Cocoa Accountability Map 2.0 Webinar

Cocoa Accountability Map 2.0 Webinar

July 31, 2020

Mighty Earth recently hosted a webinar for the launch of our Cocoa Accountability Map 2.0 as part of our effort to trigger a transparency and traceability revolution in the cocoa sector. Our updated Cocoa Accountability Map now has land use information for all of Côte d’Ivoire, new supply chain information, and better cocoa cooperative data.

This webinar brought together mapping and deforestation experts from across the globe. The webinar provided a rare opportunity for these experts, with similar goals, to engage with one another and provide updates on what they are doing.

Most importantly, it gave us a chance to showcase that mapping is happening in the cocoa sector. Mapping is already a reality despite efforts of government agencies and certain companies to slow or stop the trend. High quality mapping of cocoa and deforestation for cocoa is possible, real, and tangible – though unfortunately up to this point has yet to be led or coordinated in any substantial way by the Cocoa & Forest Initiative.

Traceability of supply chains is also evolving in cocoa. With notable exceptions of Ferrero/Nutella, Blommer/Fuji Oil, and Mondelez/Cadbury, most major cocoa traders and chocolate manufacturing companies have disclosed or are in the process of disclosing their direct supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire.

However, collaboration and leadership will be key to put this mapping and traceability information into good use. Speakers in the webinar evoked the leitmotif that mapping and traceability data must be concretely used for action on the ground, to finally put an end to deforestation and other abuses in cocoa.

The featured speakers were:

For more information, please check out the presentation slides and additional questions and answers from the webinar.

The Cocoa Accountability Map will continue to be updated with more information and a more user-friendly interface from now until the fall. Look out for Mighty Earth’s Cocoa Accountability Map 3.0  and mapping webinar happening in October.

Protests Push Costco, Stop & Shop to Cut Ties With Forest-Destroying Suppliers Cargill and JBS

Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement in response to widespread protests calling on Costco, Stop & Shop, and other supermarkets to cut ties with Cargill and JBS, two agribusiness giants driving the destruction of forests around the world:

"The tides are turning against the arsonists of the Amazon.

"We recently learned that Nordea Asset Management, northern Europe’s largest financial services group, has dropped JBS from its investment portfolio over concerns about the company’s complicity in deforestation in Latin America. In recent months, both Nestlé and Grieg Seafood have taken similar actions against Cargill. And yesterday, across North America and Europe, protesters took to the streets to stand up for the world’s rainforests and our climate.

"They donned masks and stood up to the companies that continue to deforest and degrade fragile ecosystems even as we spiral toward climate chaos. They stood up to a global agribusiness system that disregards the health and safety of Indigenous peoples and tramples on their rights in pursuit of new lands to bulldoze. These protesters stood up and said: we know who the villains are, and we demand that our local supermarkets – the places we rely on, the sellers we trust – stop doing business with them.

"We applaud their bravery for taking action responsibly in the midst of a global pandemic, and welcome this progress in the fight to decouple food production from environmental destruction.”


Header Photo Credit: Linnea Henrikson

Consumer Brands Set Precedent by Suspending Samling Group

As the notorious timber and palm oil conglomerate Samling Group continues to destroy rainforests, Mighty Earth’s new scorecard reveals that many consumer brands like Nestlé and Unilever have taken action to suspend the group from their palm oil supply chains 

These actions could signal a new trend of adopting zero tolerance towards egregious groups that continue to engage in deforestation, peatland destruction and exploitation of vulnerable forest-dependent communities. However, urgent action is needed to close out markets for other rainforest destroyers like Samling. 

Our Rapid Response Deforestation Monitoring system uses satellite imagery to detect new instances of deforestation and peatland development across palm oil and timber plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. The system identified at least 3,420 hectares of deforestation since August 2017 within Samling’s concessions in Sarawak, Malaysia. This is one of the largest amounts of deforestation by any single group detected by Rapid Response over the past three yearsFurthermore, the company has a long history of egregious human rights abuses.  

Therefore, buying palm oil from Samling constitutes a serious violation of the No-Deforestation, No-Peat and No-Exploitation (NDPE) policies that many of the world’s largest consumer brands have adopted. Mighty Earth reviewed the publicly available palm oil mill lists of these brands and contacted 17 companies that disclosed supply chain links to Samling. 

More than half of the 17 brands have taken the progressive step of instructing their suppliers to suspend Samling, earning an “A” score. These companies include Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, FrieslandCampina, Hershey’s, Nestlé, PZ Cussons, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and Upfield. 

By issuing a clear suspension instruction to their direct suppliers, these brands have taken a preventative stance on purging Samling palm oil from their supply chains. These suspensions block potential points of leakage from other companies that continue to source from Samling, such as BLD Plantation (part of the KTS Group), even though the company has adopted an NDPE policy. They also ensure that brands are not reliant on their direct suppliers – palm oil traders – to maintain suspensions themselves on rogue palm oil producers and sends a much stronger signal upstream that noncompliant producers will not have access to the NDPE markets. 

An example of an “A score from a brand is: We have communicated the suspension of direct / indirect supply from this group until further investigations and corrective actions are taken.” 

Many other brands have failed to issue a clear directive to all suppliers to suspend Samling but have engaged with their palm oil suppliers to ensure Samling palm oil is not entering their supply chains, receiving a “B.” These companies are General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Mars, P&G and PepsiCo 

An example of a “B” score from a brand is: We identified potential links through several of our direct suppliers. We reached out to all suppliers with potential links to Samling and confirmed that all have either suspended or will not engage Samling in their supply chains.” 

