Ford, GM, and Nissan profiting from indigenous land theft, slave labor, and deforestation

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

According to a new report by Greenpeace, top U.S. car companies such as Ford, General Motors, and Nissan are sourcing pig iron that has resulted in the destruction of Amazon rainforests, slave labor, and land conflict with indigenous tribes. Spending two years documenting the pig iron trade between northeastern Brazil and the U.S., Greenpeace has discovered that rainforests are cut and burned to power blast furnaces that produce pig iron, which is then shipped to the U.S. for steel production.

“Despite attention to the problem over the years, little has been done and household consumer products in the U.S. can still be traced back to illegalities and forest destruction in the Amazon,” the Greenpeace report reads.

Brazil’s Carajás region is home to 43 blast furnaces used by 18 different companies, of which Viena is the largest. The blast furnaces depend largely on illegal camps that cut and burn rainforest for charcoal.

“These camps are built in a matter of days, located in difficult to access areas and, if shut down by authorities, frequently spring up again in another location. They are built next to wood sources, including illegally in protected areas and indigenous lands,” the report reads, noting that labor conditions in the area are often similar to slavery. Often forced to work seven-days-a-week in hazardous and toxic conditions, workers are fleeced of salaries by imaginary debts.

The massive pig iron production in the region has been actively promoted by the Brazilian government and financed in the past by the World Bank, the European Economic Community, and the Japanese government. However, such promotion has not kept the industry clean as Greenpeace documented several types of fraud, from running an operation without a license to creating fake companies to keep timber sources hidden. Not surprisingly, much of the fuel comes from illegal logging.

Greenpeace linked two of the largest pig iron companies, Viena and Sidepar, to a steel mill in the U.S. run by Severstal and from there to major car manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes. Viena also exports its pig iron to Cargill, Environmental Materials Corporation, and National Material Trading, which in turn sells the steel to John Deere.

“Greenpeace’s research found Viena and Sidepar fueling their foundries with illegal charcoal connected to the region’s pandemic illegalities including slavery, illegal logging and deforestation, and invasions into indigenous lands,” reads the report.

Around 70-80 percent of the region’s forests have been lost already, with the bulk of it since pig iron production began in the mid-1980s. With forest running out in the region, loggers are now entering indigenous lands and conservation areas. Some indigenous tribes, such as the Awá and the Alto Rio Guamá, have lost over 30 percent of their land to the illegal loggers.

“Loggers flagrantly violate the law and bring in multiple trucks for hauling away timber and often enter indigenous lands well armed,” reads the Greenpeace report.

Despite this issue being in the media since 2006, companies have taken little action or responsibility according to Greenpeace.

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