By Harald Eraker,
In a letter to Aracruz dated 11. July, LO supports the struggle of the local trade union in Aracruz (SINTICEL) and the Brazilian federation of trade unions (CUT), to improve the workers' rights in the Lorentzen company in the south-eastern part of Brazil.
In the letter, which is directed to the manager of Aracruz, Luiz Kaufmann, LO asks Aracruz to "permit the establishment of collective agreements with the workers which clearly state that Aracruz Celulose S.A. will respect the workers' freedom to organise", and that possible conflicts must be solved through negotiations based on mutual respect.
In June, manager of LO's international department, Jon Ivar Nålsund, said to NorWatch that LO would not make any advances in this case after receiving a letter from SINTICEL about the conditions in Aracruz. But when LO's sister organisation, CUT, got involved, LO also threw themselves into the conflict on the workers' and the Indians' side.
- We feel that the time has come for the General Secretary of LO, Yngve Hågensen, to speak out. Both the Norwegian shareholders in Aracruz, Storebrand and Den Norske Bank, and the Brazilian authorities, should know that LO supports the workers and the Indians, says manager of the Future in Our Hands, Tor Traasdahl.
LO also refers to a lengthy statement which they have received from Aracruz. In this statement, Aracruz rejects the accusations which SINTICEL has brought against the company (quoted in NorWatch no. 7/97). Aracruz claims that the company acts exactly in accordance with Brazilian law, but this does not reassure LO:
"You claim (...) that Aracruz Celulose S.A. always acts in accordance with Brazilian law with regard to workers' rights. But when we know that Brazil has not ratified the important ILO convention number 87, which secures workers' freedom to organise, this clearly makes it possible for employers to act illegally towards the workers", writes senior executive officer, Evy Buverud Pedersen, in the LO letter.
NorWatch recently received reports from Brazil showing that the Aracruz trade union SINTICEL is in serious trouble. The Lorentzen company is allegedly trying to remove the officers of SINTICEL, among other things by threatening the workers to sign an appeal saying that they want a new trade union management.
Kaufmann, the Aracruz managing director, recently raised strong criticism against SINTICEL in a letter, which NorWatch has come across.
"We will no longer tolerate political-ideological initiatives", writes Kaufmann, referring to SINTICEL's support statement to the land claims of the Indians.
Supports the Indians
In their letter, LO also support the Indians' land claims against Aracruz, referring to the trade unions and CIMI, a catholic church organization supporting the indigenous people's rights in Brazil.
"It alarms us that CUT declares that Aracruz Celulose does not respect the rights of indigenous people, and that the company possesses land areas which originally belonged to the Tupinikim and Guarani Indians", LO writes, referring to a report from CIMI which states that the Brazilian constitution since 1934 has given the Indians the lawful entitlement to their traditional areas of land, which cannot be transferred or sold to a third party.
LO further write that they "support both SINTICEL's and CUT's struggle for respect for human rights and indigenous people's right to own their own land".
The latest news in the land dispute is that Brazil's recently appointed Minister of Justice, Iris Resende, has returned the case to FUNAI, the authorities' body for Indian matters.
Earlier this year, FUNAI stated in a report that the Tupinikims and the Guaranis have lawful entitlement to the land areas of 13,000 hectares which they demand returned from Aracruz Celulose. The original plan was that the Minister of Justice should decide on the land dispute within 15 August. But in a meeting with secretary of state Jose de Jesus Filho in the Ministry of Justice on 12 August, the case took a new turn:
"What can the reasons for the complaints of the trade union be, if the company is as perfect as your comments indicate?"
Senior executive officer in LO, Evy Buverud Pedersen, in a letter of 11.7.97 to managing director Luiz Kaufmann in Aracruz
Not only were the Indians told that the Ministry of Justice had advised FUNAI to find out whether the areas claimed by the Indians are really essential to their livelyhood. The Indians were straightforwardly asked to enter into negotiations with Aracruz to find a "solution".
In a sharp statement from the two Indian tribes after the meeting in the Ministry, they say, among other things:
"This implies that the Minister doubts FUNAI's conclusion that the land areas are really essential to our physical and cultural survival. The secretary asked us about our views on the possibility of having the land areas exchanged or reduced, the objective being not to harm the activity of Aracruz Celulose. He even proposed that we should contact the company to come to an agreement. He also asked us about the necessity of the land areas we have demanded (...) saying that we demand a lot of land for a few Indians..."
The Indians further state that they dissociate themselves completely from the efforts to undermine FUNAI's report, and thereby their constitutional rights. They appeal to the international community to put pressure on the Brazilian government, and write that they, if necessary, will take action to show that "our land claim is no joke".
- To us, it is clear that Lorentzen and Aracruz, with the help of the PR-giant Burson-Marsteller (see NorWatch no. 10/97), have been very active behind the scene, says Winfried Overbeek in CIMI, the close supporter of the Indians.
The effort of the Ministry of Justice to make the Indians waive their claim and enter into negotiations with Aracruz Celulose, matches the PR-giant's lobbying proposal to NorWatch.
Because of the delay of the case, the Minister of Justice may not arrive at a final decision before December this year.
Norwatch Newsletter 12/97