Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

Fomenting a “Perfect Storm” to push companies to change: Q&A with Glenn Hurowitz

  • Over the past few years, Mighty Earth has emerged as one of the most influential advocacy groups when it comes pushing companies to clean up their supply chains. The group, has targeted companies that produce, trade, and source deforestation-risk commodities like beef, palm oil, cocoa, rubber, and soy.
  • Mighty Earth is led by Glenn Hurowitz, an activist who has spent the better part of the past 20 years advocating for forests and forest-dependent communities. In that capacity, Hurowitz has played a central role in pressing some of the world’s largest companies to adopt zero deforestation, peatlands, and exploitation (ZDPE) commitments.
  • Mighty Earth’s strategy is built on what Hurowitz calls the “Perfect Storm” approach: “We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company,” he explained. “It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning.
  • Hurowitz spoke about how to drive change, the evolution of environmental activism, and a range of other topics during an August 2021 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Over the past five years, Mighty Earth has emerged as one of the most influential advocacy groups when it comes pushing companies to clean up their supply chains. The group, which had its origins as the Forest Heroes campaign before evolving into a standalone non-profit organization, has targeted companies that produce, trade, and source deforestation-risk commodities like beef, palm oil, cocoa, rubber, and soy.

Mighty Earth’s approach typically starts with research and analysis of how commodities move through supply chains. From there, the group creates colorful and hard-hitting campaigns that usually take aim at consumer-facing companies, like Kellogg or Burger King, or firms that sell to them, like American agribusiness giant Cargill or Indonesia’s Korindo. Mighty Earth will often collaborate with activist investors, like Green Century Capital Management, and leverage connections with media outlets to amplify the impact of its campaigns.

Mighty Earth is led by Glenn Hurowitz, an activist who has spent the better part of the past 20 years advocating for forests and forest-dependent communities. In that capacity, Hurowitz has played a central role in pressing some of the world’s largest companies to adopt zero deforestation, peatlands, and exploitation (ZDPE) commitments.

Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon
Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon

Arguably Hurowitz’s biggest “win” came in 2013, when he persuaded Kuok Khoon Hong, the CEO of Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, to meet with NGOs about its sourcing practices. Already under pressure from a range of campaigners, financiers, and other actors at the time, Wilmar eventually would go on to establish a ZDPE policy that ushered in a wave of commitments from other players in the sector.

“The successful negotiations with Wilmar were really just the culmination of a broader strategy and campaign that spanned the world,” Hurowitz told Mongabay. “Choosing Wilmar as the key target wasn’t the automatic decision it might seem now. Many people thought at the time that they were too big, too conservative, and too opaque to change.”

“But the most important factor was their size – they were the biggest, and therefore had the potential to unlock the transformation of the whole industry,” he continued. “Change Wilmar, you change the whole industry. As the biggest, they also had greater freedom to set the standard within the industry without worrying so much that their competitors would undermine them.”

Getting Wilmar to begin the shift away from business-as-usual practices involved what Hurowitz calls the “Perfect Storm” approach.

“We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company,” he explained. “It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning. We apply principles like concentration of force, agility, and momentum to our campaigns, and our effort to change Wilmar and the whole of commodity agriculture industry really followed those principles.”

Rainforest clearing for oil palm in Gorontalo, Sulawesi in 2016. Photo credit: NASA Landsat
Rainforest clearing for oil palm in Gorontalo, Sulawesi in 2016. Photo credit: NASA Landsat

That being said, eight years on, there remains a gap between Wilmar’s ambitions — represented by its commitment — and the actual implementation of its policies: Like other companies that have adopted ZDPE commitments, Wilmar still has deforestation in its supply chain.

“[Wilmar] hasn’t always been a leader in every aspect of NDPE implementation,” said Hurowitz. “While they have helped lead the other companies to make enforcement of their palm oil policies much more rapid, they and others have not fulfilled repeated commitments to create a transparent industry-wide deforestation and human rights monitoring system. As a result, it still falls to our Rapid Response system and other NGO efforts to police Wilmar and its industry peers. With the industry’s vastly greater resources, that’s just not right.”

Hurowitz spoke about how to drive change, the evolution of environmental activism, and a range of other topics during an August 2021 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.


Mongabay: What inspired your interest in environmental issues? And what keeps you motivated?

Glenn Hurowitz: From a very early age, I’ve had a deep love of animals and Nature. I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York State, one of the cradles of America’s early conservation movement. The river is three miles wide in my hometown. Most evenings, I got to watch the sun go down behind the red cliffs of the Palisades, one of the most stunning sites in Nature. Indeed, views like those were the inspiration for the famed Hudson River School of early American naturalist, romantic painting that itself helped inspire early American conservation.

The Hudson River itself is a big part of why I’m an environmentalist, and why I can maintain hope even in the face of great adversity. When I was a kid, the Hudson was beloved, but also seen as dirty and dangerous to swim in or eat fish from. It suffered from more than a century of industrial abuse, especially from General Electric and Monsanto’s dumping of PCBs and other toxic pollutants until 1977. The Indian Point nuclear power plant just miles from my home sucked up billions of fish and other organisms every year as part of its antiquated cooling system. I woke up every morning to a view of the Hudson, and I would think about how amazing it was, but also about the pollution.

But over the course of my childhood, I saw the fruits of citizens organizing to protect the environment. Folk singer Pete Seeger had launched the sloop Clearwater in the 1960s to bring attention to the river; his small band of citizens galvanized a movement that pressured the government to clean up the river. Under sustained pressure from the Riverkeeper organization and others, the federal government forced a clean-up of the PCBs. It took decades, but it succeeded. And just this year, after decades of citizen organizing and sustained pressure, the Indian Point nuclear power plant shut down. It’s now a real thrill for me to go swimming in the Hudson River, and know that doing so is safe. It’s pretty common to see bald eagles on the banks of the river, and even whales now visit the lower part of the river again.

So, I had the great benefit in my own community of being able to see that citizen organizing could make the impossible reality. I’ve really just tried to make that happen over and over again.

There were other personal experiences that probably had a big impact and maybe helped draw me to agricultural issues like going every summer to visit my grandparents and cousins in the small village in rural Ireland where my mom grew up. I got to work with my grandfather in his small farm and turf bog. I probably had more exposure to agriculture and rural life than most Americans.

Glenn Hurowitz cutting turf in Ireland with his grandfather Denis Canning.
Glenn Hurowitz cutting turf in Ireland with his grandfather Denis Canning. Hurowitz says he formed a deep connection with nature during his youth

The other major event in my early life that launched me on the trajectory I’m on today was more political: global warming hitting the headlines for the first time in a big way when I was 10 years old. James Hansen’s Congressional testimony about the existential perils of climate change got lots of attention. I became really distressed about it to the point that I would be in the middle of a sports game and instead of focusing on whacking the ball, would start to think about global warming.

