Declaration of May 13 for an ecological, humane and fair global economy

Open letter: Against the “sustainable” destruction of the rainforest and the people who live in it

© Moritz Van Dungern

Image from the theatre performance “Antigone in the Amazon”

Following Milo Rau’s theatre performance Antigone in the Amazon, the Landless Workers Movement MST and some experts and activists wrote an open letter denouncing the practice of greenwashing by the Brazilian company Agropalma. The letter was co-signed by intellectuals, writers and artists from around the world. A call against land grabbing and exploitation and for democracy, fair land distribution and an ecology of radical care.

“We cultivate the land, and the land cultivates us.” - Slogan of the Landless Workers’ Movement MST

May 13 is a revolutionary day. On 13 May 1888, slavery was officially abolished in Brazil. On May 13 1968, from the barricades in Paris, the general strike against big business was declared. And on 13 May 1989, students in Beijing occupied Tiananmen Square. Yet, the hopes for democracy and a just distribution of goods fell victim to a global system of neoliberal exploitation. Still the land of Latin America is in the hands of the former conquerors. The destruction of people and nature not only continues unabated, but is even accelerated with the help of fake certificates and greenwashing. Today, on 13 May 2023, we therefore stand in solidarity with the MST, the largest landless movement in Latin America, and demand: No to land grabbing and exploitation! Yes to democracy, fair land distribution and an ecology of radical care!

The destruction of people and nature not only continues unabated, but is even accelerated with the help of fake certificates and greenwashing.

About the project Antigone in the Amazon from Milo Rau / NTGent & Landless Workers’ Movement MST
In the Brazilian state of Pará, near the city of Marabá, where, on 17 April 1996, nine-teen MST activists were shot dead by military police on a road through the Amazon forest during
a “march for land reform”, Milo Rau, together with the Landless Workers’ Movement MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) and indigenous activists, staged a new version of Sophocles’ Antigone in spring 2023. The play culminated in a re-enactment of the massacre itself, in the same place and on the same date, as part of the annual ceremony to commemorate the victims.

Today, 13 May 2023, the tour of Antigone in the Amazon begins across Europe. The role of Antigone is played by indigenous activist Kay Sara, the chorus consists of survivors of the massacre and their families, who have been living on a piece of occupied land in protest since 1996. Indigenous philosopher and critic of capitalism Ailton Krenak, also a signatory of this open letter, plays the seer Teiresias.

During the colonisation of Latin America, indigenous people were robbed not only of their freedom and culture, but also of their land and millions of lives. More than half of Latin America’s agricultural land is still owned by 1 per cent of the population. Soy, palm oil and beef are produced on huge monocultures by large corporations that control the agricultural industry from sowing to sale. The area used for maize and soya cultivation in Brazil alone is twice the size of Portugal. Deforestation and displacement go hand in hand with industrial mass production. As at the time of colonisation, indigenous populations, quilomboloa communities (communities founded by the descendants of enslaved people) and small farmers are being exploited, displaced and even murdered.

Since the 1980s, the Landless Workers’ Movement MST — the largest social movement of landless workers in Latin America working for popular land reform and ecological agriculture — has managed to secure land access for more than 400,000 families in Brazil. Consequently, since its inception, the MST has been criminalised and fought by the powerful Brazilian agribusinesses. Every year, dozens of activists die or disappear without a trace. Pará, a Brazilian state largely covered by the Amazon forest, has the highest number of political murders in the world, according to statistics. In no other region on the planet do so many activists and climate warriors disappear, murdered by the militias of monoculture owners and supporters of ex-president Bolsonaro.

Every year, dozens of activists die or disappear without a trace.

These activists are fighting for all of us, as the future of our planet is decided in the Amazon: for or against the definitive deforestation of the world’s largest jungle. For or against ecological and humane agriculture. For or against the eviction of people for soya, palm oil and beef production. For or against a revision of colonial land grabbing, which has been centuries in the making. Numerous civil society campaigns in recent years have raised awareness about the origin of our consumer goods. Non compulsory certificates, so-called “sustainability labels”, are supposed to guarantee the non-violent and environmentally friendly production of palm oil, soy, beef and many other products.

Thanks to this certification system, Ferrero (Nutella) in particular is considered the primus of the class in terms of sustainability. They cooperate with WWF and self-confidently commit to environmental protection. The only problem is that all these initiatives and labels are simply examples of neoliberal greenwashing! Agropalma, Brazil’s largest palm oil company, operating in the Amazon state of Pará and supplier to 20 international food manufacturers, including Ferrero (Nutella), Nestlé, Pepsico, Kellog’s, Mars, Langnese and Danone, is the most cynical example. Agropalma is certified with a total of 10 international labels for organic, fair and sustainable cultivation, including the EU organic label (EU Organic Production Regulation) and the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palmoil).

The only problem is that these labels are handed out by the agribusiness, to the agribusiness.

The only problem is that these labels are handed out by the agribusiness, to the agribusiness. Agropalma’s monocultures are not only the result of colonial grabbing, but also of the illegal appropriation of state land and the expulsion of indigenous smallholders. Tens of thousands of hectares of the palm oil producer’s land have already been annulled by Brazilian courts, Brazilian media reported. While the European Commission has just launched its latest campaign against greenwashing and Nutella continues to flaunt its invalidated labels, Brazilian lawyers and international NGOs are reporting on complaints of violence, human rights violations and poor working conditions on the certified plantations. More than 500 years after the invasion of Latin America, economy and politics continue to do what they have always done: unite maximum profit with minimal concessions to the health of the planet and its inhabitants, masked by a cynical rhetoric of “sustainability”.

