Global brands’ zero-deforestation pledges prove hollow as 50 million hectares of forest vanish

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

An area twice the size of the UK has been cleared for agribusiness globally since 2010 as illegal cultivation practices of multinational firms add to forest destruction.

The failure of brands such as Nestlé, Unilever and Kellog to enact zero-deforestation policies they agreed to a decade ago has been a major contributing factor in the loss of 50 million hectares of global forests, new analysis by Greenpeace has claimed.

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 the palm oil, soy, cocoa and other commodities used in their products.

However, CGF members, which also include Danone and Mondelez among others, have woefully failed in turning rhetoric into reality, according to the Greenpeace report published this month.

Instead many have presided over the increased production of agricultural commodities – 80 percent of global deforestation is a direct result of such cultivation – to meet a rising global demand and consequently have left large swathes of forest in Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America decimated.

Greenpeace analysis estimates that five million hectares of global forests and tree cover were lost each year between 2010 and 2015 for global commodity production and that by the end of 2019, 50 million hectares – an area twice the size of the UK – will have been cleared since the start of the decade.

“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,” Anna Jones, Global Project Lead for Forests at Greenpeace UK, said.

Intensive large-scale farming for cattle, soy, palm oil and other crops is being bankrolled by the world’s largest consumer-facing firms in order to produce everything from shampoo and cosmetics, to chocolate bars and meat products for international markets.

The failures of industry to not only stamp out deforestation but also ensure land clearing is legitimate and free from environmental and human rights illegalities remains a major issue.

Between 2000 and 2012, the exportation of commodities produced on illegally cleared land accounted for 25 per cent of all tropical deforestation and was worth $61 billion a year, according to a 2014 Forest Trends report.

Be it household names such as Mars sourcing cocoa linked to illegal land clearing in West Africa, palm oil giant Wilmar accelerating forest destruction in Indonesia or the world’s largest meat processing firm, JBS, buying cattle from illegally deforested lands in Brazil, a raft of firms have faced illegal deforestation allegations in recent years.

Since 2010, the area planted with soy in Brazil has increased 45 per cent, Indonesian palm oil production is up 75 per cent and Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa footprint has grown by 80 per cent, the Greenpeace report claims.

The analysis echoes the recent findings of conservation NGO Global Canopy. Nearly half of the 500 companies monitored via its Forest 500 initiative committed to achieving zero deforestation in their supply chains by 2020 but “not one” is on track to do so, the NGO said in March.

One area that Greenpeace highlights in its analysis is the rampant deforestation for soy and cattle that persists in Brazil’s Cerrado, the world’s most wildlife-rich savannah.

Of the handful of brands who responded to Greenpeace requests to name their suppliers, all those sourcing soy were buying from trading giants Cargill and Bunge – despite the fact that the pair were fined $29 million by Brazilian authorities in 2018 for purchasing grain from illegally deforested lands in the Cerrado.

“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,” Greenpeace Brazil’s Romulo Batista said.

“Global brands must bring their suppliers under control.”

Image on homepage shows deforestation in Amazon, Brazil. Courtesy of Greenpeace.