Instead of plunging into despair, I decided to do something about it – and started lugging a giant trash bag around with me, collecting cans to recycle. I was always trying to encourage recycling at school, camp, and in different places. I’m not sure other kids quite knew what to make of me: I played sports, did all sorts of regular kid activities, dressed kind of preppy, but then would also have a big trash bag trailing me at times. I guess I was kind of like a little Greta Thunberg without the global following.

I also learned at school about how important rainforests were, and it really grabbed me. When I was in middle school, we had a “Run for the Rainforest.” The kids asked parents, friends, and others to sponsor them for a certain amount per lap run around the school playground. I dived into the fundraising with great gusto and ran my heart out, and we raised several thousand dollars for rainforest conservation. I didn’t really know what else to do about the rainforest, but from then on, I always read avidly about it and thought a lot about what was happening to the rainforest.

I went to Yale for college and pursued a strong interest in journalism by writing for The Yale Daily News. It was a wonderful learning experience in so many ways. I covered loads of topics, but tried to mix in environmental coverage whenever I could. I thought that exposing environmental issues through writing about them would lead to change. I wrote about inefficient buildings, pollution at Connecticut power plants, the impact of meat eating, gaps in environmental education, and other topics. But it was pretty hard for me to detect much concrete impact from my writing. So, my senior year, I got involved with the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and worked on campaigns to green our campus and make Big Oil’s campus recruiting efforts toxic. After graduating, I went overseas for a year and, among other things, lived on a farm working in organic agriculture. But then George W. Bush got elected, and I decided I should move back to the United States to try to help save the planet from him in some small way. The only problem was that I had no idea how to do it.

I called an organizer who had worked with our campus group and told her what I wanted to do. She recommended that I apply for a year-long environmental organizing fellowship called Green Corps. It takes recent college graduates and trains them in all the skills you need to run and win environmental campaigns from grassroots recruitment to working with the media to building coalitions. I remember going to the interview weekend, and being pretty sure I wouldn’t get in. There were so many people who had far more experience than I did in environmental organizing. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what “organizing” really meant. But they took a chance on me, and it turned out to be the most important year of my career.

The other fellows and I did a month of training at the beginning of the year in Boston in the basics of organizing and campaigning, and then were sent out to different states to help local campaigns on behalf of national or state environmental organizations. For my first assignment, I went to California with eight other Green Corps organizers to support a Greenpeace campaign with a goal of securing $2 billion from the State of California and community college districts to shift funds away from natural gas and towards clean energy.

The core of the job was getting people involved at the grassroots. That meant giving them a sense of their own potential to make a difference on really big issues. I quickly saw evidence that it worked. One of my jobs was to help organize a lobby day at the State Capitol in Sacramento where we asked the volunteers we’d recruited to meet with their representatives. We held more than sixty meetings. At the end of the day, we gathered with our volunteers in the hallways of the State Capitol to recap and celebrate the day. While we were cheering and chanting, California’s Energy Czar, our main target, sought us out in the hallways to debate us for an hour. It struck me that the fact that he was talking to us seemed to bode well even if he was arguing with us. The very next week, California announced its first big investment in clean energy. Ultimately, our organizing and Greenpeace’s continued efforts secured way more than the $2 billion we were initially seeking. That was one of the early large investments in solar that helped drive lower costs around the world.

One of the great things about Green Corps was it gave you the opportunity to work in a really diverse array of communities. I worked for a while in Watts and East Los Angeles to recruit community college students to advocate for solar in their campuses; later, I went to Miami, and then North Dakota and Pittsburgh – so I had the opportunity to work in majority Black and Chicano communities, but also almost completely rural Great Plains communities. I must say that what struck me in those experiences was the commonality between different communities’ struggle to protect their environments, not the differences. Sure, there were different contexts, characters, histories, and issues. But for the most part I found that the fights were fundamentally between people of compassion and the capacity to imagine that things might not be always as they were working to overcome greed, fear, and more than anything inertia inside big institutions. This conflict is often expressed as “organized people vs. organized money,” and it is that. But it’s as often as much a battle of conviction, will, and backbone.

Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon with local partners
Glenn Hurowitz in Gabon with local partners

Organizing is hard work and full of challenges, and I was just learning how to do it. But it was worth it when people got involved in a really deep way, sometimes making a lifelong commitment to the environment. It was thrilling when people would overcome their fears and speak at a government meeting, or even just take a small step like writing a letter. Those first steps sometimes led to a lifetime of activism. I think one of the things I’ve found most exciting about my career as an organizer is when you meet up with a volunteer years later and find out that they’re still involved. If you can identify with that excitement, and have a passion for the planet, you might want to consider a career in organizing.

Since finishing Green Corps, I’ve worked on state, national, and international campaigns. Mostly, I’m just applying those very basic lessons of environmental organizing I learned in Green Corps at a grander scale.

Mongabay: Has environmental activism changed in terms of its approach or tactics since you got your start?

Glenn Hurowitz: I believe that the principles of successful activism and organizing are essentially timeless. Depth over breadth. Commitment over flash. Strategy over tactics.

Of course, the tools of organizing have changed to an extent. When I first started organizing, I did have a cell phone and mainly used email, but a lot of reporters and politicians still used fax machines. Text messaging and social media are more important, but a challenge with most digital organizing at this stage is that for many targets, high volumes of communication alone aren’t likely to change them. Politicians and big companies are somewhat inured to traditional email petitions.

There are of course instances of social media contributing to campaign wins. Most companies and politicians are sensitive to their online image, though some are developing a bit more of a thick cyber-skin.

Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

I believe that activism, including digital activism, carries great power and great responsibility. A 22-year-old organizer can recruit a handful of volunteers and change a senator’s vote, or a small NGO can do an exposé that sparks the transformation of an industry. But like any form of power, it can be abused. There’s a risk of crossing the line from movement to mob. I think because the barrier to entry is so low, social media can breed irresponsibility in activism that can be turned towards bullying. For instance, we’re working on deadly serious life and death issues: the survival of an endangered species, an Indigenous community whose defenders are threatened with murder, child and slave labor, the fate of the planet. We know the stakes are high.

And yet, we very rarely call for anybody to be fired. We pursue transformation, not just a temporarily satisfying change in personnel. Online, it sometimes feels like calling for someone to be fired is the first step. I find that even with the most serious issues, changing a CEO or politician through organizing can create long-term transformation. In our work, we’re also tackling companies far down the supply chain, and governments that may not have the same sensitivities to elite Western cultural morays. We’re not shy about applying intense pressure, but our aim ultimately is not just the fleeting satisfaction of accountability – it’s change.

Mongabay: You’ve played a leading role in the push to get companies to adopt No deforestation (NDPE) policies. A 2015 Grist article provided very good background on your pivotal meeting with Wilmar’s CEO Kuok Khoon Hong in 2013. Can you re-cap the approach you took in persuading Kuok?

