#IronMadeIn Brazil: Report reveals iron industry’s human rights abuses in supply chain

24/02/2022
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Ian Cheibub

Açailândia, Paris, 24 February 2022 — The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Justiça nos Trilhos released a report today on the human rights and environmental abuses associated with the iron and steel value chain originating in mines of Brazil’s Carajás corridor. It sheds light on how industry giants such as Arcelor Mittal or TataSteel source their iron from abuse-ridden mines in Brazil, and how the steel they produce ends up in consumer goods around the world.

The report is also available in Portuguese.

The report, titled Heavy metal: From abuse-ridden mines to global consumer goods, the journey of Brazilian iron, issues recommendations to Vale, S.A., buyers, and other companies along the supply chain, alerting them to the rampant abuses and prompting them to examine and act upon their human rights due diligence obligations. The report is released just one day after the European Commission issued its proposal for a Sustainable Corporate Due Diligence Directive, which establishes requirements for companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence processes.

Brazilian iron from the Carajás corridor is transformed into components of goods in global industries ranging from infrastructure and automobiles to technology. The iron and steel supply chains are long, complex, and opaque, making it difficult to hold corporate actors along the production chain accountable for human rights and environmental impacts happening in lower tiers of their supply chains.

“The iron and steel from the Carajás corridor are tainted with human rights and environmental abuses. Global multinationals sourcing Carajás iron must take a hard look at their supply chains and address such violations. They cannot continue to rely on suppliers like Vale—responsible for repeated deadly dam collapses—without raising questions about human rights.”

Maria Isabel Cubides, programme officer at FIDH’s globalisation and human rights desk.

The Greater Carajás Project—which spreads from southeast Pará to the city of São Luís, capital of Maranhão, in the eastern Amazon—provides “one of the largest flows of iron ore in global trade,” according to a recent publication by the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Brazil. And it is plagued with serious problems including “deforestation, land grabbing, conflicts in the countryside, and violations against indigenous peoples”. The expansion and intensification of extractive activities—combined with neglect for due diligence—generates serious environmental impacts and threatens human rights.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore. While two thirds of Carajás iron ore exports from January to September 2021 were sent to China and Malaysia, European companies constitute a significant portion of corporate buyers, including Arcelor Mittal and TataSteel.

"The iron ore that is extracted in Brazil cannot be commercialized at the cost of deaths and the impoverishment of people. Nor is it acceptable that the rights of nature are denied so that companies, iron and steel buyers and other stakeholders can benefit and have their profits grow every year. Unfortunately this is a reality that we live.”

Larissa Santos, of Justiça nos Trilhos.

The European Commission has just published a proposal for a Sustainable Corporate Due Diligence Directive, which introduces new rules on how sustainability should be incorporated into long-term business strategies. For instance, it includes both mandatory due diligence rules for companies to curb environmental and labour abuses in corporate supply chains. The experiences of Piquiá de Baixo (see more below) and other communities negatively impacted by the Carajás corridor should inform EU legislators when deciding the requirements of such a law, so that they effectively address human and environmental impacts at the end of mineral supply chains.

On 25 January 2022, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced that it would open accession discussions with six countries, including Brazil. The country has been attempting for over a decade to align itself with OECD instruments to attain full membership, which would bring it enormous economic and political advantages. Such advantages should not be granted if Brazil does not improve its environmental and human rights record, as shown by the report published today.

Background

Since 2010, FIDH and Justiça nos Trilhos (JnT), have collaborated to denounce the human rights abuses of the iron and steel industry in the community of Piquiá de Baixo (Maranhão, Brazil), one of the many communities in the Carajás corridor that have endured the negative effects of mining activity. Starting with a human rights impact assessment issued in 2011, FIDH and Justiça nos Trilhos have documented and denounced the impacts of the steel industry on the human rights to health, a healthy environment, adequate housing, life, physical integrity, information and participation, and access to justice. Eight years later, a follow-up report denounced the persistence of human rights violations due to actions and omissions by both public and private actors, including Vale S.A.

Our organisations have repeatedly urged the international community, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Substances, to pressure Brazil and the companies responsible, requesting immediate reparations. In September 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Marcos Orellana, presented his report in Brazil his report in Brazil before the UN Human Rights Council. He underscored the need for resources to resettle the Piquiá de Baixo community and urged the government, Vale, and other companies to provide redress for “what can only be described as environmental and occupational crimes” to the community, which according to his predecessor, Baskut Tuncak, has been “poisoned for decades.”

In November 2020, FIDH and Justiça nos Trilhos conducted an international awareness campaign to call attention to the toxic impact of mining activity. The campaign video was viewed by millions of people and shared by thousands around the world, with the hashtag #AnInvitationToPiquia.

Press contacts

FIDH: Eva Canan | +33 6 48 05 91 57 | ecanan@fidh.org | http://twitter.com/EvaCanan

Justiça nos Trilhos: Larissa Santos | +55 99 99205 44 11 | larissasantos@justicanostrilhos.org | https://justicanostrilhos.org/

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