Two Harvard-owned timberland plantations in Argentina that have attracted allegations of environmental and communal degradation have been reaffirmed with Forest Stewardship Council certification, which requires that the properties adhere to a comprehensive set of international principles regarding environmental, economic, and social impact.
The independent third-party Rainforest Alliance accredited the plantations, EVASA and Las Misiones, located in northern Argentina, on behalf of FSC.
The news comes as the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, which co-authored a report criticizing the University’s timberland management practices in the region, hosts two Argentinian organizers to raise awareness of the issue on campus. On Sunday, those organizers called into question the rigor of the FSC certification and lodged additional complaints against Harvard Management Company.
“We've known that the plantations have technically been certified,” Blake A. McGhghy ’17, a student leader of Responsible Investment, said. “This is not new news. But it also does not change our campaign.”
Members of the student activist organization said that the FSC certification, which is voluntarily sought by an organization, is not sufficient in determining whether basic human rights and environmental practices are upheld. The certification audit also raised several new points of non-compliance, which must be remedied by at least the next year or HMC will lose its certification.
“The FSC standard is very low and not rigorous. It is not enough,” said Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, another Responsible Investment student leader. “We think Harvard can and should do more to guarantee environmental and social sustainability.”
The certification process is just the latest data point in a larger back-and-forth about the timberlands. In Oct. 2013 Responsible Investment published a report claiming that the eucalyptus and pine trees planted in the HMC-owned wetlands soak up a significant amount of water, depleting the supply for farmers and households and placing financial stress on locals.
Emilio Spataro, who works to defend wetlands near the HMC-owned property, and Adrian Obregon, who is a leader of the local small producers association, said Sunday that in addition, trucks servicing the plantation perpetually destroy the dirt roads surrounding their communities.
“When they transport the trees, they destroy the roads,” Obregon told The Crimson through a translator. “There’s no health or security system in our small town, so we cannot get to the hospitals or police in the big city. We need the roads to be paved.”
HMC countered this claim and others in an internal memo circulated last week based on an onsite visit in Argentina to review the management of the plantations in late March.
"Many of the allegations raised by Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and The Oakland Institute in their report, Harvard in Ibera, and accompanying documentary are unfounded and inaccurate," the memo reads.
In response to allegations that HMC does not comply with all legally required employment practices, does not regularly assess and monitor environmental impacts, and does not limit plantation expansion to non-populated areas, the HMC memo listed counterexamples, such as its implementation of an integrated management system for employment oversight, the use of environmental impact assessments, and no intention to expand the plantations, respectively.
The memo also points to misrepresentations in the RI report of the distances between EVASA and Las Misiones and their surrounding communities, as well as misclassification of dwellings not owned by Harvard as Harvard properties.
Regarding claims that trucks destroy local dirt roads, the memo says that Las Misiones and EVASA use a road that circumvents the Chavarria area, not the dirt road running through the center of town. FSC’s audit of EVASA confirms this fact, but suggests that use of the route still creates disruptive dust clouds the company is working to address.
In Cambridge on Sunday, Spataro and Obregon said that dialogue is needed between the Argentinian locals and Harvard to address discrepancies between the two group’s experiences. Obregon said that the regular, open door public meetings promised by EVASA and Las Misiones have only occurred once.
Spataro and Obregon will speak to members of HMC to express their concerns on Tuesday, and spend the rest of the week speaking to groups in Cambridge and New York City.
“We hope Harvard listens to what we have to say,” Spataro said through a translator. “We’re not against Harvard; we don’t want Harvard to leave Corrientes.”
—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.
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