Glenn Hurowitz: The successful negotiations with Wilmar were really just the culmination of a broader strategy and campaign that spanned the world. Choosing Wilmar as the key target wasn’t the automatic decision it might seem now. Many people thought at the time that they were too big, too conservative, and too opaque to change. They’re the world’s largest palm oil trader. Asia’s largest agribusinesses, are owned by one of the wealthiest families in the world, and the dossier of their environmental and human rights issues was thick. Based on research and interactions with the company, we felt that although that description was accurate, ultimately, they were a professional and dynamic company focused on their business. But the most important factor was their size – they were the biggest, and therefore had the potential to unlock the transformation of the whole industry. More than 80% of palm oil producers sold to them. Change Wilmar, you change the whole industry. As the biggest, they also had greater freedom to set the standard within the industry without worrying so much that their competitors would undermine them.

Once we identified them as the target, we had to figure out how to change them – and do so in a way that would create momentum for the transformation of the palm oil industry and commodity agriculture more broadly. The approach we used with Wilmar and Kuok was the same one we’ve used over and over again with dozens of palm oil, rubber, chocolate, steel, and meat companies: what we call our Perfect Storm approach. We work to bring pressure on a target from multiple different angles in a relatively compressed time period to the point that it becomes irresistible: their customers, financiers, media, grassroots, digital, direct engagement with the company. It’s an application of the basic principles of classical military strategy, combined with social change theory and a lot of hard-won experience to the field of environmental campaigning. We apply principles like concentration of force, agility, and momentum to our campaigns, and our effort to change Wilmar and the whole of commodity agriculture industry really followed those principles.

Many organizations contributed to creating this perfect storm with Wilmar. Rainforest Foundation Norway persuaded Nordic investors to divest from Wilmar and other palm oil companies. Previously, most institutional investors had just politely urged Wilmar and other companies to consider perhaps not engaging in quite such egregious destruction. Once divestment started, the palm oil companies started to take other investors more seriously and worry that they couldn’t just wine and dine them in Singapore and tell them how much they loved Mother Earth.

Protest outside Kellogg's HQ in Michigan over ties to Wilmar (left). Glenn Hurowitz, Kuok Khoon Hong, and Scott Poynton (right)
Protest outside Kellogg’s HQ in Michigan over ties to Wilmar (left). Glenn Hurowitz, Kuok Khoon Hong, and Scott Poynton (right)

One of the most important investor actors was Green Century Capital Management, which has a strategic sense of how to use financial influence to change companies and industries. Their shareholder advocate joined an earnings call with the CEO of Kellogg, one of Wilmar’s joint venture partners, and asked the Kellogg CEO why he was jeopardizing his multi-billion-dollar brand by partnering with one of the world’s great forest destroyers. It made the financial press, and Kellogg’s CEO started asking Wilmar’s CEO the same questions.

Grassroots work made a big difference. Our organizers also went to Michigan where Kellogg’s was based to recruit volunteers on campus and in neighborhoods with lots of Kellogg’s employees to ask why Kellogg’s was partnering with a company that destroyed Sumatran tiger habitat when its mascot was Tony the Tiger. Soon, hundreds of students were asking Kellogg’s recruiter the same question. And finally, when haze from deforestation linked to palm oil hit Singapore, we went on television to tell people in Singapore and across the region that the haze wasn’t just a phenomenon for which society as a whole was responsible, but that Wilmar held outsized responsibility.

Faced with this pressure, Wilmar’s CEO Khoon Hong wrote me a letter which was fairly defensive. I saw it as an opportunity. I wrote back and told him he had played such a leading role in Asia’s economic success, but that now he had a unique opportunity to play an equally leading role in protecting Asia’s environment. Pretty soon, we were emailing back and forth, and he invited me to Singapore to meet him.

When we met at Wilmar’s headquarters, he delivered a 15-minute diatribe about how unfair NGOs were. I couldn’t believe I’d flown for 24 hours to Singapore to listen to that. But once he got that off his chest, he was very open-minded when we talked about solutions – and in particular the potential of the palm oil industry to focus future expansion on the tens of millions of acres of previously deforested degraded lands instead of on pristine rainforest and carbon-rich peatland. We also talked about how this wasn’t just about commitments, but about implementation – and that to succeed they would need an expert implementation partner. We urged them to bring in The Forest Trust, TFT (now Earthworm Foundation), which had already worked with another major palm oil company, GAR and Greenpeace to develop the High Carbon Stock methodology to channel development onto previously deforested lands. We felt that unless they had a credible implementation partner, any commitment would be meaningless. They were skeptical, but I kept at it, and finally persuaded them to talk to TFT’s then-Executive Director Scott Poynton. I had to keep banging the drum and flew to Singapore again but felt that when Khoon Hong agreed to have Scott join our conversations, it meant they were serious and that we were likely to succeed.

Even with that, it was still a roller coaster of negotiations. I flew to Singapore five times that year to work through the issues and seal the deal. Khoon Hong was understandably nervous that his competitors wouldn’t join them. We worked with Wilmar, Earthworm and Unilever to convene a meeting with all the major competitors, and the competitors just reinforced that fear by refusing to go along. We ultimately had to persuade Khoon Hong to take a leap of faith.

Deforestation for palm oil production in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Deforestation for palm oil production in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

It was touch and go but helped by the fact that other organizations like Greenpeace and SumOfUS were also beginning to add pressure. The pressure from investors was also resonating. And at a key moment, I was able to send him photos of a huge crowd of our volunteers protesting outside Kellogg’s headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan in the middle of a very cold weekday in November. Despite the understandable fear Wilmar had about changing the way they did business, the combined pressure also created risk for them of not acting.

At the end of the day, however, adopting such a strong environmental and human rights policy, applying it to Wilmar’s hundreds of suppliers, and investing millions of dollars in implementation was an act of courage. I think Khoon Hong deserves enormous credit for it. He didn’t go for half steps, and he almost immediately made implementation of their sustainability policy a priority within the company. That set the stage for progress across the industry.

Mongabay: Of course since then, like most other big agribusiness companies, Wilmar has struggled to implement its NDPE. How would you characterize the progress Wilmar in terms of where you expected it to be by this point in time? And what is still left for it to do?

Glenn Hurowitz: In many ways, Wilmar continued to be a leader in the industry. Their forest and human rights commitment laid down the gauntlet for the industry to adopt Wilmar’s No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policy. Within months, they went further and completely disrupted commodity agriculture’s tradition of opacity by posting the identity and location of their suppliers online, creating pressure on their major competitors to do the same. And they’ve been willing, with pushing from us and others, to take leadership on other key implementation issues. At some level, to paraphrase Joe Biden, ‘we shouldn’t compare them to the Almighty, but to the alternative’. It’s difficult for me to imagine the enormous progress in the palm oil industry without Wilmar. Most recently, they were the only major palm oil trader to join the Rimba Collective, in which major companies in the palm oil supply chain finally stepped up to not just avoid deforestation, but to invest in conservation and restoration over the long term. It took many years to convince the industry to go this next step, and typically Wilmar was the first one willing to take a leap of faith.

