May 28, 2009
Early this morning the nonprofit environmental organization International Rivers flew a giant “Dam Home Depot” banner over the company’s annual shareholder meeting [PDFver here] in Atlanta. Protesters also unfurled a banner and raised questions inside the shareholder’s meeting, asking Home Depot executives to account for their role in supporting the destruction of Patagonia.
The group is protesting The Home Depot’s buying of timber products from the Matte Group, who is involved in a proposal to build five big dams on two pristine rivers in Patagonia, southern Chile. The dams and their associated transmission lines would ruin pristine river ecosystems, flood rare endangered forests and destroy livelihoods.
“We are urging American consumers stop shopping at The Home Depot until they stop buying timber from companies that threaten to undermine Chile’s rivers and forests,” said Gary Graham Hughes, Patagonia Campaign Coordinator at International Rivers. “There are plenty of alternative timber providers for The Home Depot, and Chile has abundant energy options, including some of the greatest solar, wind, and geothermal potential in the world.”
The shareholder’s meeting action comes on the heels of a series of protests at Home Depot stores around the country. Yesterday, two Earth First! activists were arrested while unfurling a banner at The Home Depot store in Glendale, CO. There have also been demonstrations outside Home Depot stores in Lawrence, KA, Los Angeles, CA, Emeryville, CA, Miami, FL and Santa Cruz, CA, amongst others.
In the past year thousands of consumers have written to The Home Depot telling them that they will not shop there until The Home Depot takes steps to distance itself from the controversy. Several major US environmental organizations have communicated to The Home Depot the need for the company to take action. In addition, leading Socially Responsible Investment firms have insisted that The Home Depot respond, citing the risk that the controversy presents to the company’s “green” reputation.
International Rivers says they will cease this campaign when The Home Depot either severs its relationship with their suppliers involved in the dam plan or uses its influence to help protect Patagonia’s rivers.
WHY THE HOME DEPOT?
Every year The Home Depot buys approximately $50 million in wood products (largely trim and moldings) from the Chilean interests that are proposing five dams, which will destroy rivers and native forests in Patagonia. The transmission lines associated with this project would run more than 1,500 miles to carry electricity to Chile’s industrial centers, creating the world’s longest clearcut through globally rare temperate rainforest.
In November 2003 The Home Depot signed a specific, written agreement with its Chilean suppliers and environmental organizations to protect Chile’s native forests. In addition, the company has an explicit environmental policy to help their customers become “better environmentally conscious shoppers.”
“Despite The Home Depot’s claim that it works to protect Chilean forests, these proposed dams and transmission lines would require clearcutting and flooding of ecosystems found nowhere else on the planet,” said Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director at International Rivers. “We will not stop until The Home Depot stands true to its own environmental policies and takes pro-active steps to protect Patagonia’s wild rivers.”
International Rivers works with Chilean and international organizations in the Council to Defend Patagonia (Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia) to protect Patagonia’s rivers and forests.
“The Home Depot, its shareholders, and its customers must send a clear sign to the market and to their suppliers that they will not maintain commercial ties with companies whose corporate responsibility is in doubt,” said Juan Pablo Orrego, international coordinator of the Council to Defend Patagonia, and director of the Chilean organization Ecosistemas. “Consumers will punish those businesses that insist on pushing dirty and destructive technologies, holding back the transition to intelligent societies that incorporate energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.”
OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE PROPOSED DAMS:
* The dams and transmission lines will threaten numerous aquatic, bird and mammal species already at risk, including an endangered Chilean deer called the huemul, of which less then 3,000 survive today.
* The Patagonia region is one of the most geologically unstable regions of the world, with extensive volcano and earthquake activity, making it a high-risk region for big dam projects.
* The wide-scale damming of rivers in Patagonia threatens to ruin tourism in the region, which is an important part of the Chilean economy.
* Recent studies by reputable institutions demonstrate that current renewable energy generation, energy efficiency, and already developed conventional energy projects can supply all of Chile’s energy needs until 2025 without resorting to dam the last pristine rivers of Patagonia.
* A recent poll shows that 57 percent of Chileans are against the Patagonia Dams (IPSOS April 2009).