Avon and Mondelēz International have failed to respond to Mighty Earth’s repeated emails, earning an “F.”  

In total, 88% of brands in our scorecard have taken varying levels of action to expel Samling palm oil from their supply chains. Notably, these consumer brands acted largely as a result of the evidence of Samling’s ongoing deforestation for timber plantations rather than for palm oil production Doing so demonstrates that brands have begun to understand the need to implement a group-level, cross-commodity approach to eradicating deforestation from their supply chain. For true transformational change, brands should exclude groups from their supply chains that continue to engage in deforestation and human rights abuses, regardless of what commodity was the driver of the violations.  In the end, the profits from commercial purchases go to the group’s owners or beneficiaries, who use them to continue their destructive practices and/or expand their business.  

However, more action is needed. Samling continues to destroy rainforest and has not adopted a group-wide NDPE policy or committed to remediate past destruction and abuses. Other tycoon-owned Sarawak logging and palm oil conglomerates such as Rimbunan Hijau Group and Shin Yang Group continue to clear rainforest in Sarawak and are still in the supply chains of major palm oil traders and consumer brands.   

The Samling case illustrates the value of transparency.  Based on companies’ public mill lists, Mighty Earth was able to communicate with key buyers of Samling and enable them to take action.  Those brands whose supply chains remain hidden from public view remain at severe risk of having rogue actors like Samling lurking in their supply chains. They cannot guarantee consumers that they have proper due diligence processes in place to eliminate deforestation and human rights violations from their supply chains.  For example, brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks and Yum Brands! have refused to release any publicly available information about the mills that they’re sourcing their palm oil from.   

Until consumer brands commit to true traceability, transparency and implementation of their NDPE policies, palm oil from unethical suppliers like Samling will continue to infiltrate the supply chains of many of the brands we know and love.  

Consumer Brand



Note to Readers
Our scoring rubric for evaluating company actions in response to Samling’s record was as follows:

A: Full Suspension
Company has communicated a “no-buy” requirement to their palm oil suppliers to ensure Samling is excluded from their supply chains

B: Partial Suspension
Company has not issued a formal “no-buy” requirement; however, the company has taken other significant action to ensure Samling palm oil is excluded from their supply chain

C: Engagement
Company is engaging their suppliers on the issue of Samling

F: No response
Company has not responded to Mighty Earth’s emails

Une coalition historique pour le Cacao Durable au Ghana et en Côte d’Ivoire

Read in English

Déclaration Commune de 350 ONG ivoiriennes qui soutiennent l’initiative du Gouvernement visant à garantir un revenu suffisant aux planteurs et à protéger les forêts

ABIDJAN, CÔTE D'IVOIRE – Aujourd’hui, 350 ONG environnementales, des droits humains et de bonne gouvernance signent une déclaration collective qui souligne les étapes que les gouvernements ghanéen et ivoirien doivent prendre pour promouvoir un cacao durable, tout en aidant les paysans et en protégeant les forêts.

Les signataires, au nombre desquels l’Observatoire Ivoirien pour la gestion durable des Ressources Naturelles (OI-REN), La Convention de la Société Civile Ivoirienne (CSCI), l’Institut Africain pour le Développement Économique et Social (INADES) et certaines coalitions importantes comme le Regroupement des Acteurs Ivoirien des Droits de l'Homme (RAIDH) soutiennent la mise en œuvre d’un prix plancher annoncé par les gouvernements du Ghana et de la Côte d’Ivoire. Ils demandent, par contre, la garantie que le nouveau prix plancher fournira des revenus additionnels aux paysans, sans pour autant accroitre la déforestation. La lettre fait écho aux appels précédents pour un prix plancher bien géré des sociétés civiles du Ghana, du Cameroun, de l’Union Européenne et des Etats-Unis. La déclaration commune souligne que l’implémentation de cette initiative est devenue plus urgente à cause de la pandémie mondiale du coronavirus qui amplifie la pauvreté et perturbe l’économie.

“La société civile s’unit pour se battre pour le cacao durable,” dit Amourlaye Touré, le Représentant de Mighty Earth en Afrique de l’Ouest. “ Un prix plancher pour le cacao est une étape importante mais les gouvernements doivent maintenant assurer que l’industrie va effectivement payer les prix indiqués et que les fonds levés par cette initiative iront vraiment aux paysans qui reçoivent actuellement moins d’un dollar par jour.”

La déclaration commune des ONG souligne qu’il importe, afin de prévenir d’éventuels détournements, que les revenus générés par le prix plancher soient gérés de façon transparente, avec des avantages pour les paysans appauvris. En Côte d’Ivoire, notamment, l’agence responsable de la gestion des aires protégées n’a pas toujours été sans reproche en matière de corruption ; des problèmes similaires affectent les autorités ghanéennes qui sont responsables de la régulation de la déforestation. Selon la Banque Mondiale, comme signalé par Reuters, “La corruption et la mauvaise gestion de l’industrie du cacao au Ghana nuisent à la production et fragilise les paysans, mettant en lumière le besoin urgent de réformes.”

La nouvelle déclaration commune met également les gouvernements ivoirien et ghanéen face à leurs responsabilités en ce qu’ils doivent s’assurer que le prix plancher ne déclenche pas une vague de déforestation dans un environnement naturel déjà dévasté. En effet, la Côte d’Ivoire et le Ghana ont les taux les plus élevés de déforestation dans le monde ! Les deux pays ont perdu environ 90 pour cent de leurs forêts, depuis leur indépendance, dont un tiers du fait du cacao.