While that’s the big picture, Wilmar has been far from perfect – and hasn’t always been a leader in every aspect of NDPE implementation. Most of its challenges are ones it has shared with pretty much every other palm oil company, but that’s not necessarily an excuse for a company with its financial resources. While they have helped lead the other companies to make enforcement of their palm oil policies much more rapid, they and others have not fulfilled repeated commitments to create a transparent industry-wide deforestation and human rights monitoring system. As a result, it still falls to our Rapid Response system and other NGO efforts to police Wilmar and its industry peers. With the industry’s vastly greater resources, that’s just not right.

Despite years of advocacy, as far as we can tell, Wilmar has done almost nothing to advance forest and human rights protection in the soy supply chain. That’s a real failure for one of the biggest soy importers to Asia. They’ve made billions of dollars in profit off their soy imports. They know how to transform industries. Merely extending enforcement of the scope of its NDPE policy to soy would have a similar transformative effect as in palm oil.

Massive illegal forest clearance in the Gran Chaco as seen from the air in Argentina. Image by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm via Mighty Earth.

One of the other areas where they lag is in extending the scope of its NDPE policy to all business activities of the groups they buy from. We have filed repeated grievances with Wilmar for sourcing from groups that continue to clear rainforests for other commodities. They refused to act on the deforestation because it wasn’t directly for palm oil, for example – they simply classify such cases as ‘ineligible grievances’ on its website.

One of Wilmar’s largest palm oil suppliers is Astra Agro Lestari, part of the Astra Group which is owned by the British conglomerate Jardines Matheson. We found that a gold mining division of Astra, only bought in late 2018, is actively destroying the rainforest habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the most endangered great ape species in the world. This is disappointing on its own merit, and also because several other companies that source palm from Astra such as Hershey’s, PZ Cussons, Unilever, COFCO International, Oleon, for example, are pressuring the group even if they don’t buy gold from its mine. For example, Unilever grievance log states: ‘we have stated our concerns on the allegations to the company and encouraged to halt developments before HCS/HCV assessments have been completed and submitted for independent review’.

Wilmar needs to urgent extend the scope of its NDPE policy across all commodities and to all business activities of the groups they source from. When that happens, we could see greater ambition from its industry peers.

Mongabay: What has been the biggest lesson for you after a decade or so of NDPE engagement with companies?

Glenn Hurowitz: Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. I don’t think the companies would have done anywhere near as much as they did without monitoring and real sustained campaign and commercial pressure. One of the ways we’ve worked to drive industry-wide implementation of these commitments is through our Rapid Response monitoring system. Our team continually monitors approximately 30 million hectares of land in Southeast Asia for deforestation and we do similar monitoring of the meat industry in South America. We then file alerts with the agribusinesses alerting them to instances of deforestation. The good news is they respond. The program has driven more than 250 supply chain discontinuations in palm oil, and dozens of new forest and human rights policies by palm oil producers.

Oil palm plantation. Photo credit: Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Oil palm plantation. Photo credit: Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

We believe this program is a major driver of the extraordinary success in reducing deforestation for palm oil, and in Southeast Asia more broadly. The other important ingredient is campaigns that we and allies have done, particularly in Asian markets for palm oil. Many of the remaining rogue actors who have resisted pressure from the mainstream traders, consumer companies, and financiers thought they could continue business as usual because they served mainly Asian markets. That’s been a myth. The reality is that the public in many Asian markets is at least as concerned as Westerners about these issues, and we’ve seen great success in changing companies there too.

Overall, the combination of monitoring and campaigns has made a major contribution to success in reducing deforestation for palm oil. In Indonesia, deforestation has declined from about one million acres per year in 2014 to 93,900 in 2020, the fourth straight year it was less than 250,000 acres. If sustained over ten years, this reduction translates to about 1.6 gigatons of reduced pollution – and there are thousands of orangutans, tree kangaroos, and birds of paradise alive today because of it. This decline in deforestation in the palm oil industry, complemented by some governmental actions, have contributed to an overall decline in deforestation for palm oil to its lowest level in more than 30 years. I hope the monitoring and campaigns can continue.

It’s a huge environmental and climate success and one that’s gotten too little attention. That’s a shame because there are major lessons for changing other industries too. We’ve seen huge progress in palm oil, pulp and paper and rubber, and the beginnings of action in cocoa. But the meat industry is a bigger driver of deforestation than all of the other commodities combined. We’ve tried to bring the successful model to the meat industry, but there’s been relatively little funding for advocacy to drive that transformation. We are seeing growing interest in this area from our NGO allies, especially after the raging Amazon fires of the past few years, but there just needs to be an order of magnitude more funding for this work.

Mongabay: Over the past decade, there seems to be much greater awareness in the conservation sector about the contributions Indigenous peoples and local communities have made toward achieving conservation outcomes. What has driven this shift?

Glenn Hurowitz: There are a lot of studies that show clearly in many places that Indigenous communities are the best defenders of the forests. It makes sense: there’s just no substitute for having a community that cares so much about the place they live that they’re willing to fight and in all too many cases die for it. I think most people will understand that. In our work, where local communities are ready to fight for their land, we usually see industrial deforestation projects run into huge obstacles from the resistance from local communities. We try to make sure the voices of those communities are heard – and that impacts on them are documented.

Heavy equipment owned by Korindo’s subsidiary, PT Papua Agro Lestari, collect wood to be burned (stacking), at its concession in Jair sub-district, Boven Digoel district, Papua, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mighty Earth.

Of course, on the ground, defining who is Indigenous and local can be complicated. There are Indigenous groups who live a fairly traditional lifestyle, depend on the forest and its bounty for their livelihood and culture. Most people would agree that they’re an Indigenous community. But there are often groups of illegal miners, ranchers, loggers, and wildlife traffickers, sometimes with the backing of major financial interests or governments, who claim the mantle of Indigenous or local communities. Sometimes we also find that there are Indigenous and local communities on different sides of an issue. And there are differences between Indigenous and local communities’ legal rights, modes of organization, and culture across regions, religions, and countries. So, it requires a lot of local knowledge and partnership to get this right. But the good news is that there is much more attention being paid to it by civil society at least. There needs to be way more attention to it from companies and governments.

Mongabay: We’ve heard a lot more about stakeholder inclusivity in recent years, especially in the context of the past year between the social justice movement in the U.S. and criticisms of colonial practices among some big NGOs. How is this manifesting in the work you do?

Glenn Hurowitz: First off, the opinion that really matters here in how common this phenomenon is those of truly impacted communities, so I’d defer to them.

