors express their unease over reports of human rights violations in connection with the Lake Turkana Wind Power project.

“We are deeply concerned by reports of violence, displacement and environmental damage associated with Lake Turkana Wind Power project (…) In particular, we are seeking a deeper understanding of Google’s process for ensuring free, prior and informed consent within indigenous communities impacted by Google’s suppliers or by its own projects.”

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The energy project has been underway for almost a decade, requiring the building of a 200-kilometre road in Northern Kenya and the resettlement of the village of Sarima. Despite its status as a flagship project for the Uhuru Kenyatta government, as well as Kenya’s biggest private investment ever, the consortium seemingly failed to comply with international guidelines before work began.

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, projects are required to conduct a consultation before the process of land acquisition begins; this is known as the concept of free, prior and informed consent. However, in the case of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, no consultations took place prior to 2007, even though the consortium submitted its application for the land lease in 2006.

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Same year, the consortium sent its land lease application to the Marsabit County Council in Northern Kenya, requesting 100,000 acres of land, and later increasing its request by an additional 50,000 acres. At that moment, if not earlier, the local government ought to have initiated public consultations. According to UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, if the state fails to undertake consultations, the responsibility to do so falls to the company.

The first documentation of public consultations dates from 2007.  Despite the consortium’s claims that it complied with international guidelines, it has not been able to produce documentation of public consultations that took place prior to 2007, which means that it seems to have failed to live up to the UN requirements for over a year.

Kenya does not recognise the UN’s concept of indigenous peoples. Still, the land question is now in court. The affected communities say that their local government and the wind power project failed to consult them as required by Kenyan law. The accused parties deny all these claims.

Consortium: The tribes are not indigenous people

Another worrisome issue involves the recognition of the tribes. Whether or not the tribes are recognised as indigenous people is highly significant, because it determines what rights they have with respect to the wind project.

Experts on human rights, the Kenyan government, and the consortium are divided on this question.

Three international experts on the rights of indigenous people interviewed by Danwatch for the report A People in the Way of Progress have unanimously agreed that all four tribes in the area around Lake Turkana should be defined as indigenous people. Their argument is that the tribes have lived off the land in the area for generations.

Although the 2010 Kenyan Constitution specifically recognises the rights of minorities and marginalised communities, it does not recognise the concept of indigenous peoples. In 2011, the consortium completed an Indigenous Peoples Policy Framework as required by the World Bank in order to be in compliance with the bank’s guidelines, known as IFC Performance Standards.  The consortium concluded in that framework report that there were no indigenous peoples in the project-affected area.

“Project screening and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) have been undertaken, and Indigenous Peoples (…) have not been identified within the footprint of the Project.”

According to the consortium, the only indigenous peoples in the project area are the El Molo, but because they live 70 km away from the wind farm, the project determined that they are not affected by it. The three other local tribes – Rendille, Samburu and Turkana – are not recognised by the consortium as indigenous peoples, even though they were recognised as such by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in 2006.

This makes the rights of indigenous peoples the second question on trial in the conflict between the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, the government and the local communities.

The people in the following photos live by the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. They consider themselves as indigenous people. The consortium and the Kenyan government do not agree with them. Experts in human rights criticise the consortium and government.

Experts criticise: Not up to the consortium

In the investigation A People in the Way of Progress, Birgitte Feiring, an adviser on sustainable development at the Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen, disagrees with the view of the consortium, asserting that this determination is not one for companies to make.

“First of all, it is not a company’s responsibility to say who are indigenous people and who are not. Instead, we have a system of internationally-recognised objective and subjective identification criteria. The objective criteria are whether a people have a historic presence in the area, predating the creation of a state, colonisation or conquest. I don’t think anyone would question that in this case,” Feiring says.

Steven Heim agrees with Feiring, emphasising that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is “very explicit about free, prior and informed consent,” and that it applies to the situation at Lake Turkana.

“Saying that three out of four pastoralists are not indigenous peoples, and that the last group doesn’t count because they live 70 km away, is just not right. I agree with the different experts cited in the report: it is not up to the company to say who are indigenous peoples or not.”

Lake Turkana Wind Power claims that the project is in compliance with the performance standards of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).  However, experts in IFC Performance Standards, indigenous peoples’ rights, and Kenyan land rights tell Danwatch that if there was no free, prior and informed consent, then it is not possible for the wind power project to be in compliance with either the IFC standards or with international human rights standards.

Ensuring rights of indigenous peoples

According to the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, it is the state’s responsibility to protect human rights, and the company’s responsibility to respect them.

