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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

News Article

One week ago, 33 Democrat representatives urged the U.S. Trade Representative and State Department to eliminate investor-state dispute settlement provisions from current and future trade deals in Honduras and the rest of South-and Central America. In a open letter they state that the investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) is a "problematic corporate handout" system, which violates affected countries sovereignty.

For US companies the ISDS mechanism is a tool that is supposed to secure investments in Central-and South America by allowing corporations to sue nations for compensation if they abruptly change their policies towards corporate involvement and investment. The ISDS mechanism is closely related to the "Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement" (CAFTA-DR). The Free Trade Agreement allows companies to acquire land in these countries and establish autonomous zones in which constitutional labor and environmental requirements are suspended.

In the specific case the congresspeople brought forward the U.S. investment company, Honduras Prospera Inc. claims of, close to $11 Billion in compensations from Honduras, after the Honduran congress repealed the law allowing the autonomous zones. If the compensation claim goes through, the small country would have to pay more than a third of its GDP to a greedy US corporation securing profits through agreements between the strongest and one of the smallest economies in the Americas, while draining Honduran tax payers for its losses.

The claim comes after the Honduran congress repealed the autonomous zones as unconstitutional and made an effort to expel them from their land. Throughout the Americas, the agreement led to a total of $27.8 Billion in ISDS settlement orders, most of which were against Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador. If the $10 Billion settlement demand against Honduras would go through, this would blow every other claim out of the water and would open the doors for more companies suing for massive amounts of compensation.

In their paper, the lawmakers wrote that, "the broken ISDS has time and time again worked in favor of big business interests while infringing on the rights and sovereignty of our trading partners and their people." 

We as IRTF are hopeful that the lawmakers' fight against the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement is successful, as it takes away Cental-and South American countries sovereignty and opens the door for human rights abuses, exploitive labor and environmental destruction, though this is unlikely.

But no matter what the outcome will be, we as IRTF will keep on fighting corporate greed and unjust business making in Central America.  

Read the full letter here:           

News Article

In November 2021, the Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), in coalition with the Fair World Project (FWP), filed a lawsuit against the Hershey candy company as well as the certification label Rainforest Alliance. The consumer protection case suit was filed in the DC Superior Court, after CAL found cases of (forced) child labor, exploitive labor and wage theft at a number of Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa farms in West-African producing for Hershey. In the suit CAL and FWP accuse Rainforest Alliance and Hershey of false and deceptive marketing on some of their chocolate products. They bring forward the fact that labels like the Rainforest Alliance let consumers believe that the labeled merchandise is produced free from child labor, wage theft and environmental destruction. On many of the farms this is not true, and the lack of a living wage paid to the workers leads to a circle in which families have to rely on their children to work to keep themselves fed.

These working conditions have deep roots in corporate greed, a phenomenon that overweighs any ethics. The lower the price for the base product is, the more profit can be generated. In case of Hershey and the Rainforest Alliance. this greed shows its worst. In an effort to appeal to today's more aware consumers, companies cooperate with labels to distract from inhumane production conditions. This way labels and networks like Rainforest Alliance not only trick the consumers but also fail the workers who should be protected by them. 

Now, after almost 1.5 years, a key point was reached in the case on March 23, 2023. After dragging out the case, the defendants now filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing that Hershey as well as Rainforest Alliance already acknowledged the problems in their production chain. In a statement Hershey acknowledged "the existence of child labor and high deforestation rates" in the farming of cocoa beans, and stated that it is not guilty of false advertising since it "publicly acknowledged these challenges" and  that its claims are strictly "aspirational in nature." It gets even more absurd with Rainforest Alliance's excuse for child labor under its label. It stated that it never claimed that the label meant that certified farms are free from human rights and environmental abuse. Rainforest Alliance made clear that the seal "represents [Rainforest Alliance's] vision of sustainability as a journey of continuous improvement." It is clear though that this is not what consumers think the Rainforest Alliance label means.

In the end, false labels like Rainforest Alliance's do far more harm than good. A label means very little if human rights standards are still disregarded and farmers are under paid or don't even know about the certification. To actually end human rights and environmental abuses in farming and production, labeling organizations would not only need to pay fair wages but also create community based monitoring systems and long-term contracts with small, individual farms. Rainforest Alliance does none of this. 

In the end, the lawsuit's main goal is it to shine a light on this misbehavior and  to hold companies accountable for their actions and lies.