But from my personal perspective, it’s worth saying: the colonial and exploitative behavior we see every day in our work comes primarily from big agribusinesses. It just doesn’t compare to any mistakes big NGOs may make. Cargill, JBS, and other meat companies are still driving deforestation on a vast scale. Their suppliers have burned and bulldozed millions of acres of ancient rainforest and savannah to make way for giant plantations and ranches, dispossessed Indigenous communities, and then export that meat and feed to be sold in supermarkets like Tesco, Carrefour and Stop & Shop. Agribusiness interests in Brazil are advancing legislation to make land-grabbing even easier. I’ve heard executives inside the Jardine Matheson conglomerate express utter contempt for the aspirations of Indigenous communities who had been displaced by their palm oil operations to get just a small fraction of their land back. The chocolate industry continues to blithely buy cocoa from suppliers in Côte d’Ivoire whose farmers make an average of less than a dollar a day, child labor is widespread, and there has been repeated use slavery. Cargill and Nestle just argued in the Supreme Court that even if they had profited off of slavery in their supply chain, they shouldn’t be held responsible under US law. That is true colonialism and exploitation.

Having said that, big NGOs and little NGOs must make sure they’re inclusive too, and I include us in that group. It’s probably worth saying: We’re not a big NGO, but we navigate these issues too. The biggest challenge we face here is that it’s a lot easier to be inclusive and show inclusivity when operating in a relatively free society. Even where democracy and civil liberties are not fully developed, if there’s a measure of freedom, our campaigns can open doors for local civil society and Indigenous communities through international campaigns on big corporate interests.

Deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Image credit: Mighty Earth
Deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Image credit: Mighty Earth

One of my proudest moments at Mighty Earth was when I visited Gabon in 2017 after our campaign to persuade Olam to stop deforestation for palm oil and rubber in the country and more broadly throughout its global supply chains. We’d worked to persuade the Singapore sovereign wealth fund, its owners, other Asian financial institutions, and customers of Olam in Europe and elsewhere to persuade the company to stop destroying forests. We also filed a complaint against Olam with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The strategy worked. Olam agreed to stop deforestation. But there was a lot more to address a range of issues affecting local communities, and ensure a more broadly supportive context for conservation in the industry. The company was very reluctant to meet with our civil society allies and local community representatives. They tried to confine our meetings with government ministers and members of the parliament to me. But of course, I insisted that I would head home without meeting the ministers if our local allies couldn’t join. Pretty quickly, the invitation was extended to include them. And I think the government at least was glad that it was. Our local partners were unsurprisingly able to bring a level of knowledge far deeper than what I had about sustainable development in Gabon with everyone from the Agriculture to Defense ministers far deeper than what I was. We were able to help bring international commercial leverage to open doors for them. But once the doors were open, they knew way more about local issues in Gabon than we did. We were able to step back and let them lead.

When I joined our local partners on a visit to Olam’s plantations, one of them said to me “You know, we’ve been trying to raise these issues with Olam and the government for years, but they wouldn’t listen. You’re based in Washington, DC, you’re working in Singapore and Europe, and somehow now they’ll listen.” That was really encouraging to hear; I felt like we were doing our job.

In many countries, however, working with local civil society became more challenging during the Trump era. There has been a tidal wave of nationalistic authoritarianism sweeping many of the countries we work in. The United States, while imperfect and with a troubling record in many countries, had also acted as a constraint on the more authoritarian impulses of many governments. The Trump administration’s retreat from issues of human rights and democracy gave many governments what they perceived to be a blank check to do to do what’s convenient for them towards civil society groups in their own countries, as well as their international allies.

A tractor works to turn deforested land into soy fields in São Desidério, Bahia state, Brazil in 2017. Credit: Jim Wickens Ecostorm/Mighty Earth.

For us, this has meant navigating a much more complex landscape. Civil society organizations and Indigenous communities that once felt free to speak up now face real pressure from companies and governments alike. In this context, it falls paradoxically much more to international organizations like us to try and use our influence with the private sector, international governments, and the public to continue to represent the voices of local communities even when they are constrained in their ability to speak up themselves. This can lead to accusations of international interference from the likes of Bolsonaro. But it is sadly necessary when government intimidates its own citizens.

Although the United States has a dramatically better government now, and the Biden administration has exceeded our expectations on so many fronts, it will likely take some time to restore America’s credibility as a reliable advocate for basic civil liberties.

Mongabay: Shifting gears a bit, I’d like to ask about Mighty Earth, which you started. What have been the biggest lessons for you in the journey of starting and growing a non-profit?

Glenn Hurowitz: In general, the more you can do to decide what kind of culture you want or need and make sure you’re both hiring for those qualities and cultivating them are critical.

It’s important to be really clear about what you really value. For us, we’re obsessed with impact, and aren’t shy about that. We want to make the most impact per dollar of any organization in the world. To achieve impact, we believe we need to be principled, agile, and entrepreneurial. We need people who are just thrilled to work at a place with those qualities. We want people who thrive in a culture of freedom and responsibility. It’s not for everyone, but we believe it drives outsized change.

This approach goes beyond “Values.” You can go to almost any company or non-profit organization and see values up on the wall like integrity and respect. That’s great. I share those values, and I think most people in our organization do too and try to live them. But they’re not what distinguishes us. What we hope distinguishes us above all else is impact.

Glenn Hurowitz, Kate Brooks, and crew in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Glenn Hurowitz, Kate Brooks, and crew in Batang Toru, Sumatra.

There are three books I recommend for any organizational leaders, whether you’re the CEO or a manager: Good to Great by Jim Collins; No Rules Rules by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer; and The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. We aspire to live up to the models in those books.

Our greatest challenge is funding. There’s an incredibly insightful line from Tom Tierney of the Bridgespan Group that’s quoted in Good to Great for the Social Sector, a monograph that accompanies the original: “the social sectors do not have rational capital markets that deliver resources to those who deliver the best results.” Success in our work doesn’t necessarily translate into more funding.

For us, we’ve definitely encountered this challenge. I think we’ve had a great track record of translating relatively limited resources into gigaton-scale results. But we’ve relied mainly on big institutional donors, and that can come with some baggage. Since we started pretty small, it’s an efficient way of raising money – especially for us, where we work on issues that are of outsized importance, but may not have yet hit the same chord with general funders or the public yet.

For instance, we work on Nature conservation which represents one third of the near-term solution to climate change, but gets less than two percent of the funding of that goes towards energy. We work on heavy industry decarbonization, which represents a quarter of global climate pollution, but which has received almost no attention. The institutional funders are the ones that tend to be aware of those issues and interested in sophisticated solutions.

A scorched animal skull revealed in the aftermath of a fire. Fire is often used as a tool for converting forests and other native vegetation to croplands in Brazil, destroying biodiversity. Photo by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm / Mighty Earth.