Steven Heim acknowledges that the responsibility of states and companies to obtain free, prior and informed consent from local communities is a “complicated issue,” and in this case, it failed.

Heim urges investors “to rethink what they are doing and make the process better.”

“They have to realise that it was not legal according to the constitution. Even worse, if the court rules in favour of the project, they will still have the opposition of many indigenous peoples; it goes against human rights to go forward with this.

“So, even if it slows down the project at this point, the consortium should try to renegotiate with the communities, for example regarding compensation. They have a long-term human rights responsibility to address, and even if they win legally, they are not going to win on the rights of the affected people.”

Google has not responded to Danwatch’s request for comment.

The parties to the court case filed by local communities against the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, the government and the local county will reconvene in Kenya on November 9, 2016.

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“No woman has known grief like me” https://danwatch.dk/en/no-woman-has-known-grief-like-me/ https://danwatch.dk/en/no-woman-has-known-grief-like-me/#respond Wed, 14 Sep 2016 11:49:26 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/no-woman-has-known-grief-like-me/

“Expressive photographers sometimes like to claim that photographs are “visual thinking that does not require any words.” Indeed the old guard still write very little about their photographs. It seems to me they are saying 1/125 of a second is enough to convey meaningful depth to any given scenario.  I never understood that. That is probably why i am not a photographer …

In a shoot last month with Danwatch where I was photographing people who work in a very hazardous industry, this woman came out of her small shack and stared at me. I thought at first perhaps reproachfully. She had probably seen that the DanWatch team were interviewing workers.

I tried to defuse the situation by saying “May I take a photograph?”

She agreed. And asked “Don’t you want to hear my story too?” The widow proceeded to tell me a desperate story of life after the death of her husband two years ago, and how difficult it has been to care for her kids without any support. She told me “No woman has known grief like me.”

I will never meet her again. I will never know how her story unfolds. But I took a snapshot of her in 1/50 of a second.”

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Brazilian coffee is sprayed with deadly pesticides https://danwatch.dk/en/brazilian-coffee-is-sprayed-with-deadly-pesticides/ https://danwatch.dk/en/brazilian-coffee-is-sprayed-with-deadly-pesticides/#respond Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:19:41 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=18950 Skin contact with the chemical known as terbufos can kill you. Symptoms of poisoning are involuntary muscle contractions, drooling, visual disorders, reduced coordination, dizziness, vomiting, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. In the EU, it is illegal to use pesticides that contain terbufos because the chemical is so toxic. On Brazilian coffee plantations, however, it can be used to fight insects.

Half of all the coffee produced in Brazil comes from the state of Minas Gerais. In 2014, over 364,000 kg of pesticides containing terbufos were sold in the three regions of the state that are home to the most coffee plantations. Terbufos is just one of thirty active pesticide ingredients that are prohibited in the EU, but approved by Brazilian authorities for use on Brazilian coffee plantations. Tons of chemicals like aldicarb, fenpropathrin and carbuforan, which European authorities have determined to be too dangerous to workers and to the environment, were sold in 2014 in the three regions of Minas Gerais state where the majority of its coffee plantations are located.

Coffee worker Francisco Paulo Pereira applied pesticides on a Brazilian coffee plantation without protective equipment. Today he is extremely ill.

“These chemicals are outlawed in the EU because they are extremely toxic and can cause serious acute and long-term health problems”, says Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the Clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, who has spent many years studying the use of pesticides in developing countries.

“Many of the chemicals are neurotoxins that affect both insects and humans”, says Jørs, explaining that researchers suspect that the substances damage reproductive systems and cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms such as coordination problems and trembling hands.

Risk of cancer

The chemicals that are sprayed on Brazilian coffee are not only acutely toxic; some of them may also cause cancer. One of the most common herbicides used on Brazilian coffee plantations is glyphosate, which is sold under the brand name Roundup and used around the world as a weed killer.

In the three regions of Minas Gerais state where most of its coffee plantations are located, 1,800 tons plus 18,000,000 litres of glyphosate were sold in 2014. In March 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) changed its classification of glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans”, in part because the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in research animals.

Glyphosate’s dangers include damage to DNA, according to Fabio Gomes, an expert working at the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA).

“Even in small doses, glyphosate can cause cancer twenty to thirty years later”, says Gomes.

The question of whether glyphosate causes cancer is still debated, and in November 2015, the European Food Safety Administration determined that the chemical is unlikely to damage DNA or to cause cancer in humans.

