Eye on the Amazon

Trading in Pollution: European Banks Bankroll Billions in Amazon Oil

"I was raised on the banks of the Coca River. Until now, we have fed on the fish and wildlife that inhabit the water. Today they are contaminated. We have given most of our wealth to Ecuador, and we cannot continue to live with this contamination. The Kichwa of Orellana don't want just reparations, we also want a remediation of the Coca and Napo rivers."

Carlos Jipa, President of the Indigenous Federation of United Communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon

When two major oil pipelines in Ecuador's northern Amazon ruptured in April, Indigenous organizations and federations in the region were already calling for a moratorium on all industries that required the entrance of outsiders into their territories in response to COVID-19. The spill was an environmental disaster, pouring an estimated 15,000 barrels of crude oil into the Coca and Napo, two of the country's most important rivers, polluting the sole source of freshwater for many of the river-bound communities. Now several months later, the 120,000 people that depend on the river – 27,000 of them Indigenous people – are still living through a pandemic without adequate water or food.

We've been here before. This recent oil spill – the biggest spill in the last fifteen years – is reminiscent of previous oil-related disasters in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The cycle repeats itself: oil companies are negligent, the oil is either spilled or dumped in the rainforest, and Indigenous peoples have to face the consequences, while the government fails to hold those responsible to account. Despite persistent Indigenous resistance and global solidarity for their struggle, justice is rarely ever served.

This oil spill disaster, and those that came before, are systemic and global in scale. While the companies OCP Ecuador and PetroEcuador are directly responsible for the recent oil spill, they are enabled by a global system that finances all aspects of extractivism. Oil industries that destroy the Amazon for profit depend on global banks to maintain Ecuador's economic "prosperity" dependent on oil extraction.

Together with Stand.earth, Amazon Watch is releasing a new report that exposes European banks in Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands that are financing the trade of oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon to destinations like California.

The release of the report comes just a week after the Indigenous Federation of United Communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (FCUNAE), which represents the communities affected by a major oil spill in April, presented a series of lawsuits requesting precautionary measures to protect communities that are in danger from another possible oil spill due to regressive erosion of the Coca River and to guarantee rights protected by the constitution. We also joined a coalition of Indigenous and human rights organizations to launch an emergency global campaign demanding a moratorium on current crude oil production due to recorded contamination and the risk of future spills.

For Indigenous people in Ecuador, this report outlines a shocking new discovery: European banks have poured billions into oil extraction and play an important role in the destruction of the Amazon and the environmental pollution they are facing.

"I wonder if the executives of banks in Europe know the real cost of their financing. How can they possibly sleep peacefully knowing their money leaves thousands of Indigenous peoples and communities without water, without food, and in devastating health conditions due to the pollution of the Coca and Napo rivers? It's time for the banks, companies, and consumers of the oil extracted in the Ecuadorian Amazon to acknowledge how their businesses affect our territories and way of life."

Marlon Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon

According to our report, these banks are crucial in the process of getting oil from the Amazon to the United States and they are complicit in the impacts of the oil industry on the Amazon rainforest – including oil spills, abuse to Indigenous peoples, and climate destruction – despite making previous climate and human rights commitments. They should be concerned about the reputational risk they will face if they continue financing the trade of oil from the Amazon.

The global north has always exploited the resource-rich global south. Make no mistake, when governments that make up the countries in the Amazon launch their economic recovery plans post-pandemic, oil extraction in the Amazon will be on the table.

Since the release of our report, four of the six banks we identified have committed to working with us to address their trade financing of Amazon crude oil. Rabobank shared with us that it has currently stopped all trade financing, but we are waiting on a detailed policy that clearly outlines the steps they are taking to end all financing of oil from the Amazon.

We can no longer afford to destroy rainforests like the Amazon for profit, much less at the expense of the Indigenous peoples who live there. We are operating on limited time to stave off the global impacts of Amazon destruction. European banks have an opportunity to play a responsible and constructive role in advancing life over profits by stopping new trade financing for Amazon oil. It is our responsibility to maintain the pressure and make sure those new policies are measurable, enforceable, and taken swiftly – because the next disaster is not a matter of if, but when.

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