Together with the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement MST, we therefore demand:

Let’s demand food that is truly cooperative, ethical and organically grown.

Immediate vetting of certificates. We call on the Brazilian government and government agencies to guarantee respect for human rights on Agropalma’s plantations and clarify the legal situation of the territories in Pará. Moreover, the entire certification system must be revised. Labels devised, controlled and awarded by stakeholder associations — it doesn’t get more absurd than that! We call on the EU to end its hollow rhetoric and finally take the necessary political and legal steps to support global civil society.

Boycott against Ferrero and all other companies involved. In recent years, Ferrero, Nestlé, Danone, Unilever and co. have portrayed themselves as the best in class when it comes to sustainable and fair agriculture. In reality, however, they are only the best when it comes to greenwashing. Our chocolates and chocolate bunnies, our Kinder chocolate and the Nutella on our morning sandwich are linked to human rights violations, land grabbing and environmental degradation, be it in Latin America, Asia or Africa. We call for an immediate boycott of all products from the clients of Agropalma and other large agribusinesses.

Together for independent agriculture. Agropalma and its customers are just two particularly inhumane examples of a global system of label scams: the neoliberal fiction of sustainable industrial production. We need radical change: Let’s stop buying products from transnational companies. We do not need an economic system that does not implement the absolutely necessary stop to deforestation but instead enriches itself by delaying it with false labels, CO2 deals and private protected forests, is not the system we need. Let’s demand food that is truly cooperative, ethical and organically grown.

Let’s end the crimes of colonialism against people and nature.

For a radical system change. We cannot change the past, but we can determine how history goes on: Together, let’s end the crimes of colonialism against people and nature. Let us join forces to fight the billion-dollar greenwashing industry. Social justice and climate protection go hand in hand. Let’s support the Landless Workers’ Movement MST in their struggle for real land reform. Let us strive for radical system change — it is not too late.

Stop the certified sell-out of our planet!  Land reform now! Against neoliberal greenwashing! For an economy of radical care! Let’s sign the Declaration of 13 May for an ecological, humane and fair global economy!

MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra

Committee of independent experts:

  • Rodrigo de Almeida Muniz, Universidade Federal do Sul e Sudeste do Pará – UNIFESSPA
  • Wolfgang Kaleck, human rights lawyer, Berlin
  • Amintas Lopes da Silva Júnior, Universidade Federal do Sul e Sudeste do Pará – UNIFESSPA
  • Christophe Marchand, lawyer, Brussels
  • Milo Rau, director “Antigone in the Amazon”
  • Klaus Schenk, activist, Rettet den Regenwald e. V.

Supported and signed by:

  • Alberto Acosta, politician, Ecuador
  • Giorgio Agamben, philosopher, Italy
  • Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer, France
  • Geneviève Azam, economist, France
  • Jérôme Baschet, historian, France
  • David Van Reybrouck, author, Belgium
  • Sibylle Berg, author, Switzerland
  • Julian Boal, author, Brazil
  • Noam Chomsky, philosopher and activist, USA
  • Alain Damasio, writer, France
  • Angela Davis, philosopher and activist, United States
  • Philippe Descola, anthropologist, France
  • Anuna De Wever, climate activist, Belgium
  • Cyril Dion, author and director, France
  • Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, political philosopher, Austria
  • Brian Eno, artist, Great Britain
  • Didier Eribon, sociologist, France
  • Annie Ernaux, author, France
  • Malcolm Ferdinand, philosopher, France
  • Léna Lazare, activist, France
  • Adèle Haenel, actress, France
  • Donna Haraway, scientific philosopher, USA
  • Srecko Horvat, philosopher, Croatia
  • Rahel Jaeggi, professor of practical philosophy, Germany
  • Elfriede Jelinek, author, Austria
  • Ailton Krenak, philosopher, Brazil
  • Kim de l’Horizon, author, Switzerland
  • Tom Lanoye, author, Belgium
  • Édouard Louis, author, France
  • Billy MacKinnon, author and producer, Scotland
  • Nastassija Martin, anthropologist, France
  • Robert Menasse, author, Austria
  • Robert Misik, author, Austria
  • Baptiste Morizot, philosopher, France
  • Chantal Mouffe, political philosopher, Belgium
  • Adolf Muschg, author, Switzerland
  • Olga Neuwirth, composer, Austria
  • Fatima Ouassak, political philosopher, France
  • Anja Plaschg (Soap&Skin), singer, Austria
  • Carola Rackete, activist, Norway
  • Milo Rau, director, Belgium
  • Tiago Rodrigues, director, France
  • Fabian Scheidler, philosopher, Germany
  • Vandana Shiva, activist, India
  • Ece Temelkuran, journalist, Turkey
  • Theodoros Terzepulos, director, Greece
  • Ilya Troyanov, author, Germany
  •  Luc Tuymans, artist, Belgium
  • Yanis Varoufakis, economist and politician, Greece
  • Gisèle Vienne, director, France
  • Harald Welzer, sociologist, Germany
  • Cornel West, philosopher, United States
  • Jean Ziegler, sociologist, Switzerland
  • Slavoj Zizek, philosopher, Slovenia

In partnership with:

  • Rettet den Regenwald e. V.
  • Attac France
  • Les soulèvements de la Terre
  • IIPM — International Institute of Political Murder
  • ZAD Notre-Dame des Landes

More info: www.declaration13may.com

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