However, while some of our donors embrace advocacy, some of the larger funders have a temperamental discomfort with it. They love the transformative results, but don’t like the messiness: they value academic dispassion, and activists are passionate. Companies and governments can get mad when they’re attacked. They’d be way happier if just developing a new technology or a really smart policy was enough. Those things can definitely help, but they’re not enough. It’s a rare technology that can reach economies of scale without companies and governments facing pressure to deploy it. Sometimes, even when the economics work, inertia prevent its deployment. I would even argue that advocacy can be a way more efficient way to get governments and the private sector to themselves develop new technologies or policy solutions, rather than have philanthropies with more limited resources try to do it themselves.

Ultimately, I agree with the idea that philanthropy do more to fund successful organizations, and not just projects. Philanthropy gives that concept a lot of lip service, but there are relatively few funders that actually follow it. I think we’re starting to see some donors who are actually starting to shift in that direction, but there needs to be more.

Mongabay: What are some areas that you’re eyeing in for future work?

Glenn Hurowitz: Our top priority is the transformation of the global protein sector. The meat industry causes more deforestation, more climate pollution, more water pollution, and more displacement of Indigenous communities than all other agricultural industries combined. On climate alone, meat produces more pollution than the entire transportation sector. The meat industry is also responsible for slaughtering wolves, mountain lions, grizzly bears and other animals that they believe threaten their flocks. We’ve got to move away from such an unsustainable model of getting our food.

How are we doing it: We’re of course working to transform the private sector protein industry. That means getting supermarkets like Carrefour and Tesco to stop selling meat from forest destroyers and climate polluters like Cargill and JBS. But it also means persuading those supermarkets to get away from the problems with meat altogether by offering more plant-based and cultivated protein options. These are increasingly affordable and tasty, and it’s possible to envision a world where people can get protein without the destruction and suffering created by JBS and Cargill.

Gran Chaco forest in Argentina being cleared for a soy plantation. Image by Jim Wickens, Ecostorm via Mighty Earth.

There is also a major role for government. In the United States, the Biden administration is doing outstanding work on so many fronts to drive a shift to clean energy. The USDA is working to protect Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest and other critical public lands. But when it comes to the meat industry, they’re still celebrating the opening of beef processing plants that not only cook the climate but were one of the early super spreaders of Covid. I wish they would put equal energy into funding a Manhattan Project-scale project to shift to plant-based and cultivated protein. There’s probably no greater step the Biden administration and Congress could take to act on climate.

Mongabay: What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved?

Glenn Hurowitz: A large percentage of people care passionately about the issues we work on. Maybe they’re concerned about climate change, or they want to help species like bears, sloths and orangutans, or they’ve seen the impact plantation agriculture can have on Indigenous communities. Perhaps they’ve had a chance to travel to some amazing place either in their home country or overseas. But it’s hard to know what to do about it. And most nature and environmental films either focus on the beauty (and cuteness) of Nature or just delve into a depressing analysis of the problem. There are few that offer solutions or follow those who are working to do something about it.

Our job as organizers and campaigners is to give people something real and meaningful to do that will make a difference on the issues they care about. It can be at the most basic level giving a donation or sending a tweet. But if people want something more meaningful, they can take it to the next level and come to an in-person activist event. Of course, the next level from that is dedicating your life and career to this work. It’s the most rewarding pursuit possible.

Conservation is the only way that humans can truly brush up against the eternal. A successful company might create a fortune that lasts a few generations; a great painting might be famous for a few centuries; a statue might delight for thousands of years. But they will all perish. But saving a species or 10 species will allow life to survive and flourish for millions and billions of years. There is no other field that offers the opportunity for that kind of positive legacy.

Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth
Logging concession in Indonesia. Photo credit: Yudhi Mahendra / Mighty Earth

Find something you can do to make a difference and do it. Of course, I would certainly encourage people to sign up with Mighty Earth, but there are lots of organizations from National Wildlife Federation to Sierra Club to Greenpeace to Sunrise and SumOfUs that are doing outstanding work – as well as loads of local organizations.

If you are interested in making a career of this work, there are great opportunities to get started: here in America, the Green Corps fellowship and Environment America are amazing ways to learn skills for a lifetime and enter a wonderful community. Sunrise has really created many opportunities for young people to get involved. Try and keep trying. If you are determined, you’ll find a way at the local, state, national or even global level. And there’s nothing more rewarding.

Mongabay: What would you say to young people who are distressed about the current trajectory of the planet?

Glenn Hurowitz: First, I know how you feel. It would be insane not to feel distressed. More than a decade ago, I took time off of active organizing and campaigning to write a book about politics. The thing about writing is that you hope it will have an impact, but it’s a long time between conception and publication. It was a worthwhile project, but I remember that being away from regular involvement in advocacy made me just focus on how daunting the problems were.

But here’s the amazing thing. Getting involved in environmental campaigns can have an impact far beyond what you think possible. There’s no better medicine for distress than doing something about it. We’re not a huge organization. But in large measure because of the activist energy and power that fuels us, we’ve helped change dozens of companies and driven decarbonization of whole industries. I think there are many endangered species that are alive today because of our work. We can point to specific forests that probably would have been bulldozed if we hadn’t intervened. Companies and governments are sensitive to their image -and especially when people of courage find strategically powerful levers to influence them, it really works. We had activists show up at Mandarin Oriental hotels in elephant costumes to change the second largest palm oil company in Indonesia – and it worked.

I think one important caveat is that individuals shouldn’t try to take on the whole burden of trying to “save the planet.” It’s too overwhelming and it doesn’t make sense. No one person or organization is going to do that alone. But you can make an outsized difference on a particular forest, the survival of a particular species, or even a big company, industry, or government policy with persistence and passion. And doing that will then contribute to the planet as a whole.

Contributing to this kind of impact, or just being in the fight, eliminates the existential dread that, while entirely justifiable, can also be utterly paralyzing. Being a happy warrior is good for the soul.

Why Natural Rubber Must be Kept in the EU’s Anti-Deforestation Law

Read the full Mighty Earth report on the EU's anti-deforestation law

Why Natural Rubber Must be Kept in the EU’s Anti-Deforestation Law

Mighty Earth is deeply concerned that natural rubber has been excluded from the European Commission’s forthcoming anti-deforestation law to tackle EU-driven deforestation and ecosystem loss. Due for release in December 2021, the EC’s proposed new supply chain anti-deforestation law will apply to a list of key Forest and Ecosystem Risk Commodities (FERCs) – which until recently was anticipated would cover key known forest-risk commodities[1], including natural rubber.

However, a leaked impact assessment [2] shows rubber is omitted from the latest list of commodities covered by the new EU law. Instead, the leaked impact assessment shows the EU law will only apply to beef, palm oil, soy, wood, cocoa and coffee.

We believe this would be a major omission and a huge set-back in the fight against deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change. The briefing sets out the reasons why failure to include rubber under the new law poses a serious and significant threat to millions of hectares of tropical forests, ecosystems and habitats in Southeast Asia, West Africa and beyond over the coming decade.