“Généralement, quand le prix d’un produit augmente, la déforestation s’accroît également. Les deux gouvernements doivent agir maintenant et mettre à exécution le mécanisme de surveillance conjoint, comme ils l’avaient promis en 2017 dans le cadre de l’Initiative Cacao et Forêts (ICF),” affirme le représentant de Mighty Earth. “ Des progrès réels ont été accomplis dans la lutte contre la déforestation. Le Ghana et la Côte d’Ivoire sont parvenus à réduire la perte de forêts primaires de 50 pour cent, de 2018 à 2019. Il ne faut donc montrer aucune complaisance.”

La société civile fait aussi pression pour un nouvel engagement à respecter les droits des petits planteurs de cacao qui sont particulièrement vulnérables. Le nouveau code forestier annoncé l’an dernier résulterait en l’éviction de milliers de petits paysans. Il est estimé que 1.5 à 2 millions de planteurs de cacao vivent dans des forêts protégées et des parcs nationaux au Ghana et en Côte d’Ivoire. Bien que le gouvernement de Côte d’Ivoire ait le droit de récupérer les forêts destinées à être conservées, la loi internationale protège contre les expulsions forcées qui ne respectent pas la dignité et les droits des personnes vivant sur ces sites.

Enfin, la déclaration commune fait remarquer que des efforts supplémentaires sont nécessaires pour mettre fin au travail des enfants dans l’industrie du cacao.

La pandémie due au coronavirus a aggravé certaines difficultés existantes. Un nombre plus grand de paysans ont du mal à subvenir à leurs besoins vitaux et le travail des enfants ne recule pas à cause de la crise économique qui s’intensifie. “Il faut que le prix plancher du cacao soit bien géré afin de protéger les moyens de subsistance des producteurs et pour renforcer les progrès constatés au cours des dernières années pour un cacao durable.”


Historic Coalition Speaks Out for Sustainable Cocoa in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire

Version française ici

Joint Declaration by 350 different NGOs calls for government action to support farmers and protect forests

ABIDJAN, CÔTE D'IVOIRE – Today, 350 environmental, human rights, and good governance NGOs joined a historic letter outlining steps that the Ghanaian and Ivorian governments must take encourage sustainable cocoa while supporting farmers and protecting forests.

The signatories, which include an Ivorian research institute (INADES) and key coalitions such as the Ivorian Civil Society Convention (CSCI), the Ivorian Observatory on Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (OIREN), and the Coalition of Ivorian Human Rights Actors (RAIDH), specifically support the implementation of a floor price for cocoa as announced by the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast but call for additional safeguards to ensure the new price floor provides income to cocoa farmers without incentivizing additional deforestation. The letter echoes earlier calls for a well-managed price floor from civil society organizations in Ghana, Cameroon, and the EU and US. The joint declaration further highlights that these issues have taken on added urgency as the global coronavirus pandemic exacerbates poverty and disrupts the economy.

“Civil society is coming together to fight for sustainable cocoa,” said Amourlaye Touré, Mighty Earth’s West Africa Representative. “A cocoa price floor is an important step, but the governments must now ensure that industry actually pays the mandated price and that the new funds raised from this initiative actually make it back to the cocoa farmers – many of whom are surviving on less than a dollar a day.”

The joint statement from the NGOs stresses the importance of preventing possible diversions and says that the revenue generated by the price floor must be managed transparently, with benefits accruing to impoverished farmers. In Côte d’Ivoire, the agency responsible for managing Protected Areas has not always been blameless for corruption; similar problems affect Ghanaian authorities with jurisdiction over deforestation for cocoa as well. According to the World Bank, as reported by Reuters, “Corruption and regulatory mismanagement of Ghana’s cocoa industry are hurting production and harming farmers, underlining the need for reform.”

The new Joint Declaration challenges the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments to ensure that the floor price does not trigger a wave of new deforestation in an already devastated landscape. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have had some of the historically highest rates of deforestation in the world. Both countries have lost approximately 90 percent of their forests since independence, with about one-third of that loss driven by cocoa.

“Typically, when a commodity price goes up, deforestation also goes up. The governments must act now to implement the joint monitoring mechanisms they promised to build in 2017 as part of the Cocoa and Forests Initiative,” said the Mighty Earth representative. “We’ve seen real progress in addressing deforestation – Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire both saw primary forest loss decrease by 50 percent from 2018 to 2019 – but now is not the time to get complacent.”

Civil society also pushed for new commitments to respect for the rights of vulnerable smallholder cocoa producers. A new forestry policy announced last year will likely result in the evictions of thousands of small-scale cocoa farmers, with an estimated 1.5 to 2 million cocoa farmers living in protected forests and national parks in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Ghana. Although the Ivorian government has the right to reclaim forests intended for conservation, international law protects anyone who occupies land from forced evictions that do not respect the dignity and rights of those affected, regardless of where they are living.

Finally, the Joint Declaration notes that more must be done to address child labor in the industry.

“The coronavirus pandemic has compounded existing problems – more farmers are going hungry and child labor is skyrocketing as the economic impacts worsen,” said Touré. ”We need a well-managed cocoa floor price to protect people’s livelihoods and consolidate the gains we have made in recent years for sustainable cocoa.”

Study Shows Ahold Delhaize, Casino, Metro and Other European Supermarkets Are Driving Destruction of the Amazon

A new peer-reviewed analysis published in Science magazine shows that one-fifth of Brazil’s soy exports to the EU may be linked to illegal deforestation. Mighty Earth Senior Director Alex Armstrong released the following statement in response:

"A new study in Science clearly shows that supermarkets and other food suppliers in Europe are fueling the ecological destruction of Latin America, from the Amazon to the Cerrado. As much as 22 percent of the soy exported from Brazil to Europe is the result of illegal deforestation, with even greater amounts coming from legally cleared land.

