Original groups sue French retailer for destruction of Amazon’s rainforest

Domestic activists backed by environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in a French court against the supermarket chain Casino, claiming that its Latin American stores sell meat linked to land grabbers and deforestation in the Amazon.

In a first for France, activists took Casino to court on Wednesday due to deforestation and loss of land and livelihoods in Brazil and Colombia, two of the company’s largest markets.

The plaintiffs – a coalition of domestic activists and environmental groups from France and the United States – allege system violations of human rights and environmental laws in the company’s supply chains in Latin America. They are claiming 3.1 million euros ($ 3.7 million) in damages.

“We want [Casino] to respect their environmental obligations by adopting new measures for the environment and to pay damages to indigenous communities for the damage they have suffered, says Sébastien Mabile, the coalition’s lawyer, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

France’s team on due diligence

The trial in Saint-Etienne, where the casino group is headquartered, marks the first time a French supermarket chain has been brought to court over deforestation and human rights violations allegedly committed by its suppliers. Casino is one of the largest supermarket chains in France and owns both the Franprix and Monoprix stores.

It is based on a law of due diligence from 2017 which requires French companies with more than 5,000 employees to ensure that human rights and environmental violations are not committed in their supply chains.

The complainants point to evidence compiled by the Center for Climate Crime Analysis, a non-profit base in The Hague, according to which Casino has regularly bought beef from slaughterhouses owned by the controversial Brazilian meat packaging company JBS.

“The three slaughterhouses sourced cattle from 592 suppliers responsible for at least 50,000 hectares of deforestation between 2008 and 2020,” they said in a statement, noting that the deforested area is “five times larger than Paris”.

Damage the forest and its people

Groupe Casino was founded more than a hundred years ago and is the largest retailer in both Brazil and Colombia, through its Pao de Acucar and Grupo Exito stores, respectively. Latin America as a whole accounted for almost half of the Group’s turnover of EUR 31.9 billion last year.

“Deforestation is largely caused by livestock farming. It is therefore normal that those who benefit from this environmental and human catastrophe are also responsible, says Lucie Chatelain, a legal expert at the French NGO Sherpa, which aims to defend victims of economic crime.

Cattle are known to be the main driver of deforestation in South America, especially in Brazil, where the National Space Agency has warned that deforestation of the Amazon reached a 12-year high last year. Experts have warned that the world’s largest rainforest is approaching a tipping point and is threatening to change from a closed rainforest to an open savannah.

In addition to the environmental damage caused by deforestation, the plaintiffs in the casino case also want compensation for the human rights violations suffered by domestic communities.

“We indigenous peoples are guardians of the Amazon and indigenous peoples,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a leader of the Brazilian Terena people and the legal adviser on indigenous peoples’ artifacts in Brazil (AIPB), speaking at a news conference on Wednesday. “In addition to the economic damage that has occurred, the damage to indigenous countries affects our way of life and threatens the survival of our culture, our traditions and ultimately our people.”

‘Rigorous’ controls

Contacted by FRANCE 24, Casino declined to comment on the court action. However, the company said in a statement that its Brazilian subsidiary GPA used a “systematic and strict policy to control the origin of beef supplied by its suppliers”. The French group “actively fights against deforestation linked to livestock farming in Brazil and Colombia, given the complexity of the supply chains”, the statement added.

Despite Casino’s insurance, the plaintiffs emphasize that the French group has still not undertaken to stop the sale of meat products linked to deforestation in its Latin American stores.

“In 2021, it is possible to go to Mars, but a company like Casino is unable to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain – that is unacceptable,” sighed Boris Patentreger, founder of the environmental group Envol Vert. Blasting Casino’s “double call” he added: “The company can play the organic card for its urban clientele in France, through brands such as Naturalia and Monoprix, while participating in the deforestation of the Amazon.”

Not just Casino

Carrefour, another French retailer, has also been singled out for criticism. In July last year, the investigative website Disclose revealed the bond between Carrefour and a Brazilian meat producer linked to deforestation of the Amazon. At this stage “we have chosen to run a casino in court because it exists in both Colombia and Brazil, while Carrefour is only present in the latter”, says lawyer Mabile. “But our demands on Carrefour are the same.”

Retailers are not the only ones to blame, the plaintiffs point out, emphasizing that governments are also responsible for the Amazon’s situation. In Brazil, the government of President Jair Bolsonaro has drastically weakened measures to combat deforestation, despite the destruction of the rainforest being the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Although French NGOs are powerless to force action, they hope the trial will at least “raise awareness of the responsibilities of French companies around the world,” Mabile said.

Companies are under increasing pressure from lawmakers and activists to protect the Amazon. Last month, the French bank BNP Paribas promised to finance only beef and soybean producers in Latin America that commit to zero deforestation. Earlier, the bank joined forces with other lenders and promised to stop financing crude oil trade in Ecuador, which domestic leaders have signaled to destroy rainforests.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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