- Twenty years ago the leader of a Guarani Kaiowá group in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul was brutally murdered after leading his community in attempts to reclaim their ancestral territory from predatory agribusiness.
- We recently revealed that chicken products linked to the contested land - which is currently illegally occupied by a soy plantation - were being sold by some of the largest retailers in the UK and EU. The world’s two largest traders of Brazilian soy also do business with the farm occupying the disputed land.
- The territorial crisis of the Guarani Kaiowá continues. Last year killings of indigenous leaders in Mato Grosso do Sul rose to an unprecedented level as Veron’s murderers still enjoy impunity and communities continue to be denied their land rights.
- Consumer countries must regulate imports of products linked to the soy industry, including poultry. Additionally, it is vital that the EU’s forthcoming due diligence directive includes international indigenous rights instruments in its scope.
Exactly 20 years ago tragedy befell the Guarani Kaiowá community of Takuara in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. One of its leaders, Marcos Veron, was brutally murdered during an attack by gunmen hired by wealthy landowner Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho. Last year Earthsight, in partnership with De Olho nos Ruralistas, revealed the details of the Kaiowá struggle for their ancestral lands and its links to European chicken and pet food in There Will Be Blood: The Ugly Truth Behind Cheap Chicken.
On 13 January 2003 the Guarani Kaiowá camped on a fringe of Takuara – the land they had inhabited for hundreds of years before being violently evicted in the 1950s to make way for agribusiness expansion – came under heavy attack. Women and children were beaten. Veron was tortured to death.
The horrors of that day have not ushered in better times for the community. Today, the perpetrators remain unpunished. The man accused by federal prosecutors of masterminding the attack, da Silva Filho, died in 2019 without facing trial.
This is not surprising. He was a major landowner and cattle baron in a country – and state – that has long prioritised the interests of agribusiness above local communities’ rights or environmental protection.
Federal prosecutor Marco Antonio Delfino de Almeida, who has worked on the case for several years, recently told Earthsight three new defendants have been called to stand trial before a jury (in addition to others previously ordered to do so), but that it could take at least three years for this to happen.
Delfino acknowledges things have moved extremely slowly owing to challenges in Brazil’s court system. “Some of the suspects will likely never face justice,” he said. The prosecutor is honest about da Silva Filho and his political influence: “It’s unlikely he would ever have been convicted.”
Veron’s murder was only one in a series of injustices perpetrated for decades against the Kaiowá in the name of agribusiness profit and growth. Takuara has been occupied by a 10,000ha farm – initially a cattle ranch but for the last several years a soy plantation – owned by the Jacintho family since the 1960s. Despite a long struggle to assert their constitutional right to their ancestral lands, successive Brazilian governments have failed in their legal duty to return the land to the indigenous community.
The Jacintho family has fought to maintain the farm which, according to indigenous rights experts consulted by Earthsight, sits illegally on indigenous land already recognised as such by the federal government. Brazil’s court system has often obstructed progress in fulfilling the Kaiowá’s right.
Twenty years after Veron’s death, the community’s land rights are still denied. Lack of access means an ongoing reality of destitution, poverty and vulnerability to further violence.
Indigenous community members - including Valdelice Veron (back left) - stand in front of a picture of Marcos.
In the meantime the farm, Brasília do Sul, has conducted profitable business with the world’s largest soy traders Cargill and Bunge – which export large volumes of Brazilian soy that enter the meat supply chains of Europe’s largest retailers and restaurant chains – and chicken producers.
Among the latter is major Brazilian chicken exporter Lar Cooperativa Agroindustrial. Lar has a strong market in Europe: big supermarket and fast-food chains in the UK – including KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland – and major pet food brands found in Germany’s largest retailers, such as Lidl, dm-drogerie markt, Edeka, Netto Marken-Discount, Aldi, Rewe Markt and Rossmann.
There Will Be Blood revealed how neither the main European importers and processors of Lar’s chicken – Westbridge Foods in the UK, Paulsen Food, Saturn Petcare and Animonda Petcare in Germany – nor retailers mentioned above were doing enough to exclude indigenous rights violations from their supply chains. All companies exposed by Earthsight as linked to Brasília do Sul’s soy denied any wrongdoing (see their responses to our findings here and here). The Jacintho family did not respond to Earthsight’s requests for comment.
The entrance sign for Brasília do Sul farm, bearing the name of the late cattle baron Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho. The farm is located on stolen Guarani Kaiowá land.
Regulatory action is needed to keep unwitting consumers from being made complicit in indigenous land theft and murder. Sadly, new legislation underway in Europe and North America to ban imports of goods linked to deforestation (EU) or illegal deforestation (UK, US) abroad are weak on indigenous rights.
In Britain human rights are not directly addressed in the Environment Act. The proposed Forest Bill in the US fails to tackle violations of human rights enshrined in international law. Similarly, the text recently agreed between the European Parliament and the Council fails to demand that companies abide by international indigenous rights standards when carrying out mandatory due diligence.
To be able to address cases such as this one, consumer countries must also include poultry in their lists of regulated products due to its clear role as an indirect driver of deforestation. The EU’s new law has failed in this regard. It is essential this gap is addressed when the law is reviewed in future.
A horizontal corporate sustainability due diligence law is also underway in the EU. However, the Council’s recent position on the proposed legislation seeks to remove international indigenous rights instruments from its scope. This position cannot be accepted as the law moves through its next stages.
Guarani Kaiowá people protest for the demarcation of their lands in Mato Grosso do Sul. Banner reads "Enough blows and setbacks against our rights! DEMARCATION NOW".
Until demand-side regulations properly address local communities’ rights enshrined under international law, they will be ineffective in prompting a shift in agribusiness practices and policies towards the protection of indigenous and other traditional peoples. Such attitudes became starkly clear when Earthsight revealed the links between Brasília do Sul and Cargill and Bunge.
Effective demand-side legislation is all the more urgent given the increasing exposure of global markets to Brazil’s booming soy and chicken exports. Eurostat data analysed by Earthsight reveals that EU imports of Brazilian frozen chicken nearly tripled between 2019 and 2021. The block’s purchases of poultry from Brazil rose by nearly a quarter last year. UK import data shows Britain increased its imports of chicken products from the South American country by 70 per cent between 2017 and 2021.
Meanwhile, violence against indigenous leaders in Mato Grosso do Sul worsened in 2022. According to the Brazilian organisations Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI) and Rede de Apoio e Incentivo Socioambiental (RAIS) five Guarani Kaiowá leaders were murdered in the state last year, the highest number since RAIS started keeping records in 2000. The killings, linked to land conflicts, took place during a period of heightened electoral tensions and following years of escalating violence against indigenous communities under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro.
The Guarani Kaiowá are clamouring for justice and calling on Western businesses and policymakers to accept their share of responsibility in this ongoing calamity. Valdelice Veron, Marcos’ daughter and a prominent Kaiowá leader, told Earthsight: “Food exports that originate here are mixed with our blood…I have come to talk to you Europeans, to you Americans…How can you help us?”