"But, tellingly, the bulk of the destruction is coming from a few bad actors. The researchers found that only two percent of the farms accounted for a whopping 62 percent of the deforestation. That means that European supermarkets have a responsibility to stop purchasing from these guilty companies.

“One of these hotspots is the municipality Formosa do Rio Preto, the area with the most deforestation risk exporting to Europe according to Trase. Bunge alone is responsible for over fifty percent of exports from this area, while France and Germany account for nearly a third of the market for this risky soy.

"Ahold Delhaize, Casino, Metro, and others must immediately cancel or renegotiate contracts with the companies driving the destruction of the Amazon."

How the Sausage Gets Made

May 2020

Every year, the Danish meat giant Danish Crown produces huge amounts of pork from pigs fed with soy that has come from deforested areas in South America. This report from Rainforest Foundation Norway, Mighty Earth in the United States, and Forests of the World in Denmark charts the connection between Danish Crown’s soy imports and environmental destruction in South America.

Read here

Cargill Hides its Deforestation Impacts in Misleading Report

By: Asha Sharma

As yet another company distances itself from Cargill, the agribusiness giant has attempted to satiate its customers’ demands for reform with a new, deceptive report. Cargill’s 2020 Soy Progress Report Mid-Year Update touts the company’s progress mapping its Brazilian supply chain for soybeans and calculating the share of its soy grown on deforestation- and conversion-free land. However, an analysis by Mighty Earth mapping and supply chain experts has found that Cargill’s accounting methods are both grossly inaccurate and intentionally misleading.

Key problems we identified with the report are:

  • Overstating the percentage of Cargill soy that is deforestation and conversion free (DCF). Cargill claims that 95.68 percent of its soy volumes qualify, but uses data too vague and generic to actually attribute DCF sourcing to its farms. Independent reports from organizations like Trase have found Cargill to have the second highest deforestation risk in Brazil out of all soy exporters. Cargill cannot claim that any of their soy is deforestation-free until more improvements are made in their supply chain traceability, transparency and monitoring efforts.
  • Ignoring Critical Role of Cargill’s Indirect Suppliers. Cargill claims that is has mapped 100 percent of its suppliers. In truth, this statement covers only the company’s direct suppliers, which account for just 69 percent of the total supply chain. The information Cargill did collect about indirect suppliers only includes the “points of procurement,” i.e., where they bought the soy from. These locations can be silos or other aggregation points and are, in terms of monitoring for deforestation, entirely useless information.
  • Exaggerating the Accuracy of Cargill’s Mapping. Cargill admits in the report that it has only single-mapped the suppliers. Single-point mapping shows generally where a farm is located, but it is not useful information for a comprehensive monitoring effort. A single point on a map can hardly encapsulate the full scale of some of these soy plantations, which can stretch for thousands of kilometers. This style of mapping is therefore insufficient for making claims of being deforestation and conversion free. In order for a monitoring system to accurately track deforestation, it must document the full boundaries of properties for both direct and indirect suppliers in its supply chain.
  • Sweeping Other Important Issues Under the Rug. Cargill did not report on any other impacts of its deforestation, including illegal clearance, clearance on Indigenous and community lands, or use of fires – but the company is known to have impacts in all of these areas. Ignoring these issues does nothing to mitigate their destruction.

Cargill has long prioritized press releases and public relations strategies over tackling the thorny issues that have earned them the reputation as the “Worst Company in the World.” And while they dither, forests continue to burn. Supermarkets like Costco, Ahold Delhaize, and Casino must demand true accountability and action from Cargill or find another business partner, because people around the around the world expect better from the brands they trust.

Ending Deforestation is Not Enough, Agroforestry is a Must for Cocoa Sustainability

All cocoa production worldwide must transition away from pesticide-soaked monoculture to robust agroforestry systems.

The Voice Network’s newly published paper, Agroforestry in the Cocoa Sector: A Need for Ambitious Collaborative Landscape Approaches, introduces key insights for that transformation. This paper addresses shortcomings in current approaches to agroforestry cocoa, such as low adoption rates for farmers and lack of monitoring. It also provides detailed and achievable recommendations on a way forward for industry and producer governments.

Despite efforts to end deforestation in the cocoa industry, cocoa production has already had a profound impact on the world’s forests. The two largest producers of cocoa, Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire, are estimated to have lost between 80-95 percent of their forests. One third of that deforestation is the result of cocoa production, often in monocultures. This deforestation has already led to widespread rainfall loss and unpredictable weather patterns, pushing both countries – alongside neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso – closer to desertification and climate chaos. Trees are rain machines. Kill them, you kill the rains. Replant them, rains can return.

Further, the predominant model of monoculture cocoa farming undermines biodiversity. Moving from monoculture to agroforestry enhances biodiversity of flora and fauna. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s insects are already gone. We are in the midst of a mass extinction. There is no room for pesticide-soaked monoculture cocoa and other crops, if the planet is to avoid an extinction crisis and extirpation of insects that are the building blocks of all life on the planet.

Whereas monoculture cocoa has led to widespread soil degradation, agroforestry practices help heal the soils and reintroduce biodiversity underground, which remains vital though invisible to most people. Agroforestry is widely known to preserve and strengthen soil moisture and fertility, contribute to air moisture retention, and stimulate rainfall through microclimatic control – which again is crucial for healthy soils and the long-term viability of agriculture.

