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Access (Amway) vs Mexico: San Isidro’s people struggle to get their land back

Photo: Permanent Peoples Tribunal Sessioning in San Isidro, Jalisco, México in June 2013. The juries were Dora Lucy Arias, (Colombia), Fernanda Vallejo (Ecuador), Jean Robert (Switzerland-México) and Alfredo Zepeda (México). The authorities of the ejido are presenting their case against Amway. Ojarasca

• Amount demanded: US$ 3 billion
• Outcome: pending
• Treaty invoked: NAFTA and USMCA
• Sector: Agriculture
• Issue: Land grabbing


[Versión en castellano disponible aquí]

San Isidro is an ejido community in Jalisco, Mexico. In 1939, the government of President Lázaro Cárdenas granted them 536 hectares, but 280 hectares were never handed over. Through successive fraudulent manoeuvres by landlords and government officials, the 280 ha of land ended up being illegally purchased by the US company Amway-Nutrilite in 1994.

The communities brought their case against Amway to the United Nations and to the Permanent Peoples Tribunal. They denounced the company for violating their right to use their lands, not only to grow their foods but also to access water and move freely across their territory. They also denounced the company for environmental damage, contaminating water sources and causing health impacts such as cancer, kidney damage, and poor childhood growth. The community also decried how, without access to land, they were forced to work for the company, in poorly paid and precarious conditions.

As Raúl De la Cruz Reyes, Chairman of the Ejidal Commissariat of San Isidro, Jalisco put it: “This land has been stolen, first by the landlords of the hacienda, and then came the worst, when the government handed over the land to a transnational company instead of us peasants, and this company destroyed everything, the fauna, everything. We see that they take the product but the people remain poor because the wealth is taken abroad. What is left here are people who are worn out from work and a few elites who are filling their pockets with money.”

In a huge, and historic victory, on June 30 2022, after over 80 years of struggling to get their lands back, the federal government recognised that the 280 ha were part of the ejido and ruled that the lands should be returned to the communities. This gave legal certainty to San Isidro. It sets a precedent and it is irreversible.

Amway was supposed to return the lands by 14 July 2022. But three days before the deadline, Amway planted crops on 160 ha and claimed that Mexican law allows for it to occupy the lands until harvest. So in the end Amway surrendered only 120 hectares. The handover of the remaining 160 ha was postponed to 14 January 2023. However, on that day, the government authorities did not show up to assess whether Amway had returned the lands, and the company proceeded to file injunctions with the courts to postpone the execution.

On May 15, 2023, Amway also filed a suit against the Mexican government with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes seeking $3 billion in damages!

When GRAIN visited the community in August 2023, we learned that the community didn’t have access to the full 120 ha section of land that had been supposedly returned to them by Amway in July 2022.

The situation is tricky. The government approved the legal titling of 280 hectares to San Isidro. Then it executed the return of 120 ha (because 160 were not available by law). In the end San Isidro has physically regained control of only 60 hectares because Amway has been blocking access to the rest of the land, and the company’s security guards have been harassing community members who try to grow food or even walk through the Amway occupied areas.

The situation is so fraught that although the people of San Isidro remain determined to get their lands back, they have decided for now to begin occupying the 60 ha and have already started growing their traditional crops— especially the milpa of maize, squash, beans and other various herbs.

The Colectivo por la Autonomía, GRAIN and other groups supporting the community continue to follow the process closely and to support the community in their efforts to ensure that AMWAY renders the rest of the land, as has been sanctioned by the law. Justice has been slow in coming and 80 years and three generations of people without peace and without the possibility of living a dignified life is really enough. AMWAY has other lands and can and should get out of San Isidro. Unlike the company, the people of San Isidro only have their territory.

Who is Amway?

The holding company for Amway is Access Business Group. And in Mexico, it operates as Amway-Nutrilite. Amway (Access Business Group) is the world’s largest direct selling company, with $8.9 billion in revenues in 2021. It is owned by two US families, one of them the family of US billionaire Richard DeVos. The DeVos name became well known when Betsy DeVos was named Donald Trump’s secretary of education. She is the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos (sister of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater). But the Devoses have a long history in supporting the far-right in the US. According to a 2018 investigation into the DeVoses by Vanity Fair: “Since the 1970s, members of the DeVos family had given as much as $200 million to the G.O.P. and been tireless promoters of the modern conservative movement—its ideas, its policies, and its crusades combining free-market economics, a push for privatization of many government functions, and Christian social values. While other far-right mega-donors may have become better known over the years (the Coorses and the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson and the Mercers), Michigan’s DeVos dynasty stands apart—for the duration, range, and depth of its influence.”

 source: GRAIN