LONDON, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Scandinavian
banks are funding industrial developments responsible for
deforestation and violence in the rainforests of Borneo, despite
commitments to respect the rights of indigenous forest-dwellers,
a campaign group said on Tuesday.
Seven financial institutions have backed mining projects and
palm oil plantations that caused rapid rainforest destruction
and a human rights "crisis" on the Southeast Asian island,
Swedwatch said in a report.
Frida Arounsavath, a researcher for Swedwatch, said banks
were failing to ensure that companies they funded acquired
meaningful consent from indigenous people before clearing
forests where they live.
"These companies have breached indigenous people's rights to
be consulted and their rights to keep their traditional
forests," Arounsavath told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"These forests are at the centre of indigenous people's
rights, of their identities, and of their ability to survive as
peoples and as cultures."
Indigenous people have faced threats and intimidation,
destruction of agricultural land and violent confrontations as a
result of deforestation, the report said.
Swedish banks Nordea and Handelsbanken, and insurance
company Lansforsakringar welcomed the report by Swedwatch, which
monitors the impact of Swedish companies on the environment and
Stockholm-based Skandia said it would take the findings into
account in vetting investments.
But a spokesman for Nordea said the report did not give the
"full picture" of the banks' responses.
Borneo - which is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and
Brunei - has lost 19 million hectares of forest over the last
four decades, according to a December report by the Center for
International Forestry Research.
Just half the island is now covered by forests compared with
76 percent in 1973, it said.
Arounsavath said the most shocking finding was the
contradiction between the banks' strong policies on protecting
indigenous rights and a lack of systems to check they were
Many banks have allowed investees and local governments to
'self-report' on rights issues raised by developments, she
In many cases, firms list land for development as
"unoccupied" or "state-owned" and ignore the ancestral claims of
indigenous people, despite commitments to obtaining their 'free,
prior and informed consent', the report said.
Arounsavath called on banks to make urgent improvements by
raising awareness of indigenous rights at investor conferences
and expanding resources for monitoring policies.
(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.