The Brazil president-elect's destructive impulses must be reined in, and EU policymakers must be galvanized into action, writes Fern's Nicole Polsterer.
This commentary is by Nicole Polsterer, a sustainable consumption campaigner at Fern
Jair Bolsonaro would rather his
son was dead than gay. He once told a
female politician that she was not worthy of being raped. He has claimed that
Brazil’s former dictatorship’s biggest mistake was torturing
rather than killing its opponents.
His opinions on the environment and indigenous people’s
rights are equally disturbing.
Bolsonaro wants to take Brazil out of
the Paris climate agreement, pave
a highway through the Amazon and has promised to weaken the
enforcement of environmental laws, while finishing all forms of activism.
Pressure on Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous peoples – for
whom 12% of
the country’s land is set-aside – would also intensify.
“If I get there [become president], there will not be a
single square centimetre demarcated as indigenous land,” he said in
March, 2017. Indigenous peoples, Bolsonaro observed, want
“electricity, television, to date blonde chicks, and the Internet”.
So, how should the European Union (EU) react to a man whose
political philosophy, if put into practice, would provoke environmental and
Given Bolsonaro wants to make Brazil great again by
promoting the country’s exports, the EU’s chief – and perhaps only –
leverage, is trade.
The EU’s and Brazil’s economies are deeply entwined: the EU
is the biggest foreign investor in Brazil; it is also Brazil’s second-biggest
trading partner, accounting for 18.3 percent of its total trade. A
significant portion of this trade is in agricultural products – of which Brazil
is the single biggest exporter to the EU.
The most destructive of these agricultural exports are soy and beef, which have driven environmental devastation and widespread land
rights abuses in Brazil. The country supplies a quarter of the world’s soy beans. Historically the EU has been
a key market, importing Brazilian soy largely for animal feed.
The country’s deforestation rates have risen in recent
years, as environmental laws have been weakened – a process Bolsonaro, who has
pledged to champion Brazil’s
agribusiness sector – explicitly wants to accelerate, enabling the soy and
cattle industries to expand into legally protected areas.
The EU’s best chance of stopping this, is through exerting
demand-side pressure and as well as through engagement: specifically by
redoubling its efforts to eradicate deforestation, land grabs and other human rights
abuses from its agricultural supply chains.
Regardless of Bolsonaro’s victory, the EU should pass laws
requiring its companies to trace their supply chains fully, and ensure that they
adhere to human rights laws.
The EU should make it mandatory for companies to know the
history of any agricultural commodities they import. This could be done by
making the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s
Diligence Guidance mandatory. This guidance shows how companies can
respect human rights and avoid contributing to their violation in responsible
agricultural supply chains.
France has already led the way in adopting its ‘Devoir
de Vigilance’ Law, which requires its companies to do risk assessments, and
respond to any environmental and social damage within their supply chains,
including that caused by subcontractors and suppliers globally. The EU must
The European Commission could do so by enacting an action
plan to protect forests and respect rights, including binding legislation
guaranteeing that no products or financial transactions linked to the EU lead
to deforestation, forest degradation and
human rights violations.
The EU cannot meet its pledge to deliver the Sustainable
Development Goals – and help fight poverty, climate change, and
environmental degradation globally – if its key trading partners forgo them.
Bolsonaro’s destructive impulses must somehow be reined in,
and EU policymakers must be galvanized into the action they should be taking
Failing to do so would mean sacrificing indigenous people’s
rights, Brazil’s savannahs and rainforests – including the Amazon, the world’s largest
tropical rainforest – and our climate.
A version of this post was first published before the
results of the election, at Climate