Fortunately, the introduction of robust cocoa agroforestry systems can also promote carbon sequestration, pest control, long-term productivity, and resilience of growing areas in a much-needed transition.

Agroforestry is not only climate-friendly – it is also profitable. Recent trends show increased investment in agroforestry systems, and some experts estimate that “agroforestry systems can create eight times more profit than conventional agriculture.”

Ending deforestation is key. Agroforestry is not a viable alternative to natural forests. However, it should be used to improve already deforested and agricultural lands. Six prominent carbon scientists recently published a paper which demonstrates that regenerative agriculture/agroforestry can significantly contribute to climate mitigation by reducing emissions and improving soil health.

Agroforestry can be beneficial for people as well as the planet. When rolled out correctly, agroforestry systems can provide cocoa farmers with trees that provide food security and income diversification, protecting them from the vicissitudes of economic shocks inherent in monocropping. No responsible investor would dream of buying shares in only one company – likewise, no farmer should be entirely dependent on the fluctuations in the global price of just one commodity.

Most cocoa companies currently define agroforestry poorly, and many have set inadequate goals as well as shoddy implementation plans, which are not shaped by the best available science. Not all approaches are alike; a watered-down approach will lead to watered-down results.

However, high-ambition, collaborative landscape approaches to agroforestry will enable companies to see the same if not better yields and will put farmers in the driver’s seat in a bottom-up approach that is adapted to local realities – not a top-down command-and-control approach that further bankrupts already-exploited cocoa smallholder farmers. The time to phase out monoculture and roll out beneficial agroforestry cocoa systems worldwide is now.

Photo © J. Milz - ECOTOP

Another Major Company Drops Cargill over Deforestation Concerns

IntraFish reports that “Global salmon giant Grieg Seafood has excluded Cargill Aqua Nutrition from the proceeds of its $92 million green bond until its parent company Cargill has significantly reduced its soy-related deforestation risk in Brazil.” In response to the news, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"Cargill’s recklessness has destroyed forests, fueled climate change, displaced Indigenous communities, and imperiled workers from vulnerable communities in its meat plants. But today, a new victim of Cargill's recklessness has emerged — Cargill itself.

"Norwegian salmon company Grieg Seafood has announced that it will exclude Cargill from its $92 million green bond, citing concerns about Cargill's ties to deforestation in Brazil. This news is just the latest blow to Cargill's bottom line, as a growing number of consumer-facing companies are unwilling to associate their hard-earned brands with Cargill's sullied reputation. Late last year, Nestlé announced it would cease purchases of Cargill's Brazilian soybeans over fears they were being grown on deforested land.

"Cargill has responded with the usual vague statements and commitments that never seem to find their way beyond a piece of paper. Major supermarket chains like Costco and Casino should take notice: Cargill hasn't changed, and doing business with deforesters is a liability that your customers will no longer accept."

Project to Build Japan's Largest Palm Oil Burning Power Plant Defeated

Environmental groups call on government to reform renewable energy incentives and for H.I.S. to abandon plans to build a similar plant

KYOTO, JAPAN – Environmental groups are celebrating today’s dissolution of Maizuru Green Initiatives GK, a company set up to build a palm oil burning power plant in Maizuru City, Japan. The controversial large-scale 66-megawatt biomass power plant was the subject of a 9 months-long campaign by local residents with support from Japanese and international environmental groups.

“This is a great victory for tropical forests and the residents of Maizuru. We are now calling on travel company H.I.S. in Miyagi and Sankei Energy in Kyoto to end their involvement with palm oil power plants, and for the Japanese government to stop subsidizing biomass power that worsens climate change,” said Yuichiro Ishizaki of HUTAN Group.

The Maizuru power plant sparked controversy for its use of palm oil as its primary fuel source. Malaysia and Indonesia are the primary producers of palm oil for Japan. Native tropical forests, including habitat for endangered orangutans, are being lost, with 3.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia converted into oil palm plantations over the last 20 years. Japan imports approximately 750,000 tons of palm oil per year, mainly for use in foods and products. If the Maizuru palm oil power plant were constructed, it would significantly add to this burden, burning an additional 120,000 tons per year.

Pressure from residents, including a petition with 11,000 signatures, prompted the project sponsor, AMP Energy of Toronto, Canada to withdraw from the project in April 2020. In a letter sent on Earth Day (April 22), Executive Chairman Paul Ezekiel stated: “Going forward, our company and our group will not consider power generation business that uses palm oil as its fuel.” Ezekiel was also quoted citing project difficulties which included “strong opposition from local residents.”

AMP’s withdrawal left a question as to whether the plant constructor and operator, Hitachi Zosen, would look for a new sponsor. At its annual shareholder meeting on June 23, 2020, Takashi Morimoto from the Maizuru residents group raised concerns and questioned Hitachi Zosen Managing Director Toshiyuki Shiraki about their plans for this plant. Shiraki responded that Hitachi Zosen would withdraw from this project. When asked for an explanation by a reporter, Shiraki stated: “It is because we have no prospect of investing in palm oil in the future.” Maizuru City followed suit, with the mayor announcing on June 26 that the city would no longer pursue the power plant project.

“It was all hands on deck for what we expected to be a years-long fight against this plant. It is amazing that we were able to see its cancelation in just nine months. I believe we were able to achieve victory due to a combination of local grassroots activities and advice from experienced NGOs. The world is full of problems, but I believe people in other regions can also change society for the better,” offered Takashi Morimoto of the Environmental Group of Maizuru West District.

