Sao Luis, Brazil, May 14, 2012 - Greenpeace activists today prevented a shipment of 'pig iron' bound for the USA from leaving the Amazon, after the environmental group released new evidence that the commodity is linked to slavery and rainforest destruction.
The powerful action at sea will raise new questions about President Dilma Rousseff's commitment to environmental protection ahead of the RIO+20 climate and biodiversity summit on June 20th.
Pig iron is a key component in the production of steel and is produced by Brazilian foundries that require huge amounts of wood charcoal. The new Greenpeace report (1) reveals how some of the world's biggest car companies are using steel products made from this pig iron.
"If Dilma wants to maintain Brazil's recent positive reputation as a country which is becoming a new superpower while showing leadership in the fight against deforestation, she needs to complete the job her predecessors have started," said Greenpeace Brazil Amazon Campaign Director Paulo Adario, on board the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.
"Dilma must protect the Amazon and the people who depend on it by banning deforestation, slavery and the invasion of indigenous lands," he said.
20 year old Brazilian Elissama de Oliveira Menezes is currently attached to the anchor chain of the "Clipper Hope", which was preparing to load a cargo of pig iron owned by Viena - one of the companies featured in the new Greenpeace report. The ship cannot move into port to load pig iron while the activist remains in place.
President Dilma is expected to use the Rio summit to celebrate Brazil's environmental record but will struggle to justify this message just weeks after the Congress passed changes to the country's 'Forest Code' which would result in far higher levels of Amazon deforestation. President Dilma has until the 25th of May to veto this damaging bill.
"President Dilma is preparing to host the world's elite in Rio while turning a blind eye to forest crime in her own backyard. Slavery and illegal deforestation have no place in modern Brazil," said Adario. "The Amazon is being thrown into a furnace while President Dilma and the world's biggest car companies look the other way. We are preventing this shipment from leaving port because our researchers have exposed a trio of serious crimes including slave labor, deforestation and the invasion of Indigenous lands."
The report exposes how the industry relies on cheap labor, luring workers away from small villages to work in inhumane conditions akin to slavery (1), to pay off unwarranted debts. The workers fill beehive-shaped ovens with rainforest timber which is set alight to produce charcoal. The charcoal is burnt in blast furnaces which convert iron ore to pig iron, an intermediate product in the steelmaking process.
Greenpeace's evidence shows how millions of small pig iron blocks are then exported and purchased by the Severstal steel mill in Columbus, Mississippi. This plant directly claims to supply Ford, GM, Mercedes and BMW. The situation regarding pig iron and slavery was first brought to light over six years ago, but the response of the major car companies has been too weak to change anything.
The industry's impact on the Amazon is significant. One medium sized pig iron company mentioned in the report was responsible for illegal deforestation in the rainforest equal to the size of Manhattan for each of the past four years.
Greenpeace is demanding that companies implement new policies that permanently rule out the use of any product linked to deforestation or slave labor.
James Turner, Greenpeace Media Officer onboard the Rainbow Warrior : +31 20 712 2675
Jessica Miller, Greenpeace Communications in Brazil on +55 92 81144517
The Greenpeace International Press hotline : +31 207 182 470
Photo available from Alex Yallop, Greenpeace International, on +31 624 94 19 65
Video available from Dannielle Taaffe, Greenpeace International, on +31 614 340388
1) Greenpeace New report- Driving Destruction in the Amazon
(2) Brazil's penal code defines in Article 149 "slave labor" as exhausting work forced through violence or the threat of it, under degrading working and living conditions.