The report As soy moves forward: impacts of Hidrovias do Brasil in Itaituba, Pará, published today by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (INESC), reveals that the logistics company Hidrovias do Brasil has systematically failed to comply with a series of measures that should be adopted to mitigate the negative impacts of its operations in the Itaituba region (Pará, Brazil) which, in recent years, has become an important transportation hub for the global commodities supply chain by connecting the BR-163 highway to the Tapajós River.
During the high season of soybean harvesting, about 1500 trucks travel through Miritituba daily. The district of Itaituba is home to 15,000 people. This territory plays a fundamental role in the reestablishment of the Brazilian Amazon as a channel for grain exports from Mato Grosso to the Atlantic, and then to China, the European Union and other countries. To this day, at least 41 new ports are planned or under construction alongside the main rivers in the region.
Several projects have already been built in this area, such as hydroelectric plants, waterways, and mines. Since 2013, at least 10 industrial ports – most of them linked to agribusiness – have been built around the city of Itaituba. In Miritituba there are five Cargo Transshipment Stations (ETC, from the Portuguese Estação de Transbordo de Carga), which are private port facilities that turn the Tapajós river into a corridor for the transportation of grains through the Tapajós and Amazonas rivers to the Pará and Amapá ports. The Dossier aims to assess the effects of ports in the region, focusing on the logistics company Hidrovias do Brasil (HDB).
The logistic company has the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the World Bank’s investment arm for the private sector – among its shareholders. IFC demanded that Hidrovias do Brasil complies with the Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability (PSs) in order to receive the investment. PSs are a set of measures necessary to prevent, reduce or mitigate socio-environmental negative effects of its operations in the region.
However, Inesc’s report shows that IFC’s apparently strict socio-environmental policy is not being complied with by Hidrovias do Brasil. The report was based on complaints filed by residents of Itaituba and Miritituba, representatives of social movements, indigenous leaders, among others, and analyzes in detail each sustainability goal that should be being carried out by Hidrovias do Brasil, and points out flaws in the survey made by the institutional investor.
“Hidrovias do Brasil was financed by a bank that has a robust socio-environmental policy, which in principle involves monitoring the company to make sure that, if negative impacts are expected, they should be mitigated or compensated. We can appeal to the bank to monitor the company and actually enforce these policies for several reasons. In light of the above, this dossier is a first step for IFC to resume monitoring Hidrovias do Brasil and enforce the institution’s own socio-environmental policy,” says Livi Gerbase, policy advisor at INESC and author of the study.
One example is the construction of alternative routes for trucks to go around Miritituba instead of through the city, which was promised by Hidrovias do Brasil to the IFC and was not executed. In addition to the increase in traffic and road accidents, the 1500 trucks generate air pollution and leave soy remains (waste) scattered throughout the town, causing serious damage to the health of the population, and interfering with local fauna and flora. A resident of Miritituba sums up the feeling of living among the heavy traffic: “Here, our people compete with the trucks for space, and the weaker of the two have to run”.
Violence rates have increased, as well as illegal drug trade and prostitution, which are closely related to the crowd of truck drivers who arrive daily. These are just some impacts on the local population. Most of the impacts have yet to be mapped by the appropriate agencies or public authorities.
Residents of Miritituba also reveal other violations by Hidrovias do Brasil and other port companies in the region, such as the prohibition of fishing in places traditionally used by fishermen, through the use of cordons as security measures for five ports installed side by side. In addition, fishermen also denounce that the soy transported on barges is dropped in the rivers and ends up in the belly of fish.
Indigenous people of the Munduruku also suffer from Hidrovias operations in the region. In its report to IFC, the company claimed that indigenous and traditional communities were not affected by the construction of its Cargo Transshipment Stations.
Reality is something quite different. There are two Munduruku urban settlements on the banks of the Tapajós that deal with the ports and their effects daily: Praia do Índio and Praia do Mangue. According to the Munduruku people, however, the entire indigenous population of the Middle Tapajós feels the project’s effects, as the impacts spread through the network formed by these communities, affecting other indigenous territories in the region, which has 868 indigenous inhabitants, according to 2019 data. Despite this, there was no establishment of free, prior, and informed consent with indigenous peoples by Hidrovias do Brasil or any other ports installed in the region – a clear violation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, an agreement to which Brazil is a signatory.
Finally, another serious complaint from residents is about their participation in dialogues with the company. They report that meetings take place on a purely formal basis with those impacted, but they are not actually heard.
“Listening to the population only happens on scheduled public hearings. In fact, all they want from the population is the signature on the minutes, while the whole project is already being completed and implemented [regardless of consultation]”, explains Josenaldo Luna de Castro, member of the Management Council for the Supervision of Projects and Investments in the District of Miritituba (CONGEFIMI).
The council was created in 2018, aiming to be a tool for monitoring the performance of companies such as Hidrovias do Brasil in the region. While violating the rights of local people and traditional communities, Hidrovias do Brasil, with the success of its investments in the Amazon, completed an initial public offering (IPO) raising 608 million dollars in 2020. According to an article published by Mongabay and Diálogo Chino in November last year, in a prospectus provided in its IPO, Hidrovias do Brasil described its port of Itaituba as a key asset of the company, with no consultation with the Munduruku population. The company also warned investors that environmental regulations could severely restrict their ability to operate their business and logistical operations could “result in damage to the environment and to indigenous and quilombola [traditional] communities, the extent and repair costs of which are not possible to estimate”.