Maizuru Plant Part of Larger Trend

In Japan, government incentives have spurred the use of palm oil for power generation. In 2012, Japan began incentives to support renewable energy (through the “feed-in-tariff” or FiT) where the government guarantees utilities will purchase electricity generated from renewable energy at a fixed price. Until recently, the feed-in-tariff system had the highest incentive in the world for biomass power (primarily wood pellets, palm kernel shells and palm oil) of 24 yen/KWh.

The more palm oil is burned for biomass power generation, the more global demand for palm oil will increase. As of March 2018, the total capacity of the palm oil power plant projects approved under the Japan’s FiT system was 1700 MW. If all were to be built, 3.4 million tons of palm oil would be burned each year -- nearly five times more than Japan’s current palm oil imports. This surge in demand threatens to have a huge environmental impact.

Japanese environmental advocates are battling a second large palm oil power plant under construction in Kakuda City, Miyagi Prefecture, and to date have collected 200,000 signatures against it. This plant is being built by H.I.S. Super Power, an affiliate of Japanese travel giant H.I.S.

“As a travel company, H.I.S. runs ecotours to places like Borneo, promoting a chance to experience the wonder of the natural world. How can they explain to these customers why they are also involved in a business which will burn large amounts of forest-destroying palm oil to make electricity? We are calling upon H.I.S. to follow Hitachi Zosen’s lead and renounce their involvement in palm oil power plants,” stated Kanna Mitsuta of Friends of the Earth, Japan.

Subsidizing Climate Change Biomass Worsens Climate Change

Unfortunately, Japanese government policy failed to put safeguards in place to avoid fuel sources linked to deforestation and with significant greenhouse gas emissions. A 2019 analysis done for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) showed that palm oil had similar emissions to natural gas over its lifecycle (including cultivation, processing, transportation). However, when tropical forests are cleared, emissions increase five times; when peatlands are developed, emissions increase a staggering 139 times.

In addition to burning palm oil, Japan’s biomass policies also incentivize cutting down forests and burning wood, a practice that hinders our progress against climate change, as new trees regrow and reabsorb carbon slowly. Most wood burned in Japan is shipped from Vietnam or North America.

Maizuru Plant Attracted International Opposition

The Maizuru palm oil power plant attracted international attention, with environmental groups alarmed at Japan’s surge of biomass power plants. In a joint letter to 44 domestic and international financial institutions, 25 groups from 8 countries opposed this project, and palm oil power in general.

“The clock is ticking in our fight against global climate change – with only a few years to act, we cannot afford to waste time on false climate solutions,” said Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus. “Burning palm oil accelerates the destruction of the forests we need to absorb carbon. Burning wood biomass literally sends years’ worth of carbon sequestration up in smoke. Halting the Maizuru plant is an important step in ending the false promise of biomass and will help put the focus on truly renewable power solutions.”

Urgent Need to Reform Japan’s Renewable Energy Incentive Program

In April 2020, after calls for reform, METI required greenhouse gas assessment for new biomass fuel types under the feed-in-tariff. Advocates are urging METI to also place strict greenhouse gas emissions limits on existing fuels including palm oil, wood pellets and palm kernel shells.

“Japan’s renewable energy incentives should not subsidize fuels that worsen climate change,” stated Sayoko Iinuma of Global Environmental Forum. “Due to its high greenhouse gas emissions, palm oil should be excluded from the feed-in-tariff, and METI needs to adopt strict emissions limits for wood biomass as well.”

Campaign website (Japanese/limited English):

Ensuring a Green EU Recovery Plan for the Tire, Rubber, and Auto Industries

This week, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the need to ensure environmental and human rights conditions for all EU bailouts and recovery support. The letter is reprinted below and available here.

Dear President von der Leyen,

Thank you for your environmental leadership and commitment to advancing the European Green Deal as the basis of the EU’s recovery strategy, and we applaud the proposed €40bn Just Transition Fund to assist member states to transition towards climate neutrality and a more circular economy.

Mighty Earth is a global environmental organization with a significant and growing interest in ending land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction linked to commodities imported into the EU. We focus heavily on areas of outsized importance to the climate that receive insufficient attention from policymakers and the private sector. We have driven adoption of zero-deforestation sourcing policies across the palm oil, cocoa and rubber industries, and helped launch a CSO-industry partnership, Responsible Steel, under which several of the world’s largest steel companies have committed to science-based targets.

In that context, I am writing to urge you to ensure all post Covid-19 EU bailout and recovery support for EU-based tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation companies is aligned with the European Green Deal, supports environmental and human rights standards, and helps build a green, just and healthy economy.

The rubber industry

The tire and automotive industries are the largest market for natural rubber. Between 2003 and 2014, the rubber industry tore down 75,000 square kilometers of tropical forest, an area the size of Ireland. This deforestation was responsible for an estimated 3.75 gigatons of pollution during that time, comparable to the amount produced by Europe in a year. Land-grabbing is widespread in the sector, and we are finding companies are using the Covid-19 lockdown as a cover to seize and clear land while nobody appears to be watching. For example, in March, Vietnam-based HAGL destroyed forests on two sacred mountains earmarked for return to local Indigenous peoples in Ratanakiri in Cambodia. HAGL’s largest investor is THACO, which assembles cars in Vietnam for auto companies including Peugeot, Mazda and Kia. While low rubber prices in the last few years have reduced incentives for deforestation and land-grabbing, increased commodity prices in the absence of strong conservation policies would create new incentives for aggressive deforestation.