Applying pesticides without protection

Even though workers on Brazilian coffee plantations are handling toxic, disease-causing pesticides, they often apply them without or with insufficient protective equipment, according to experts, coffee workers, and union officials.

Several of the coffee workers encountered by Danwatch during the harvest described how they applied pesticides wearing their own clothes and without necessary protective equipment.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa describes how empty pesticide bottles are used to store food and drink.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa is helping to coordinate an awareness campaign about pesticides on coffee plantations in Minas Gerais. She lives in the city of Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais, in a neighbourhood that is home to many of the area’s coffee workers. She says that it is very rare that workers wear all the necessary protective gear when they are applying pesticides.

“There are about 700 coffee plantations in Três Corações and São Bento Abade. I have seen only one plantation where the workers wore protective equipment”, she says. Another problem, according to Costa, is that workers are not properly trained to use the pesticides before they are required to spray them on plants or soil.

Eduardo Garcia Garcia is a pesticide expert and researcher at the Brazilian research institute Fundacentro, which is affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Labour and Employment. According to him, there are plenty of laws in place that require workers to wear protective equipment when applying pesticides.

“The problem is a lack of compliance”, he says.

Handkerchiefs instead of masks

Proper protective equipment should primarily keep workers from inhaling the chemicals and from getting drops of it on their skin. Equipment regulations depend on the type of product being applied, how poisonous it is, and whether it is in powder or liquid form, as well as on the type of plant being sprayed (whether it is a tall or short plant, has many or few leaves, etc.). Pesticides are labelled with a description of the necessary protective equipment, but according to Garcia, these recommendations are very general and do not take the aforementioned considerations into account. Usually, the product labels recommend that workers should wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, hat, face mask, glasses and boots.

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“The recommendations seldom take heat and the risk of dehydration into consideration. As a result, workers often fail to use all the equipment, and improvise instead”, says Garcia.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, an inspector from Instituto Mineiro de Agropecuária (IMA), the state agricultural institute in Minas Gerais, agrees. IMA carries out inspections related to the use of pesticides on coffee plantations.

“The workers often don’t want to use the safety equipment because it has a tendency to be uncomfortable and hot”, says Fernandes.

According to Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro, it’s also a question of money. “Instead of using expensive gloves, they may use a plastic bag to cover their hand, or a handkerchief to cover their mouth and nose. This gives a false sense of security. The poison gets into the material. A handkerchief can actually do even more harm than good, since it spreads the poison around on the skin.”

Garcia thinks that it’s problematic to focus only on the responsibility of workers to use the correct protective equipment. Meanwhile, workers’ resistance to the equipment is not the only problem, if you ask the largest agricultural labour union in Minas Gerais, the Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura do Estado de Minas Gerais (FETAEMG).

“Some plantations simply do not offer it”, says FETAEMG’s leader, Vilson Luiz da Silva.

Nothing protects 100 %

Even if the workers wear all the approved protective equipment, they cannot be sure they are safe.

“The problem is that no kind of safety equipment protects you 100 percent. The equipment reduces the impact of pesticides, but it does not eliminate it”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

“We don’t believe that protective equipment solves the problem”, says Fabio Gomes from the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA). He explains that when it comes to cancer risk, even small doses over a long period of time can be problematic.

Pesticide poisoning is widespread

The use of acutely toxic pesticides leads to pesticide poisonings and deaths in the coffee state of Minas Gerais. The latest numbers from Brazil’s national toxicological information system, Sistema Nacional de Informações Tóxico-Farmacológicas (Sinitox), record 21 deaths and 817 poisonings caused by agricultural pesticides in Minas Gerais in 2012.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva from INCA, an expert in pesticides and farm workers, the hidden numbers are considerable. “Many cases are never reported”, she says.

A survey of coffee workers taken in southern Minas Gerais in 2011 hints at the scope of the problem. Out of a group of 412 workers, 59 percent experienced at least one typical symptom of pesticide poisoning. The study was carried out by researchers from the Universidade Federal de Itajubá in Minas Gerais.

“Many coffee workers complain of dizziness and stomach pain”, says Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho of the organisation Articulação dos Empregados Rurais de Minas Gerais (Adere), which works to improve conditions for coffee workers. Santos has also noticed an increasing incidence of rash on workers’ arms.

Marluce Silva Braz describes how she got a severe rash when harvesting coffee

When she harvested coffee, the skin on Marluce Silva Braz’s hands began to burn and develop fluid-filled blisters that later turned into open sores.

