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Deforestation for consumer goods

50 million hectares destroyed as companies disregard zero deforestation pledge
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Harvest in Riachão das Neves – a region known as the 'Ring of Soy'

Image: Harvest in Riachão das Neves – a region known as the ‘Ring of Soy’. © Marizilda Cruppe / Greenpeace

At least 50 million hectares of forest – an area twice the size of the UK – is set to have been destroyed for commodities during 10 years of corporate commitments to end deforestation, according to a new Greenpeace International report.

What happened to responsible sourcing?

The report, Countdown to Extinction, is published today (11 May) as a thousand CEOs and senior managers of global brands gather in Vancouver for the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) global summit.

In 2010, CGF members – the world’s largest consumer brands, including Nestlé, Mondelez and Unilever – promised to end deforestation by 2020 through ‘responsible sourcing’ of cattle, palm oil, soya and other commodities.

With just 200 days to go and their imminent failure to satisfy their commitments, forest protection and the climate crisis are not even on their agenda.

‘These companies are destroying our children’s future by driving us towards climate and ecological collapse. They’ve wasted a decade on half-measures and in that time vast areas of the natural world have been destroyed. They should be in crisis talks right now, but they’re still trying to grow demand for products that will drive forest destruction even further.’

Global campaign lead for forests at Greenpeace UK

Agriculture and deforestation

Since 2010, production and consumption of agricultural commodities linked to deforestation – including cattle, soya, palm oil, rubber and cocoa – has increased dramatically and continues to rise.

80% of global deforestation is a direct result of agricultural production, releasing climate emissions equivalent to Japan, Germany and the UK combined.

‘In the Congo Basin, we are witnessing widespread environmental and human rights violations in the name of development and the global commodities trade. It’s all a kleptocracy where governments and companies collude to loot our natural resources and ordinary people pay the price.’

Head of the Congo Basin forests campaign at Greenpeace Africa

Bring suppliers under control

In early 2019, Greenpeace wrote to more than 50 companies asking them to demonstrate their progress towards ending deforestation by disclosing their commodity suppliers.

Of the handful that did disclose the information, all source from traders or producers involved in forest destruction and no company was able to demonstrate meaningful effort to end links to deforestation.

All brands that disclosed suppliers were sourcing from commodities traders Bunge or Cargill, who buy soya from agribusinesses accused of land-grabbing and destroying the Brazilian Cerrado, the world’s most wildlife-rich savannah.

90% of soya is used to feed animals to produce meat and dairy products. Yet none of the companies Greenpeace contacted included animal feed in their deforestation reporting. They couldn’t provide details on how much soya they were using for animal feed, let alone where it was sourced from.

‘While global attention has been focused on the Amazon, the soya and cattle industries have been trashing the Cerrado – destroying the local environment, aggravating the climate crisis, and displacing and committing violence against Indigenous and traditional populations that have occupied the territory for hundreds of years. Global brands must bring their suppliers under control.’

Forests campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil

Making matters worse

Following Greenpeace pressure on the palm oil industry last year, Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader, committed to map and satellite monitor all of its suppliers. But this move has been ignored by other leading palm oil traders like Cargill, GAR and Musim Mas.

Last month, the Indonesian government made matters even worse by ordering that no palm oil company publish data regarding its concessions.

‘The Indonesian government’s move stands to cause untold damage to the economy. Consumer brands would be unable to prove that the palm oil they’re buying is deforestation-free and would have no choice but to stop buying palm oil all together’, said Kiki Taufik, head of the Indonesian forests campaign at Greenpeace Indonesia.

The recent IPCC and IPBES reports contain the most urgent warnings yet from the world’s top scientists on the need for radical reform of the agricultural industry and food system, including a shift from meat-rich to healthy plant-based diets, to prevent climate and ecological breakdown.

‘Our message to companies is simple: evolve your business to prevent climate and ecological breakdown. The only alternative is to start winding down.’

Global campaign lead for forests at Greenpeace UK

Click here to read our article about Wilmar’s pledge to monitor palm oil suppliers.

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