Planning a post-pandemic recovery to ensure a greener future

High volumes of EU and EU-backed bailout support distributed over the coming months will shape the EU tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation industries for years to come. Many EU-based companies in these sectors will benefit from this support. EU airlines are seeking €33bn in emergency bailout support, while tire companies like Continental, Michelin and Pirelli are seeking state aid, bailout or recovery assistance. Insisting on green conditions is possible: Air France-KLM was required to halve emissions, cut short-haul flights, and use more sustainable aviation fuel by 2024 to qualify for bailouts from the French and Dutch governments. However, few other bailouts to the transport sector have set conditions on carbon emissions or deforestation, let alone curbing the human rights abuses so rampant in the rubber industry.

Action Points

We urge you to ensure that all EU-based companies that rely on rubber in their key products or connected to transport are aligned with the European Green Deal and legally bound by environmental and human rights conditions when accessing EU or EU-backed recovery support. In particular, we would ask you and your colleagues within the Commission to tie public EU and EU-backed recovery funds to the following conditions:

1) Environment

All companies receiving bailout funds should be committed to the European Green Deal, the Paris Agreement, and to achieving net zero carbon neutrality by 2025. They should all have measurable action plans to transition towards a net zero carbon future. Airlines should set out plans for carbon neutrality by 2025 and for rapidly shifting to sustainable aviation fuels and mitigating the full climate impacts of the industry, including rubber deforestation. Auto, car rental and ride-share companies should set a target date by which they only provide electric vehicles made from low carbon materials – including zero carbon steel – and vehicle-scrappage should be in line with circular economy principles. All tire, rubber and auto companies seeking EU or EU-backed bailouts should have clear ‘Zero Deforestation’ and ‘Fire-free’ sourcing policies for natural rubber and time-bound plans to implement and enforce them. To quality for aid, these companies should have credible plans in place to achieve transparency and traceability throughout their raw materials supply chains, which will ultimately be necessary for them to align with the EU’s deforestation action plan.

2) Human Rights

Businesses seeking EU bailout support should have robust policies and practices in place that recognize and ensure workers’ rights throughout their supply chains. This means a commitment to the ILO Core Conventions, which include human rights commitments on health and safety, freedom of association, gender equity and on forced, bonded, trafficked and child labor. All corporations should be committed to a living income and living wage. Tire and rubber corporations in particular should commit to recognize and respect the customary land tenure rights of Indigenous and local communities, as well as to ending all involvement in harassment, attacks, or killings of Indigenous peoples and local community members defending their land, forests and other natural resources.

This moment represents a significant opportunity to build a healthy, low and zero-carbon economy. I would be delighted to have an opportunity to discuss these proposals with you or your staff.


Glenn Hurowitz
Chief Executive Officer, Mighty Earth

Video: Ivory Coast Battles to Save Cocoa-Ravaged Forests

Decades of intensive cocoa farming led to rapid economic development in the Ivory Coast, and turned the country into the world's top producer of the chocolate ingredient. But clearing land for farming all but wiped out the Ivory Coast's forests. An ambitious new forestry policy could reverse that. It aims to take back control of government-managed parks and forest reserves. Amourlaye Toure works for the campaign group Mighty Earth. "We need to act, it is an emergency today. Because if we don't act quickly we risk losing the entirety of our forests. Already 90% of our primary forests in Ivory Coast have been lost between 1960, when we gained independence, until 2000, so in the space of half a century."

Watch the full video from Reuters World News.

On World Rainforest Day, Global Brands Must Honor Commitment to End Deforestation by 2020

Global coalition of environmental and human rights groups calls on Consumer Goods Forum to back sustainability promises with clear actions to protect forests, the climate, and human rights

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on World Rainforest Day, environmental and human rights advocates called on global brands to honor their commitment to end deforestation before a self-imposed deadline expires this year.

In a newly released letter sent to the Consumer Goods Forum, a CEO-level organization that brings together over 400 global retailers and manufacturers, a large and growing coalition of more than 75 environmental and human rights groups reiterated their 2019 call for CGF members to “take ambitious and immediate action to eliminate and remedy deforestation, peatland destruction, and human rights violations throughout their supply chains and support necessary legal and policy reforms.” In addition to climate and environmental concerns, the groups are also concerned that noxious haze from burning forests will further exacerbate the public health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last September, our organizations wrote to demand evidence that the CGF and its member companies are prepared to take real action to eliminate and remedy deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains,” the letter reads. “Since then, fires, deforestation, and human rights abuses have gotten worse—destroying irreplaceable ecosystems and threatening communities across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Yet, CGF and its member companies have done little to leverage their market and supply chain influence for tangible change. Most egregiously, the CGF and its member companies have largely continued sourcing from the same suppliers responsible for deforestation and human rights abuses without repercussion or accountability—providing market access, contracts, and funds to the perpetrators of these continued violations.”

In 2009, CGF members pledged to end deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains by 2020, emphasizing the need for action in high risk commodities like soy, cattle, palm oil, and pulp and paper. Five years later, at the 2014 Climate Summit in New York, 60 additional companies joined in this pledge as a part of the New York Declaration on Forests. But deforestation increased last year- a disturbing trend highlighted by headline-grabbing fires in the Amazon- and early reports indicate that this year’s fire season will be even worse. Brazil just recorded its fourteenth-straight month of increased deforestation.

Ongoing and increasing deforestation poses risks to wildlife and ecosystems, exacerbates climate change, and may have disastrous public health consequences during the global COVID-19 pandemic. “The noxious haze from burning forests hospitalizes and kills hundreds of thousands of people due to respiratory illness under normal circumstances—a situation poised to be a public health catastrophe given COVID-19,” the letter notes. “These fires are preventable, and those companies that continue to provide funding and contracts to those responsible for the fires will be held publicly accountable for this unfurling environmental and human rights crisis.”

