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Versace, Amazon, Samsonite among companies listed as deforestation ‘laggards’

  • In its annual Forest 500 report, the environmental organization Global Canopy reports on the most influential companies and financial institutions that deal in key commodities linked to deforestation.
  • The six commodities that drive deforestation worldwide are leather, beef, palm oil, soybeans, timber, and pulp and paper.
  • The report identifies 140 companies as having made no public commitments to ending deforestation, and 100 as having done so but not reporting on the implementation or progress of these commitments.
  • It also finds that 68% of 150 financial institutions assessed have zero commitments to deforestation.

Before an Amazon package reaches your doorstep, or that Jimmy Choo shoe finds your foot, it might, according to a new report, have left a trail of deforestation its wake.

Demand for six key commodities — leather, beef, palm oil, soybeans, timber, and pulp and paper — drives deforestation worldwide. In its annual Forest 500 report, the environmental organization Global Canopy reports on the 350 “most influential” companies that trade, use, produce or sell these commodities, and the 150 largest institutions that finance them.

“Many of the world’s best-known brands are complicit in the destruction of tropical forests, which undermines our ability to combat global climate change,” report author Sarah Rogerson said in a statement. “They are turning a blind eye to deforestation caused by demand for the commodities they use and failing to publicly recognize their responsibility to act.”

The number and proportion of Forest 500 companies headquartered in each region which have made no deforestation commitments, highlighting some of these companies’ key brands. graphic by Green Canopy.

Using publicly available information, Global Canopy scores companies and institutions based on their overall approach, strength of commitment, reporting, and implementation of deforestation policies. Commitments on issues of human rights, gender equality, and inclusion of smallholders in supply chains are also considered. Using this score, Global Canopy generates its list of “leaders, laggards, backsliders, green washers, and breakthroughs.”

The laggards, 140 companies that have made no public commitments to end deforestation, include Capri Holdings (whose brands include Versace, Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors), Tyson Foods, Ashley Furniture (the world’s largest furniture manufacturer), Samsonite, and retail giant Amazon. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently established a $10 billion fund to combat climate change.)

Out of 150 financial institutions assessed, 68% are reported to have zero commitment to deforestation, including BlackRock, Aviva, Fidelity and Vanguard.

An oil palm plantation in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“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,” Rogerson said.

Products we use every day contain ingredients from shady supply chains. Palm oil, often from plantations for which huge swaths of Southeast Asian rainforest were chopped down, is used in chocolate, peanut butter, shower gel, laundry detergent and a myriad of other common products and can go by many names. Soybeans, largely grown on cleared rainforest and grasslands in Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado, are not just turned into familiar products like soymilk and tofu, but are also a major source of feed for cattle, poultry and fish.

Cattle ranching is the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon today, with much of the meat exported. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“At the moment, it is almost impossible for consumers to know when they are buying products that might be linked to deforestation,” Rogerson said. “[Consumers] can send a clear message to the brands they buy that they expect them to take action on deforestation. Because just switching to verified deforestation-free products is not an option in most cases, boycotts are not the answer, and consumers should be asking questions of the brands they buy from and pushing them to be more transparent.”

The annual Forest 500 report began in 2014, following commitments made by major companies to end deforestation born out of their commodity supply chains by 2020. Those commitments were made at the Consumer Goods Forum in 2010 and in the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014. Most of these companies, however, are set to miss their own deadlines.

“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 said.

According to the Forest 500 report, 100 companies have made some sort of deforestation commitments but don’t report on the implementation or progress of these commitments. These include, notably, Nike, McDonald’s, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell), Walmart, Carrefour, and General Mills (whose brands include Pillsbury and Häagen-Dazs ice cream).

Pulp and paper operation in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Seventy-five companies have commitments for just one of the key commodities, but not for the others, including Gap, Starbucks and Adidas.

The annual report does have its weaknesses. It uses the information that companies publish on their websites; if the companies aren’t transparent, Global Canopy can’t assess their progress or verify the information they provide. And the report, according to Parks, always generates some pushback.

“The trajectory might be right, but the write up for our company was very inaccurate,” Christopher Stewart, global head of corporate responsibility and sustainability at agribusiness giant Olam, wrote in a LinkedIn post, “citing sectors we don’t participate in (Pulp and paper), subsidiaries we no longer own (for over a year), and crops we don’t cultivate. I know that others have also found their assessments wanting — global leaders like Mars seriously misrepresented. If GC wants their report to be taken seriously by the companies they target, they need to be serious about their assessment.”

Deforestation for oil palm in Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“A number of companies always get in touch after their results are published and there has been a lot of interest this year,” Parks said. “Most companies want to understand how they are being scored. We are keen to encourage companies to be more transparent about what they are doing so that they can be held to account.”

When asked to comment on the annual Forest 500 report, Capri Holdings, Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, Purina, Ashley Furniture and Olam did not respond to Mongabay.

BlackRock referred Mongabay to its public commentaries on agribusiness companies and the palm oil industry. Tyson Foods said it has committed to assessing its supply chain for deforestation risks and to developing a “company-wide Forest Protection Policy.”

“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,” Rogerson said. “They have a clear responsibility to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains, and the missed 2020 deadline should spur governments and consumers to increase pressure on them to prove that they are taking real action.”

Banner image of deforestation for oil palm in Malaysia by Rhett A. Butler.

Citation: Thomson, E., & Rogerson, S. (2020). Forest 500 Annual Report 2019 — The companies getting it wrong on deforestation. Global Canopy, Oxford, U.K.

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_

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