Debate

It is unacceptable that Swedish investments contribute to land conflicts

Swedish pension money contributes to small farmers in Latin America losing land that guarantees their livelihood. Human rights and democracy must never be the prize for maximizing economic gain. Therefore, Sweden must take its responsibility in land issues, writes Annelie Andersson from the Latin American groups.

On Sunday, the small farmers' international day of struggle around the world was celebrated - not least in Brazil, where 19 landless farm workers were murdered by military police twenty years ago. They lost their lives in the struggle for their right to land. On April 7 this year, history repeated itself when two activists from the landless movement in Brazil, MST, were shot to death by military police.

Brazil is one of many countries where land conflicts are widespread. These are closely linked to the expansion of large-scale export agriculture and the seizure of land by foreign investors. People who are already economically and socially disadvantaged are being expelled from land that they have farmed many times for generations. In November 2015, the Latin American groups, together with some other international organizations, launched one rapport which shows how one of Sweden's general pension funds, the other AP fund, makes investments that contribute to land grabbing problems in Brazil. These investments are part of an international race for maximum economic returns, which, together with insufficient national legislation, will have serious consequences for local people. The Second AP Fund's response to the criticism also points to a worrying lack of transparency and unwillingness on the part of the state to take responsibility for its own investments.

The Second AP Fund's investments in Brazil are unfortunately only one in a series of cases that Swedish and international civil society organizations have drawn attention to in recent years. There are several examples of investments of state Swedish pension money in mining operations in Latin America that have led to people losing the land that guaranteed their livelihood, and that natural resources have been destroyed.

The right to land - a key issue

Access to, and control over, land and natural resources are central to the fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights). This is reflected in the struggle of social movements as well as in international forums. Indigenous peoples' right to territory is enshrined in both the ILO169 Convention and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN has also appointed a working group to produce a proposal for a declaration on the rights of smallholders, where access and the right to land are a key issue.

Together with social movements in Latin America, the Latin American groups want to show how issues of land and territory are closely linked to social and cultural dimensions. They cannot be reduced to questions of economy and means of production. Just like FIAN Sweden recently wrote on the Development Aid debate issues of land and the global land grabbing problem are intimately linked to human rights and democracy.

In many parts of the world, the situation is acute for the people who are fighting for their rights and for living on the land on which they depend. When rights activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in Honduras just over a month ago, both decision-makers and activists around the world were once again painfully reminded of the high price of human rights work. Defenders of ESC rights are often particularly vulnerable, and violations of them are rarely investigated.

The investments are in conflict with PGU

According to Sweden's policy for global development (PGU), political decisions in all areas must contribute to a fair and sustainable global development. Investments of Swedish pension money that contribute to land conflicts abroad can therefore be said to go against PGU. For Sweden to stop contributing to the global land grabbing problem, a change in the rules for how the state pension funds may invest our money is required, but also political changes in areas such as international trade and development cooperation.

The good news is that there are no alternatives. The smallholder and indigenous movements around the world have well-formulated proposals that would mean real sustainability, from a social, economic and political perspective. The concept of food sovereignty, which, unlike food security, also involves popular influence on agricultural issues, is one such example. The movements show what long-term work that contributes to strengthening democratic systems - which are able to distribute power and opportunities and which guarantee human rights - can look like.

In order to seriously change structures that force people to live in poverty and exclusion, we must question all investments from a rights perspective. We must question constant growth as our overriding goal. Investment must be seen as a means to an end, and respect for human rights and the environment must not be negotiable. These perspectives must permeate all policies, otherwise PGU will continue to falter and we will not achieve the goals set out in Agenda 2030.

It is high time to change and broaden perspectives!

Annelie Andersson

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