Case Study Pin

Disclaimer: This case is currently being investigated. This case study does not reflect ICoCA’s stance on the issue but is merely a re-presentation of publicly documented facts.

The Amazonian ‘Palm Oil’ War continues with the conflict between the Tembé indigenous community and the security guards of Brasil BioFuels.

Security guards working for Brasil BioFuels (BBF) allegedly attacked members of the Tembé indigenous community between 4 and 7 August 2023. Five indigenous people were wounded and a complaint was filed by the indigenous people to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) against the actions of the security guards.

Keywords: clash with locals, poor training


In late 2000, the Brazilian government incentivised the development of palm oil in the region of Pará in Brazil. This resulted in a boom in palm oil, which is mainly used in the food and biofuel industries. The lands where the palm oil companies came to occupy, however, were traditionally used by the indigenous communities, who have been living there for centuries. This resulted in a clash between the local indigenous communities and the palm oil companies and has since been dubbed as the ‘Amazonian Palm Oil War’.

In 2020, the company Brasil BioFuels (BBF) acquired Biopalma and became the largest producer of palm oil in Latin America. This takeover by BBF reportedly resulted in an escalation of violence between the company and the indigenous communities. Allegedly, BBF did not honour the previous agreements between Biopalma and the indigenous communities.

BBF and these communities have been clashing over a disputed area in the Acará region. The company has been accused of land-grabbing, water contamination and other environmental crimes. Allegedly, the pesticide used by BBF had contaminated the water used by the Tembé and other indigenous groups. The company has also been accused of conducting violent campaigns to silence the indigenous communities who claim to be defending their ancestral lands.

According to BBF, the company is the victim and it accuses the indigenous communities of attacking its employees and security guards. It denies causing physical harm to the indigenous community members and has stated that its hired security has been instructed to act peacefully, respectfully and in accordance with the current legislation. Since 2021, BBF has filed over 650 police reports against the indigenous community members. The community members have denied these allegations.

On May 14, 2023, a prominent indigenous leader was shot which further fuelled the conflict in this region. It also resulted in the creation of a Crisis Committee to investigate the crime.

The Incidents

Reportedly, on 4 August, 2023, Kauã Tembé a 19-year-old member of the Tembé indigenous community, was allegedly shot in the groin by “heavily armed” security guards of BBF and the military police, an incident which the community leaders described as an “arbitrary action”.  On 7 August, three more indigenous people were allegedly shot by the security guards while the indigenous people protested in front of the BBF headquarters over what happened to Kauã Tembé. An indigenous person, Dayane Tembé, was also allegedly shot in the neck by the security guards while she filmed their actions against the indigenous people from inside her vehicle. In total, five indigenous community members were reported to be wounded by the private security guards of BBF between August 4 and August 7, 2023.

BBF has stated that the escalation of the conflict started on 3 August after a specialised military police battalion went to remove the armed invaders threatening and assaulting the company workers. The company reiterated that the land is not demarcated as indigenous land and that the indigenous community members were invading the company’s private property. The company’s private security team had managed to contain the criminal action of the invaders and was safeguarding the lives of the workers who were on site. It also stated that it had taken the appropriate legal measures with the judiciary and has requested support from state security agencies as well.

Legal Aspects


On 8 August 2023, the State Department of Public Security and Social Defense (Segup) of Pará stated that the security guard behind Kauã Tembé’s shooting had been detained.

The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) has stated that it has launched an investigation into the activities of the private security companies and armed militia in the region, and the possible crimes and irregularities committed by these companies. MPF has at least three open inquiries into BBF over its alleged crimes including environmental damages and the use of private security guards against the indigenous communities.

In a statement made to the police by one of BBF’s outsourced security guards, the guards alleged that the company asked them to create false narratives of theft and other crimes and to try and incriminate the indigenous community members.

The International Code of Conduct

The International Code of Conduct requires that Personnel of Member and Affiliate companies take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force, and if force is used, it should be proportionate to the threat and appropriate to the situation. (Rules on the Use of Force : paragraph 29, Use of Force : paragraph 30-32).

Resources on Use of Force

Additionally, security personnel are only allowed to apprehend persons to defend themselves or others against an imminent threat of violence following an attack or crime against Company Personnel, clients, or property under their protection. Apprehension and detention must be consistent with international and national law, and all apprehended and detained persons must be treated humanely and consistent with their status and protections under applicable human rights law and international humanitarian law. (Detention: paragraph 33)

Resources on Apprehending Persons

Resources on Detention

The Code requires stringent selection and vetting of personnel, assessment of performance and duties (paragraphs 45 to 49), and training of personnel of the Code and relevant international law, including human rights and international criminal law (paragraph 55). Meeting the requirements of the Code of Conduct, can help private security companies and their clients ensure that private security personnel are qualified, trained, supported, informed, and responsible.

Resources on working conditions


Major international brands like Kellogg, Ferrero, Hershey’s, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever and more continue to purchase palm oil from BBF despite the ongoing conflict in this region.


What impact can clients have on curtailing the violence in this region between the indigenous community members and the security guards of BBF?

How can the use of excessive force by security guards in fragile contexts like these, where there is a clash between the local communities and large companies like BBF, be prevented?

Related incidents




This case was prepared by Shilpa Suresh, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 

Descargo de responsabilidad

De acuerdo con la cláusula de exención de responsabilidad de la página de inicio, ni la Asociación del Código de Conducta Internacional ni ninguno de los autores pueden identificarse con las opiniones expresadas en el texto o las fuentes incluidas en «Defender la Seguridad Responsable: El Mapa de Casos del Código Internacional de Conducta».