Many of the other coffee workers in Braz’s neighbourhood in Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais have symptoms like dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and stomach pain.

Sixty-three-year-old Goncalo de Sousa Barbosa, who for years applied pesticides without protective equipment, reports difficulty breathing and episodes of dizziness. Others who worked with pesticides have trouble walking and describe feeling like their feet are asleep.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, pesticides have been linked to a wide range of other serious health problems.

“A pervasive problem among farm workers, including coffee workers, who are exposed to pesticides is the incidence of children with birth defects”, she says, adding that miscarriages, suicide and fertility problems also appear to be correlated with pesticide exposure.

Increased risk of cancer

When coffee workers experience symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning like dizziness, stomach pain, tremors, sweating and headache while they are applying pesticides, it is not very difficult to demonstrate a connection between the pesticides and the symptoms. It is much more challenging to do so when illness first arises days, months or years later.

“It is very difficult to prove causality between the use of pesticides and cancer, because cancer takes so many years to develop”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

Even though protective equipment is required by law, many workers apply pesticides on Brazilian coffee plantations without it. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

Fabio Gomes from INCA describes similar difficulties when trying to measure the connection between cancer and pesticides. He says that the number of unreported cases is very high because it is rarely noted that a cancer patient has a risk factor like pesticide exposure.

“When you speak to health personnel in agricultural areas where the use of pesticides is increasing, they report that the incidence of cancer is also increasing. They see a connection, but it is very difficult to prove it in a scientific way”, he says.

In 2007 his colleague at INCA, Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, was able to show a correlation between cancer and the pesticides that are used by agricultural workers in southern Minas Gerais. Her study showed that workers who had been exposed to pesticides that are used on coffee and other crops were four times more likely to develop lymphoma.

“The study showed a significant correlation between cancer and work on coffee plantations, mainly among those who applied pesticides, but also among temporary workers who picked coffee at the harvest,” says Silva.

Family members also at risk

Workers on coffee plantations are not the only ones who risk illness as a result of contact with pesticides. They may also expose their families to small amounts of the dangerous chemicals when they come home from work in the same clothing they wore while applying pesticides.

“New research has shown that workers who bring their equipment home to wash it expose women (in the home, ed.) to the poisons. A lack of awareness about these things is a serious and widespread problem”, says Garcia from Fundacentro.

“The workers often put their pesticide-contaminated work clothes in with the rest of their laundry. They just take a bath when they come back from their plantation work, and usually don’t take any other precautions”, says Dr Silva from INCA.

Drinking water from pesticide containers

Another problem is that empty pesticide bottles are sometimes used for other, dangerous purposes.

Before Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho became a coordinator and advocate for coffee workers with the organisation Adere, he was a coffee worker himself. Today he travels around to coffee plantations, reporting irregularities to the authorities.

“Often, workers will take a five-litre pesticide container down to the river to get drinking water”, he says.

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Years ago, when he worked on coffee plantations, Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho also used to drink from empty pesticide bottles. He didn’t know that it could be dangerous.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, one of the agricultural inspectors from IMA in Minas Gerais, says that, earlier, empty pesticide containers were frequently used to store drinking water without being properly cleaned first.

“This issue has improved somewhat,” but irregularities still remain, he says.

According to coffee worker and pesticide-awareness campaigner Elisabete Vitor da Costa, it is still quite common for people to use empty pesticide bottles to store drinking water or milk.

Traces of dangerous pesticides in waterways

Ordinary people who live near coffee plantations also risk ingesting small doses of dangerous pesticides.  Once pesticides have been sprayed on plants, rain washes some of the chemicals into the earth and onwards into streams and rivers, where they pollute the environment.

In 2013, Alexandra Fátima Saraiva Soares, a Brazilian civil and sanitation engineer and PhD who studies pesticides and water contamination, published as part of a team of researchers an investigation into pesticide residues in waterways near coffee plantations in Manhuaçu, Minas Gerais. In their water samples, the researchers found traces of twenty-four different pesticides, including the acutely toxic substance terbufos, which is outlawed in the EU. Terbufos is used to kill insects. If the chemical is being rinsed into rivers and waterways, it will also kill insects and water-dwelling animals there.

The EU’s official classification says Terbufos is “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects”.

According to Soares, water purification facilities are not able to remove pesticide residues, and she worries that they may pollute the drinking water in local homes.

“We do not know the health effects of exposure to low concentrations of pesticides over long periods of time”, she says.

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