Rubber booms cause mass deforestation

Fuelled by a boom in market demand, rapid expansion of rubber production since 2000 has had a devastating impact on millions of hectares of rainforests and wildlife habitats, as well as the human rights of hundreds of local and Indigenous communities.

Recent studies found over five million hectares of tropical forest were cleared in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for rubber plantations between 2003 and 2017.[3] Similarly, a 2018 study [4] for the European Commission attributes some three million hectares of forest loss in Southeast Asia – including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – directly to an increase in rubber cultivation since 2000.[5] In Cambodia, for example, over half a million hectares of tropical forest was cleared and replaced with rubber trees between 2001-2015 – accounting for 23% of Cambodia’s gross forest loss.[6]

To highlight the devastating impact of poorly regulated rubber expansion, groups like Greenpeace, Global Witness, Oakland Institute and Mighty Earth have documented harrowing evidence of widespread deforestation, forced evictions, illegal logging, livelihoods destruction, harassment, human rights abuses, and biodiversity loss linked to the expansion of rubber plantations in numerous tropical countries, including Cambodia, Cameroon, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Rubber demand set to boom by a third by 2030

Most natural rubber is used in auto tyres (about 70% of the total), but rubber is used in thousands of ways, from engineering and industrial applications, to boots, mattresses, condoms and latex gloves. Following a lull over recent years and a sharp contraction under Covid-19, global demand for natural rubber will soon exceed pre-pandemic levels [7] and is forecast to jump by a third by 2030. Based on industry figures, the latest International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) forecasts show global natural rubber demand is set to boom by 33 percent by 2030 – up from 12.7 million tonnes in 2020 to 16.9 million tonnes in 2030.[8] Similarly, global consumption of natural rubber is forecast to jump by 28% over the decade to 2030.[9]

Major deforestation predicted

Alarmingly, academics say millions of hectares of forest clearances are predicted as rubber demand rises, and warn of severe biodiversity and major species losses – including increased extinction risks for a host of extinction-threatened amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.[10]

To give a sense of the scale of the threat posed to forests, ecosystems and biodiversity, experts estimated in 2015 that 4.3–-8.5 million hectares of additional rubber plantations were required to meet rising demand by 2024,[11] while industry estimates in 2018 found 2.5--3.9 million hectares of additional land area will be required to meet rising demand by 2027.[12]

While the bulk of the additional demand for natural rubber will go to booming Chinese and Asia-Pacific markets,[13] consumption in the EU is still highly significant (some 318 million auto tyres were produced in European plants last year)[14] and global forecasts show EU consumption of natural rubber for auto tyres is set to rise steadily by 12% over the decade to 2030 – up from 742,000 tonnes in 2020 to 834,000 tonnes in 2030.[15]

Rubber was always considered a FERC

The EC’s decision to drop rubber from the EU’s anti-deforestation law has no logical basis. Rapid expansion of rubber production in Southeast Asia and other tropical areas has long been identified by the EC and other key actors[16] as one of the top seven agricultural imports into the EU associated with deforestation and forest degradation.

As early as 2013, a major report [17] for the EC on imported deforestation identified rubber as an important contributor to deforestation, while a key follow-up study for the EC in 2018 [18] and a subsequent EC Communication report to the EU Parliament in 2019 included rubber alongside palm oil, meat, beef, soy, cocoa, coffee, maize and timber as key agricultural imports into the EU associated with deforestation and forest degradation.[19]

Most importantly, the European Parliament passed a Resolution [20] on 22 October 2020 which recommended the European Commission draw up a legal proposal to tackle imported deforestation and instructed the EC that the proposal should cover all commodities that are most frequently associated with deforestation, degradation of natural forests and conversion and degradation of natural ecosystems.[21]Significantly, the Resolution instructed the EC that the list of commodities covered by the law should “comprise at least palm oil soy, meat, leather, cocoa, coffee, rubber and maize.” [22]

Restore rubber to EU anti-deforestation law

The EU plays an absolutely central role in the global tyre and rubber supply chain. Seven out of ten of the top global tyre and rubber corporations have their headquarters or key tyre plants based in Europe – including Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin, Pirelli and Sumitomo. [23] With global rubber demand set to boom by a third by 2030, the threat of millions of hectares of rubber-related deforestation and degradation of carbon-rich ecosystems is real, and extremely urgent. That’s why we’re urging the EU to restore rubber to the EU’s anti-deforestation law and pressing the EU to act now to help drive out deforestation and human rights abuses from global rubber supply chains and consumer markets.

Read the full Mighty Earth report on the EU's anti-deforestation law here

[1] European Commission (2019) Communication from The Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019

[2] "Leaked EU anti-deforestation law omits fragile grasslands and wetlands', The Guardian, 14 September 2021, Jennifer Rankin

[3] Wang M H et al (2020) Reconciling Rubber Expansion with Biodiversity Conservation, Current Biology 30, 3825-3832, 5 October 2020

[4] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[5] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[6] Grogan K et al (2019) Unravelling the link between global rubber price and tropical deforestation in Cambodia, Nature Plants, Vol 5, January 2019, 47-53

[7] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, International Rubber Study Group: Singapore

[8] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[9] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[10] Wang M H et al (2020) Reconciling Rubber Expansion with Biodiversity Conservation, Current Biology 30, 3825-3832, 5 October 2020

[11] Warren-Thomas E et al (2015) Increasing Demand for Natural Rubber Necessitates a Robust Sustainability Initiative to Mitigate Impacts on Tropical Biodiversity, Conservation Letters, July/August 2015, 8(4), 230-241

[12] IRSG (2018) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects to 2027, June 2018, IRSG: Singapore

[13] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[14] ETRMA (2020) The European Tyre Industry Facts and Figures 2020 Edition, European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA): Brussels

[15] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[16] See: WWF (2021) Deforestation Fronts, Drivers and Responses in a Changing World, WWF: Gland, Switzerland; WRI (2020) Estimating the Role of Seven Commodities in Agriculture-linked Deforestation: Oil palm, Soy, Cattle, Wood Fiber, Cococa, and Rubber, Technical Note, October 2020, World Resources Institute: Washington DC, United States

[17] EC (2013) The impact of EU consumption on deforestation: Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, Final Report, Technical Report 2013, 063, European Commission, DG Environment: Brussels

[18] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[19] European Commission (2019) Communication from The Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019

[20] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see:

[21] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see:

[22] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see:

[23] ETRMA (2019) European Tyre & Rubber Industry Statistics, Edition 2019, ETRMA: Brussels

Progress on Climate - Sumitomo Pulling Out of Australian Coal Mine

For Immediate Release

August 24, 2021

Progress on Climate- Sumitomo Pulling Out of Australian Coal Mine

Tokyo. Mighty Earth praises Sumitomo Corporation’s recent announcement it would sell its stake in the Rolleston thermal coal mine in Queensland, Australia.

