Chile – Danwatch undersøgende journalistik Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:15:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chile – Danwatch 32 32 Activist receives death threats following Danwatch avocado investigation Thu, 30 Mar 2017 14:14:38 +0000 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 Sun, 19 Mar 2017 14:47:32 +0000 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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Avocados and Stolen Water Sun, 19 Mar 2017 12:51:13 +0000