Oil firm backed by Scots company allegedly put indigenous people at risk in Peru

Peruvians are being put at risk of contracting virus by Scottish investment.

By Billy Briggs, Investigative reporter for The Ferret

A global financial company based in Edinburgh has £12m invested in an oil firm accused of endangering the existence of Indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon who are in lockdown due to Covid-19.

Standard Life Aberdeen invests in a Chilean company called Geopark which is at the centre of a dispute over its plans to extract oil in the Loreto region of Peru.

The Wampis Nation, who fear that Covid-19 could be genocidal for Indigenous groups as the pandemic spreads in the Amazon, has taken legal action against Geopark.

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It has accused the firms’ workers of having entered its territories during a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Geopark strongly denies it has carried out work or entered these areas.

After taking early action to close its territory at the start of the coronavirus crisis, the Wampis Nation had some success in stemming the pandemic. But it says the Covid-19 situation is now “critical”.

The Wampis filed a criminal complaint against Geopark in May, alleging the firm was putting lives at risk amongst the Wampis communities of the Morona River.

A legal hearing is expected to take place on 16th July (today) and the Wampis has now called on Standard Life Aberdeen to stop investing in Geopark.

Geopark, whose securities are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, receives investment from Standard Life Aberdeen.

According to filings on 31 March, the Edinburgh firm held 2,141,302 shares of Geopark Ltd, which were valued at $15,139,000 USD (£12m).

Wrays Pérez, Pamuk (president) of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), said: “We have asked and continue to ask for investors to withdraw their financial support from the company GeoPark.

“We, the GTANW, ask Standard Life Aberdeen Plc. to withdraw their support from the company. We do not want you to use your position as a shareholder to simply pressure GeoPark to work in a friendlier socio-environmental way. Withdraw your support!

“We are not against development. We are against the damage that is being done to the Amazon and we will take very strong measures if GeoPark continues to insist. We are defending our lives and nature as the source of life for us and humanity.”

A spokesperson for Aberdeen Standard Investments said: “We regularly engage with all companies we invest in to fully understand the impact its operations have on its employees and the environment in which it operates.

“We have recently had conversations with Geopark’s management team, including the effect of Covid-19 on its business and would expect management to take decisions to protect employees of the company as well as the local community.”

We are not against development. We are against the damage that is being done to the Amazon and we will take very strong measures if GeoPark continues to insist.

WRAYS PÉREZ, AUTONOMOUS TERRITORIAL GOVERNMENT OF THE WAMPIS NATION

Geopark said it maintains the “highest environmental, social and safety standards”. The company said that on March 15, 2020, it “formally interrupted all physical contact between its staff and members of the local communities”.

“Seven GeoPark employees remained within the perimeter of the Campamento Morona with strict instructions to respect lockdown, orders which were strictly adhered to. Between March 15 and June 22, local authorities authorised two supply boats to visit the camp in non-stop, single purpose trips to deliver food and medicines.

Geopark continued: “On June 22, the company made the decision to suspend temporarily all activity in the Campamento Morona and evacuated the seven employees, via air, who were still within the camp’s borders.

“During this period in the camp, and before they flew back to their homes in various cities in Peru, the workers were tested for Covid-19 and results came back negative for the virus.

“At every step, all supply and prevention activity undertaken by GeoPark has been communicated to local communities and authorised by local government. Throughout this time all required health and security protocols have been strictly implemented.”

Tom Younger, Peru coordinator with a human rights group called Forest Peoples Programme, said: “Rich countries including Scotland have accumulated enormous wealth through centuries of colonialism and the extraction of materials and energy from the territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities across the world.

Recognising and making reparations for this ecological debt means putting an end to financing extractive projects, which are imposed without prior consent on Indigenous Peoples’ territories and communities such as those of the Wampis people in the Peruvian Amazon.”

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Major investors like Standard Life can no longer turn a blind eye to the destruction that their money is helping pay for in other countries.

“Around the world we see authoritarian governments and shameless corporations exploiting the coronavirus crisis to roll back important environmental safeguards and push through unwanted projects that speed us towards further environmental catastrophe.

This story was published by The Sunday Post on 12th July 2020.

Images thanks to GTANW/Jacob Balzani. 

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