Coca-Cola, Clarins, DivSeek & Canada win Biopiracy Awards at the COP 13

Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, from Friends of the Earth International, distributing the Biopiracy Awards at the Moon Palace during COP 13. ©Friends of the Earth International
Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, from Friends of the Earth International, distributing the Biopiracy Awards at the Moon Palace during COP 13. ©Friends of the Earth International

by Friends of the Earth International

Coca-Cola, Clarins, DivSeek and the governments of Canada and Brasil,  were the winners of the 6th “Captain Hook Awards” ceremony that honored the five most important actors of the world of biopiracy this year and in which in which Friends of the Earth International participated.

The show was organized by the Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) on December 9th during the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 13). The CBD is the only UN Convention that tackles biopiracy. In particular it deals with The Nagoya Protocol, aimed at addressing the “Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization”, with a view to setting out rules of access and benefit sharing (ABS) of the genetic resources in order to prevent biopiracy.

The threat of digital piracy

The Captain Hook action aims to raise awareness of the fact that many private companies and governments are responsible for the privatization of genetic resources from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, violating their rights to free, prior and informed consent, their intelectual property and the rules of ABS.

The development of synthetic biology poses an increasing concern for civil society.  A new type of biopiracy has emerged; digital piracy. Technologies such as digital sequencing mean that genetic resources like DNA sequencing can be transferred digitally and synthesized into living matter without physical exchange of biological material. This “poses major challenges to the many ABS systems that assume and utilize material transfer agreements”, according to the Civil Society Working Group on Synthetic Biology, who are calling on the COP for more regulation.

And the winners are…

DivSeek won the Digital Biopiracy award. DivSeek is a large international digital gene banking project which purports to “developing a unified, coordinated and cohesive information management platform to provide easy access to genotypic and phenotypic data associated with genebank germplasm”. “It can be utilized to enhance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crops and agricultural systems.” The database will host genomes of hundreds of thousands crop seeds and information about each of them. Such a project needs to be regulated to protect farmers from the violation of the rules of ABS and the privatization of crop seeds. To date DivSeek has avoided discussions at the UN level.

The Canadian Delegation at COP 13 won the Worst Government Behavior Award. “Canada deserves this award for attempting to delete any reference to digital sequences in the text at COP 13,” said Captain Hook, aka Jim Thomas from ETC Group, during the ceremony.

Blairo Maggi, the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, won the Two Faces Award for his tendencay to change his retoric when he is speaking to the COP and outside the negotitaions. “Maggi’s ministry has adopted measures in Brazil that limit the Brazilian commitments in the CBD; for example, instead of ratifying the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, it supports the creation of the Legal Framework of Biodiversity which legalizes biopiracy in Brazil.”, according to the ETC Group.

Coca Cola and Clarins both won the Greediest Biopirate award.

Coca Cola, the American soft drinks and bottled water company, have made hufe profits from stevia, a substitute to sugar used in the “Coca Cola Life” soft drink. The company refuses to share the benefits of this plant with the Guarani people of Paraguay and Brazil, where the plant is produced. This violates the rights of Indigenous People to the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of a genetic resource in their territory. It was the Indigenous People themeslves who first discovered the sweetening properties of stevia. Coca Cola has refused make amends despite exposure in a report from several NGOs and a petition demanding a change in its behaviour.

Clarins, the French luxury cosmetic company, generates massive self-benefits from Harungana, a small tree native to Madagascar, used in its “Super Restorative” skin care products. The leaves have antiseptic and healing properties and encourage the synthesis of collagen. The Malagasy people first discovered these properties and have used the leaves for medical purposes for decades. Clarins, however, claims to have made the discovery. To add insult to injury Clarins only pays around 2 dollars per kilogram of leaves to the Malagasy workers, when the cream is sold for around 135 dollars per pot.

“There is no evidence of a benefit-sharing agreement between Clarins and the peoples and countries where harungana and medicinal knowledge about it come from, and analysis of published data on Clarins’ trade with Malagasy harungana producers reveals extremely inequitable sharing of benefits from this African biodiversity”, reported Third World Network in October.

On a more positive note “Cog Awards 2016” were given to the best defenders of biodiversity.

The Most creative legal defense Award was granted to rural organizations based in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico (not far from Cancun): the Mayan Indigenous Regional Council of Bacalar (Consejo Regional Indígena Maya de Bacalar), the Honey Producers “Kabi Habin”, the Agroecology School Educe (Educe A.C.) and the Native Seeds Collective “Much’ Kanan I’inaj”. Collectively they are fighting against an extensive Monsanto GMO soy project  in their territory which would have impacts on the environment and honey production. The group brought the case to the Supreme Court of the Nation, which has yet to rule in favor of canceling the project. The group insists that they have not been consulted on the project, since in Mexico, supposedly free, prior and informed consult often turns out to be nothing but an administrative formality for a corporation before effectively forcing a project on local communities and territories.

The Best People’s Defense Award was granted to the People’s Permanent Tribunal (TPP in Spanish) – Mexico Chapter. In November 2014, this moral court integrated by civil society representatives urged the Mexican government to protect biodiversity and forbid growing GMO corn in the country. A statement was made in support of the Collective Demand against Transgenic Corn (Demanda Colectiva contra el Maiz Transgénico), a Mexican movement that struggles to control the illegal production of  GMO corn crops. So far prohibition has been maintained, but the possibility of a legal demand by companies to allow production looms large.

Members of the Coalition against Biopiracy:
ETC Group
Third World Network
Friends of the Earth US
Public Eye
African Center for Biosafety
Heinrich Boell Foundation



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