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South American Indigenous groups sue French supermarket chain

Darby Ingram -

Indigenous people from Brazil and Colombia are suing French supermarket chain Casino for allegedly selling beef linked to deforestation and land grabbing.

Eleven Indigenous groups backed by non-government organisations in the United States and France are seeking $4.8 million in damages.

The lawsuit is claiming the systemic violation of human rights and environmental laws in Groupe Casino's supply chains in both Brazil and Colombia over an extended period.

This is the first time a supermarket chain has been sued over deforestation and human rights violations under the French due diligence law adopted in March 2017.

The Indigenous groups have accused Casino of "damages done to their customary lands and the impact on their livelihoods", and have linked Casino meat to an area of deforestation five times the size of Paris.

Sherpa lawyer Lucie Chatelain said the number of deforestation and human rights abuses that have been documented in Casino's supply chain in Brazil shows that its alleged vigilance measures are neither adequate nor effective.

Casino also controls Grupo Pão de Açúcar (GPA), Brazil's largest food retailer, and Colombian retailer Almacenes Éxito.

Brazil's space agency, INPE, has reported that deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest has surged to a 12-year high, with cattle ranching being the main contributor to deforestation in South America.

Deforestation of the Amazon is at 12-year high. Photo by Ivan Mlinaric, used under CC licence 2.0.

According to evidence compiled by the Centre for Climate Crime Analysis (CCCA), Groupe Casino regularly bought beef from three slaughterhouse owned by meat packing giant, JBS.

The slaughterhouses sourced cattle from 592 suppliers who were responsible for at least 50,000 hectares of deforestation between 2008 and 2020.

Evidence of violations of Indigenous rights have also been submitted, including the invasion of customary lands owned and managed by the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau community in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. It was put into production by cattle farms supplying beef to Casino's Pão de Açúcar.

Luiz Eloy Terena of the Terena people of Brazil and legal advisor at the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) said it's important for COIAB to be part of this lawsuit because the Brazilian Amazon falls within purview for action in defence of the constitutional rights of the Indigenous peoples that live there.

"We are responsible as well for defending isolated or initially contacted peoples. As we make clear in the complaint, the demand for beef by Casino and Pão de Açúcar brings deforestation, land grabbing and violence, and the murder of Indigenous leaders when they choose to resist," he said.

"With this lawsuit we seek to hold the company accountable for the consequence of these impacts and to bring some relief to the reality confronted by our Indigenous peoples on their lands."

Groupe Casino has since told the plaintiffs that due to the "low number of reports mentioning cattle as a driver of deforestation in Colombia", Casino did not consider it relevant to include the country in the scope of their due diligence plan.

By Darby Ingram

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