Forest 500 report laments “painfully slow” progress of brands to tackle deforestation

19.02.2020

New analysis of corporate efforts to fight against deforestation accuses Amazon, Nike, McDonald’s and dozens of other firms of falling short

Deforestation for commodity crop cultivation in Brazil. Photo: Greenpeace

Despite a spate of public pledges, calls to action in the wake of last year’s Amazon fires and mounting consumer pressure, the world’s leading food, fashion and finance companies are failing to tackle deforestation in their supply chains, a new Global Canopy report has warned.

Leading retailers Amazon, supermarket chain Spar and luxury fashion group Capri Holdings – owners of Versace and Jimmy Choo – are among the firms without any deforestation commitments in place, while those that do have them are falling short on their policies.

The Forest 500 report, which analyses 350 companies and 150 financial institutions, found that 242 companies and financiers have made no public commitments to end deforestation.

More than two-thirds of the financial institutions assessed, including BlackRock, Aviva and the Bank of New York Mellon, have no deforestation policies.

The report focused on the trade in palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber and pulp and paper and found that companies in the cattle sector were the slowest to act in 2019. Global Canopy estimated that 79 per cent of companies assessed for beef had yet to make deforestation commitments, rising to 81 per cent for those dealing in leather.

“Forest risk commodities are in almost everything we eat, from beef in ready meals and burgers, palm oil in biscuits, to soy as a hidden ingredient in poultry and dairy products,” report author Sarah Rogerson said. 

“Many people would be shocked to know how many familiar brands in their shopping basket may be contributing to the destruction of the Amazon and other tropical forests.”

Of 210 companies with commitments, 48 per cent do not report on progress for all implementation, including Unilever, McDonald’s, Nike and Vans owner, VF Corp, according to Global Canopy.

“While some companies have shown real leadership on ending deforestation, overall progress has been painfully slow and this highlights that voluntary commitments by the private sector alone cannot be relied upon to drive change,” Rogerson added.

“The devastating scale and impact of tropical deforestation is evident to all and there is no longer any excuse for companies and institutions to plead ignorance.”

The extent of failed voluntary corporate pledges has been laid bare in recent months.

At the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in 2010, the world’s biggest consumer names committed to “end deforestation by 2020” and ensure responsible sourcing of commodities used in their products.

But the pledges, agreed by 400 companies, have largely proved hollow. A Greenpeace report in June last year said that CGF companies’ failures had been a major factor in the loss of 50 million hectares of global forest in the past decade.

The Tropical Forest Alliance, a similar corporate initiative that also includes governments and civil society, said last year that their pledges to halt deforestation in 2020 would also be missed. 

TFA director Julian Adams said in August: “[T]he idea that we would ever eliminate deforestation with voluntary corporate action alone was naive in the extreme.”

A July European Commission (EC) Communication on stepping up EU action on deforestation and forest degradation was met with tentative support by industry groups and civil society.

The Communication commits the EC to assessing the option of introducing legally-binding due diligence regulation as a means to counter the failures of voluntary pledges, although a final decision on the policy to be adopted is due later this year.

Meanwhile the UK announced in February its plans to support developing countries in tackling the illegal timber trade and commodity-driven deforestation at source but has yet to outline any regulation to address imports linked to deforestation.

“Transparency and public disclosure requirements on due diligence policies and their implementation, alongside effective enforcement and accountability, are central to addressing the implementation gap seen in voluntary commitments,” the Forest 500 report added.

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