03 Mar.

Amazon indigenous communities and international NGOs sue supermarket giant Casino over deforestation and human rights violations 

Indigenous peoples from the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon and non-governmental organizations from France and the US today filed a lawsuit in the Saint-Etienne court against global retail giant Groupe Casino over selling beef products linked to deforestation and land grabbing. The process claims compensation for damages caused in the tropical rainforest.

This is the first time a supermarket chain is taken to court over deforestation and human rights violations under the French due diligence law adopted in March 2017 (“loi sur le devoir de vigilance” in French). Indigenous groups claim compensation for damages done to their customary lands and the impact on their livelihoods.

The lawsuit alleges systemic violations of human rights and environmental laws in Groupe Casino’s supply chains in Brazil and Colombia over a long period of time. According to evidence compiled and analysed by the Center for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA) for this case, Groupe Casino regularly bought beef from three slaughterhouses owned by JBS, a giant meatpacker. The three slaughterhouses sourced cattle from 592 suppliers responsible for at least 50,000 hectares of deforestation between 2008 and 2020 (1). The deforested area is five times the size of Paris. 

Evidence submitted in this lawsuit also shows violations of indigenous rights. In one of the documented cases, customary land owned and managed by the Uru Eu Wau Wau community in the State of Rondônia, Brazil was invaded and put into production by cattle farms supplying beef to Casino’s Pão de Açúcar. 

   

Groupe Casino’s responsibility

Despite numerous media reports linking Groupe Casino’s products to deforestation and land grabbing, the company has failed to overhaul its monitoring and enforcement policies to ensure there’s no environmental or human rights violations in its entire supply chain. The company has dared to write to the plaintiffs that “due to the low number of reports mentioning cattle as a driver of deforestation in Colombia” Casino doesn’t consider it relevant to include the country in the scope of their due diligence plan. Yet, Colombia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with cattle being the main cause (2).

In spite of the ever-growing body of evidence linking the world’s biggest meat company, JBS, to deforestation and even slave labour (3), Casino Group still buys from JBS. Furthermore, Groupe Casino has failed to commit to only sell zero-deforestation nor zero-conversion meat in their Pão de Açúcar, Casino or Grupo Éxito stores.

Groupe Casino is the largest supermarket chain in Brazil and Colombia through its brands Pão de Açúcar and Grupo Éxito respectively. Casino’s South American operations account for nearly half (47%) of the group’s global revenues.

France’s Duty of Vigilance law requires France-based companies with over 5,000 employees to take adequate and effective measures to prevent serious human rights and environmental violations in their entire supply chains. Should they fail to do so, they may be held liable and ordered to pay damages.

   

Amazon’s tipping point

Cattle ranching is the main driver of deforestation in South America, in particular in Brazil. According to Brazil’s space agency (INPE), deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has surged to a 12-year high. The Amazon is in danger of reaching a tipping point of switching from a canopy rainforest to open grassland. 

Last December, the Brazilian government removed any measure to tackle deforestation in the national climate action plan (known as an NDC) under the Paris Agreement, although forest loss continues to be the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.  

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit include the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC), the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Pará (FEPIPA), the Federation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Mato Grosso (FEPOIMT), Pastoral Commission of the Earth (CPT), Canopée, Envol Vert, France Nature Environnement, Mighty Earth, Notre Affaire à Tous and Sherpa. The breadth and diversity of the coalition is testament to the global footprint and the variety of impacts caused by industrial beef production as well as the need for a collective defense.

Luis Eloy Terena of the Terena people of Brazil, legal advisor at COIAB said: “COIAB has joined the process because companies are also responsible for their supply chains, not only the Brazilian government. We, indigenous peoples, are the guardians of the forest and it’s the government’s duty to protect us. However, we understand that corporations also must respect the environment and the indigenous peoples who live in those regions. Therefore, we seek compensation for damages to our territories. And it does not only mean physical or financial impacts. It affects our culture and survival to safeguard our traditions for future generations.”

Fany Kuiru Castro of the Uitoto people of Colombia, director at OPIAC said: “Cattle ranching, monocultures and other extractive industries are putting our lives at risk and exterminating indigenous peoples. Therefore this legal action over neglecting the demands in the meat supply chain, which come from cattle ranching, is fully supported by our organization.” 

Boris Patentreger, co-founder of Envol Vert, said: “In 2021, in a world where we can technically trace and monitor everything, an international group called Casino, which has seen tremendous growth in South America in the last years, fails to eliminate deforestation from all its supply chain. That’s unacceptable!”

Lucie Chatelain, lawyer at Sherpa, said: “The number of deforestation and human rights abuses cases that have been documented in Casino’s supply chain in Brazil shows that its alleged vigilance measures are neither adequate, nor effective. Sherpa successfully advocated for years for the adoption of the French Duty of Vigilance Law and this case is emblematic of the violations that it precisely aims to avoid.”

Sebastien Mabile, lawyer of Seattle Avocats, said: “This lawsuit will demonstrate the breadth and depth of France’s Duty of Vigilance law, which applies to the entire supply chain, both in France and abroad. The law imposes on multinational corporations actions to prevent breaches proportional to the risks identified, as well as strict social and judiciary controls. The seriousness of the violations documented in this case leads us to initiate the first liability action on the basis of this text.”

Nico Muzi, Europe director of Mighty Earth, said: “JBS is not only the largest meat company in the world but it’s also one of the worst forest destroyers in Brazil. For this reason Groupe Casino must drop JBS altogether. But we also call on other leading European supermarkets such as Carrefour, Tesco, Albert Heijn and Lidl to break their links to deforestation and drop JBS, the slaughter of the Amazon.

Cecilia Rinaudo, general coordinator of Notre Affaire à Tous, said: “This case is a tragic example of the interdependence between the environment and human rights, both protected by the Duty of diligence law. Casino only identifies slave labour as an associated risk in their supply chain without taking any measure to eradicate it. Moreover, the firm failed to identify land grabbing as a threat to human rights despite many reports on this well-known issue. Casino cannot stay passive and must adopt concrete measures to prevent these major risks.”

Adeline Favrel, forest campaign coordinator of France Nature Environnement, said: “France adopted the Duty of Vigilance law in 2017 and the National Strategy Against Imported Deforestation in 2018. These public policies must be translated into concrete actions by companies like Casino to finally stop deforestation.”

Klervi Le Guenic, campaigner of Canopée said: “Casino is not the only retailer responsible, they all have the power to change things. Carrefour is one of the largest retailers in Brazil and is also particularly exposed to deforestation risks. They have to ditch the meat companies linked to Amazon destruction.”