Forest advocates present asset managers with essential principles for forest and human rights protections

In the wake of lackluster voting in proxy season, Friends of the Earth, Amazon Watch, and BlackRock’s Big Problem take proactive action to direct financial firms 

San Francisco — Today, long-time advocates for the protection of earth’s remaining tropical forest lands and the people, including Indigenous communities who live in them, presented a set of essential principles asset managers must follow if they are to claim they are taking into account the survival of forests and human rights. The principles were presented after a critical shareholder season in which BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, failed to live up to its own promise to center climate in its investment decision making. Concerned that BlackRock’s performance on climate voting–as well as its own dismal record in voting against forest devastation–suggested the firm is not serious about its own promises, advocates proactively offered these principles to guide asset managers ahead of future decisions.

The principles laid out have been enshrined in numerous global conventions through consultative processes with civil society, Indigenous Peoples, and peasant farmers’ organizations, and have been adopted in various forms by most multilateral development finance institutions. The principles do not represent new or experimental ideas. Instead they represent international norms of forest protection, human and land use rights, and upholding the rights of Indigenous communities. 

Norman Jiwan, Supervisory Board member, Tuk Indonesia, said: “Asset managers like BlackRock and Vanguard have had countless opportunities to show they understand what it means to center sustainability, respect the rights and dignity of Indigenous people, and not be party to the devastation of forests. And countless times, they have failed. These principles are not just words–they represent the standards that people who live in the world’s forests and people who advocate for them agree upon. If BlackRock wishes to be respected as a leader on sustainability, it can begin by respecting these basic standards.”

Luiz Eloy, a lawyer with the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB) and member of the Terena people, said: “BlackRock has done very expensive P.R. saying that it is ready to respect Indigenous people and to stop destroying forests. But so far it has changed absolutely nothing to alter its investment strategy, which pours money into the very companies that brutalize us and take down forests on an industrial scale. Talk means nothing to us, not after so many of us have died and lost our homes. If BlackRock wants credit as a leader, it needs to start by listening to those of us with something at stake, those of us who have been doing this work for generations.”

Following its January 2020 announcement on climate, BlackRock released a statement on its engagement with agribusiness companies. The statement acknowledged important risks associated with agribusiness, including greenhouse gas emissions, illegal deforestation, and biodiversity loss. But the statement failed to explain how BlackRock will measure companies’ management of these risks, what standards it will use to gauge companies’ progress in mitigating risks, and what consequences companies can expect if they continue to drive deforestation, biodiversity loss, land grabbing and broader human rights violations. Neither State Street nor Vanguard, the other two of the Big Three asset managers, have such a policy.

The principles therefore offer asset managers interested in developing substantive policies guidance on: 

  • Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Land Rights and Self-Determination
  • Consultation and Consent
  • Accountability
  • Zero Tolerance for Attacks Against Land Defenders
  • No Deforestation
  • Scope 3 Emissions
  • Water and Soil

 

Communications contacts: Jason Schwartz, +1-347-452-3752, [email protected]
Erin Jensen (Friends of the Earth), 202-222-0722, [email protected]

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