The original letter, which the CGF never responded to, asks the CGF to:

  • Reduce consumption of high-risk commodities
  • Communicate a mandatory requirement for CGF members’ suppliers to halt conversion of tropical rainforests for agricultural commodities
  • Ensure recognition and respect for local communities’ customary land rights and compliance with international standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) in commodity supply chains
  • Accelerate the enforcement of a moratorium on clearance of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests, and peatlands
  • Publish guidelines to address non-compliance in supply chains, including thresholds to determine the status of sourcing and suspension or termination of non-compliant suppliers, as well as formal grievance redress processes for human rights, land conflict, and labor violations
  • Adopt human rights and grievance redress policies protecting human rights defenders from violence and intimidation, including pledging zero tolerance for murder and violence against defenders
  • Update business practices to actively provide incentives and support to upstream suppliers to enable and ensure compliance
  • Publish annual reports detailing the progress of CGF member companies.
  • Support legislative and regulatory measures in demand-side markets to address deforestation linked to the international trade in agricultural commodities
  • Support and fund the necessary transition toward ecological and just food systems and large-scale forest conservation and restoration

Sumitomo Doubles Down on Coal, Releases More Rhetoric on Sustainability

Japanese conglomerate plans to continue work on disastrous coal plant project in Bangladesh despite climate, public health, budgetary, and environmental concerns

WASHINGTON, DC and TOKYO – Environmental organizations are criticizing Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese conglomerate, after it failed to announce any new concrete actions to address climate change or end its investments in fossil fuels. Sumitomo issued a revised climate policy (Eng. translation) just before its June 19, 2020 shareholders meeting, committing the company to “carbon neutrality” by 2050. However, Sumitomo signaled no intent to abandon its involvement in coal, including the construction of the much-maligned Matarbari Coal Plant project. Mighty Earth had called upon Sumitomo to announce a concrete coal-phase out plan by its 2020 shareholder meeting and immediately end its involvement in new coal plants.

With revenues heavily impacted by COVID-19, Sumitomo Corporation announced to investors in May that it would “execute drastic structural reforms for each of our businesses and the Sumitomo Corporation Group as a whole, including the review of our strategies on portfolio management for increasing corporate value and the enhancement of sustainability management.” The revised sustainability and climate policies (Japanese) were long on rhetoric but short on action.

“On climate change, Sumitomo continues to resist making actual change,” said Roger Smith, Japan Project Manager for Mighty Earth. “Despite crashing coal prices, low energy demand, and an international movement towards ‘green recoveries,’ Sumitomo is doubling down on fossil fuels. Sumitomo needs to exit coal and end their involvement in coal plants, including Matarbari in Bangladesh where they lead the construction.”

“Sumitomo released a climate policy in August 2019 that has been proven to be largely meaningless,” said Smith. “The policy has loopholes that allow Sumitomo to continue building new coal plants it deems ‘essential,’ including dirty projects that should be abandoned, like the Van Phong I coal plant in Vietnam. Their policy doesn’t even cover building coal plants for other companies, like the Matarbari coal plants in Bangladesh.”

This week Sumitomo amended their climate policy to include a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, which would cover its energy businesses, but left in loopholes allowing them to continue to develop coal. The actions Sumitomo takes now will determine whether or not they can reduce their emissions in time.

“Sumitomo set a date to reduce emissions that is 30 years in the future without interim goals or even a timeline to develop a plan. This is too little, too late,” said Smith. “Sumitomo needs to amend their policy to completely shut the door on new coal and phase out existing coal plants globally by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

"Bangladeshi people have as much right to clean energy and clean air as people in Japan, but Sumitomo Corporation’s climate policy loophole risks locking in decades more polluting coal power," stated Munira Chowdhury, Bangladeshi citizen and Analyst for Market Forces (an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia).

"Pollution from the Matarbari Coal Plant (Phase 1) is estimated to cause up to 18,000 premature deaths during its operational years," said Hasan Mehedi, Member Secretary, Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED). "Bangladesh’s air quality has already been ranked among the worst in the world. I think Japanese citizens would be outraged to know their tax money will end up hurting and even killing people in Bangladesh."

Environmental organizations with the international No Coal Japan coalition published a “10 Reasons Why Sumitomo’s Matarbari Coal Plant is a Terrible Idea” about the over-budget, behind schedule Matarbari project in advance of Sumitomo’s AGM, with heavy promotion on social media.

“Everyone knows the Matarbari Coal Plant is an overbudget, shortsighted boondoggle,” said Smith. “For Sumitomo to double down and be involved in building a second Matarbari Coal Plant is baffling.”

"There is already enough electricity, and renewable energy is cheaper than coal in Bangladesh,” said Yuki Tanabe, a program director for Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES). “The Government of Japan should not provide aid support for the climate-destroying Matarbari phase 2 project, and Sumitomo should not participate in any additional construction."

Sumitomo had previously told investors that the company would “continue to closely monitor international efforts and changes in the business environment, and will revise the [climate] policy as appropriate,” leading to speculation that the company would announce concrete new actions in 2020.

“We are disappointed Sumitomo has failed to show greater leadership on climate change. The COVID-19 crisis provided a perfect opportunity to dump unprofitable coal businesses and pivot to clean energy. It’s time for Sumitomo’s investors to ask when company leadership will issue their roadmap to exit coal,” concluded Smith.