Indigenous leader slams one of world’s biggest packaging manufacturers for destroying rainforest and displacing Indigenous communities 

April 29, 2022

Smurfit Kappa comes under pressure as new report reveals the devastating impact of company’s business operations in Colombia. Advocacy groups and Indigenous leader were blocked from confronting company executives inside shareholder meeting but protest forced a rapid U-turn minutes before the kick off.

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Dublin - A Misak Indigenous leader and social justice campaigners were blocked from confronting top executives of global packaging giant, Smurfit Kappa, after being denied entry just hours before the company’s annual investor meeting in Dublin. However, a powerful protest held outside the meeting forced the company to rapidly U-turn.

Despite the growing pressure on the company from global campaigning groups, Smurfit Kappa barred Misak leader, Pedro Josse Velasco Tumiña, and nine other shareholders from attending the meeting just hours before it started. That didn't stop the groups from holding the planned protest, which ultimately pressured the company to backtrack and allow Mr. Tumiña's entrance.

Mr. Tumiña confronted executives and shareholders with evidence of the devastating impact of the firm’s operations in the Cauca region in Colombia. He also held a private meeting with a top executive after the company's CEO, Anthony Smurfit, refused the invitation.

The protest coincided with the publication of a new report that uncovered how the company’s operations are disrupting Indigenous communities’ food and water supplies, aggravating conflict between communities and security forces, and threatening the region’s biodiversity. The research was put together by the Observatory of Multinationals in Latin America (OMAL)  global advocacy group, SumOfUs and the Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC).

Misak leader and former governor, Pedro Josse Velasco Tumiña said:

“I have travelled thousands of miles from my home to look the CEO of Smurfit Kappa in the eye and ask his company to stop destroying our ancestral lands. Now they are trying to silence the voice of my community. 

“This predatory company has grabbed the land available for agriculture, disrupted our water and food supply and cut down the rainforest and Andean forests, all for profit.

“And because Smurfit Kappa’s owns such a high proportion of land in the region, their presence is aggravating land conflicts with Indigenous, peasant and Afro-Colombian communities. It’s time for this land to be returned to its rightful owners.”

Alys Samson, SumOfUs Campaigner said:

“Smurfit Kappa has made quite a statement by trying to prohibit an Indigenous leader from speaking at today’s meeting. For decades they have profited from these ancestral lands, and the fact that the CEO refused to meet Mr Tumiña, made it loud and clear that they simply don't care and deliberately chose not to listen to the communities they impact.

“This company’s shameless profiteering from stolen Indigenous lands is the perfect example of modern day colonialism. SumOfUs is here to stand alongside Indigenous Peoples, to protect people and the planet” 

Narella Forte, LASC coordinator said:

“This case has been the perfect proof of corporate abuse and neo-colonialist oppression. A company that creates a greenwash slogan saying: “There’s no planet B” while destroying the natural ecosystem of Indigenous lands in Latin America can’t be accepted. 

“We are proud to stand by the Misak people in their struggle and we hope this company comes to its senses and gives back to this community their ancestral lands.” 

Erika González, researcher at OMAL and author of the report:

“Smurfit Kappa operations in Colombia don’t only have negative impacts for the environment, with the extension of monocultures that deepen the pollution and the deterioration of the ecosystems; they also have economic impacts, with the destruction of the local economy, and the difficulty to access common goods; political impacts, with the criminalization and repression of activists and human rights defenders, and socioculturally affecting the ways of life and rights of Indigenous people.”

“Smurfit Kappa has made quite a statement by trying to prohibit an Indigenous leader from speaking at today’s meeting. For decades they have profited from these ancestral lands, and the fact that the CEO refused to meet Mr Tumiña, made it loud and clear that they simply don't care and deliberately chose not to listen to the communities they impact.

“This company’s shameless profiteering from stolen Indigenous lands is the perfect example of modern day colonialism. SumOfUs is here to stand alongside Indigenous Peoples, to protect people and the planet” 

Narella Forte, LASC coordinator said:

“This case has been the perfect proof of corporate abuse and neo-colonialist oppression. A company that creates a greenwash slogan saying: “There’s no planet B” while destroying the natural ecosystem of Indigenous lands in Latin America can’t be accepted. 

“We are proud to stand by the Misak people in their struggle and we hope this company comes to its senses and gives back to this community their ancestral lands.” 

Erika González, researcher at OMAL and author of the report:

“Smurfit Kappa operations in Colombia don’t only have negative impacts for the environment, with the extension of monocultures that deepen the pollution and the deterioration of the ecosystems; they also have economic impacts, with the destruction of the local economy, and the difficulty to access common goods; political impacts, with the criminalization and repression of activists and human rights defenders, and socioculturally affecting the ways of life and rights of Indigenous people.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Smurfit Kappa’s monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus trees use high volumes of water, and as a result the Misak’s main sources of water are either being depleted or redirected to the plantations. The depletion of water sources is also having a damaging impact on the land and the region’s biodiversity. (1)
  • The company has cut down large areas of rainforest - this has had a devastating effect on the ecosystem and on biodiversity in the region, including the elimination of native trees.(2)
  • The company’s presence in the region has aggravated conflict between Indigenous communities, the government, and security forces. In one instance last November, members of the Misak community were attacked by a group of Smurfit Kappa workers. The army, although present, did not respond. Smurfit Kappa justified the army’s reaction with the argument that it would put an end to the "invasion" led by "certain members" of Indigenous and peasant communities, the cutting down of its plantations, and its workforce's feeling of insecurity. (3)
  • While there is no direct link between the company and specific conflicts between communities, security forces and government,  Indigenous leaders and campaigners are seeing the growing criminalization of leaders who oppose Smurfit Kappa’s activities. Increasingly, the company is relying on Colombian security forces to repress these protests.
  • The company has close links both with the Irish and the Colombian government. In the report there is proof that the Irish consulate in Colombia and Smurfit Kappa have shared an address, and that the consulate email is a Smurfit Kappa domain. (4)

Smurfit Kappa is one of Europe’s largest packaging manufacturers and has operated in Colombia for decades. Last year, SumOfUs launched a public campaign to show global support for the Misak’s fight, and over 150,000 SumOfUs members have since signed a petition calling on the company to stop destroying Indigenous land.

Smurfit Kappa’s operations cover 67,000 hectares of lands which the Misak and Paez, or Nasa, people claim ancestral heritage of. 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. https://grain.org/es/article/entries/1247-desiertos-verdes-del-suroccidente-colombiano
    https://www.latin-amerikagruppene.no/assets/documents/180902-Informe-sobre-plantaciones-forestales_compressed.pdf
    https://www.latin-amerikagruppene.no/assets/documents/180902-Informe-sobre-plantaciones-forestales_compressed.pdf
  2. https://docplayer.es/11721964-Acusacion-contra-smurfit-kappa-carton-de-colombia-s-a.html
  3. https://www.france24.com/es/am%C3%A9rica-latina/20211123-colombia-lucha-tierra-pueblos-indigenas-violencia
  4. Smurfit Kappa in Colombia: socio-environmental impacts and human rights violations by Erika Gonzalez and Pedro Ramiro, April 2022

    Spanish language version of the report is available here.