“Sumitomo recently updated its climate policy to exit coal mining by 2030 and we applaud this concrete step towards that goal. Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C will require deep near-term pollution cuts so we call upon Sumitomo to hasten its exit from coal mining and coal power generation,” stated Mighty Earth’s Japan Project Manager, Roger Smith.

In June 2021, Mighty Earth released a report “Smokescreen: Sumitomo’s ‘Carbon Neutral’ Failures” on Sumitomo’s continued fossil fuel dependence and outlined steps the company needs to take on climate change.

Déforestation : Les ONG tirent la sonnette d’alarme à l’aube d’une nouvelle saison record d’incendies au Brésil.

Déforestation : Les ONG tirent la sonnette d’alarme à l’aube d’une nouvelle saison record d’incendies au Brésil 

Au premier semestre 2021, la déforestation en Amazonie a augmenté de 17 % par rapport au premier semestre 2020. Alors que la saison sèche s’ouvre au Brésil, le nombre d’incendies dépasse déjà celui de l’année dernière à la même période. Ces chiffres laissent présager de nouveaux records d'incendies au Brésil cet été. Face à ce désastre environnemental, climatique et social, la France reste passive. Pourtant, nos importations de produits issus de la déforestation contribuent directement à la destruction des écosystèmes exceptionnels de ces régions : l'Amazonie et le Cerrado sont détruits pour laisser place aux pâturages pour l'élevage de bœufs et aux champs de soja que la France importe massivement pour nourrir ses animaux d’élevage.

L’année dernière a déjà été marquée par des incendies spectaculaires qui ont ravagé plus de 310 000 km2 au Brésil, avec la caution du Président brésilien Jair Bolsonaro. Pour la troisième année consécutive, la forêt aura perdu environ 10 000 km2 de sa surface, soit l'équivalent de la superficie de la région Île-de-France ! Le rythme de destruction est tel que les scientifiques nous alertent sur le point de non-retour que pourrait atteindre la forêt amazonienne : si aucune action immédiate n’est entreprise pour inverser la trajectoire, cette immense forêt tropicale se transformera irréversiblement en savane, menant à la destruction irréversible de cet écosystème essentiel à la survie de l'humanité.

Les conséquences de la déforestation ne se limitent pas aux frontières des régions touchées : la bonne santé de ces écosystèmes comportant une biodiversité unique est vitale au maintien de l’équilibre climatique planétaire. Aujourd’hui, l’Amazonie brésilienne ne parvient plus à assurer son rôle de poumon de la planète et vient d’atteindre un point de bascule inquiétant. Selon une étude scientifique publiée dans Nature Climate Change, elle émet désormais davantage de carbone qu’elle ne contribue à en séquestrer. Si rien n’est fait pour inverser la trajectoire, c’est toute l’Amazonie qui pourrait basculer et devenir émettrice nette de carbone, mettant en danger l’équilibre mondial.

A l’aube d’une saison de nouveau marquée par les incendies dévastateurs, il y a une urgence absolue à agir immédiatement. En 2019, Emmanuel Macron reconnaissait la responsabilité de la France et s’engageait à agir pour freiner la destruction de l’Amazonie. Deux ans après, le constat est amer : la cadence de nos importations issues de la déforestation n’a pas ralenti et la destruction de l’Amazonie s’est accélérée.

Si la France s’est dotée d’une Stratégie nationale de lutte contre la déforestation importée en novembre 2018, celle-ci est restée lettre morte, faute d’ambition et de volonté politiques. L’action de la France demeurera inefficace tant que les mesures ne seront pas contraignantes et reposeront sur le bon-vouloir des entreprises. Pour garantir que le soja qu’elle importe n’est pas issu de la déforestation, la France doit prendre des mesures pour contraindre les importateurs à garantir et prouver que les produits qu’ils mettent sur le marché français ne sont pas liés à la déforestation ou à la destruction d’écosystèmes naturels.

De même, le gouvernement ne peut continuer à négocier des accords qui risqueraient d'accroître la déforestation en Amérique du Sud. Selon l’expertise scientifique mandatée par le gouvernement, l’entrée en vigueur de l’accord de libre-échange entre l’Union européenne et le Mercosur augmenterait significativement la déforestation dans les pays du Mercosur, jusqu’à 25 % par an pendant six ans. La France doit bloquer l'adoption de cet accord et de tout instrument présentant le risque de contribuer à l'accélération de la déforestation.

En septembre 2021, les regards seront rivés sur la France qui accueillera à Marseille le Congrès mondial de la nature de l’Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature (UICN). Avant la fin de l’année, la Commission européenne proposera un projet de législation pour lutter contre la déforestation. La France aura la responsabilité de faire aboutir un texte ambitieux puisqu’elle assurera la présidence de l’Union européenne au premier semestre 2022. Cette loi devra contraindre les entreprises à garantir que les produits qu’elles mettent sur le marché européen ne sont ni liés à la destruction des forêts, savanes et prairies du monde, ni à des violations de droits humains. C’est seulement à ces conditions que l’on pourra inverser la trajectoire destructrice de la déforestation en Amérique du Sud et espérer préserver l’équilibre environnemental et climatique.


Liste des signataires 

Véronique Andrieux, Directrice générale du WWF France ; Clotilde Bato, Présidente de Notre Affaire à Tous ; Jonathan Guyot, Co-fondateur de all4trees ; Jean-François Julliard, Directeur de Greenpeace France ; Charlotte Meyrueis, Directrice de Coeur de Forêt ; Xavier Morin, Directeur de Canopée ; Nico Muzi, Directeur Europe de Mighty Earth ; Boris Patentreger, Co-fondateur d’Envol Vert ; Arnaud Schwartz, Président de France Nature Environnement ; Evrard Wendenbaum, Fondateur de Naturevolution.

Tesco's meat problem

Tesco's meat problem

Britain’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco sells a lot of meat – hundreds of millions of chickens a year alone. Three weeks ago, Tesco produced a new set of requirements for its meat suppliers to try and address the massive environmental consequences of those meat sales, starting with the soy-based animal feed used to fatten chicken, pigs and cows for its own-brand meat and dairy offer.

The long overdue update has been produced following campaign efforts from Mighty Earth and Greenpeace UK – with consumers calling on the company to drop the worst forest destroyers in its supply chain.

Meat has outsized environmental consequences. Raising meat produces more climate pollution, fouls more drinking water, and requires more land for livestock and feed globally than all other food crops combined - for a fraction of the nutritional value.

But the single most acute environmental consequence is the bulldozing and burning of millions of acres of rainforest and other ecosystems to make way for industrial animal feed plantations and cattle ranches.

There has been more land in the Amazon and Cerrado Biomes of Brazil bulldozed for soy plantations than the entire land mass of Israel or Slovenia in just 11 years.

Unless companies like Tesco take strict action, it could get worse very quickly: proposed legislation in front of the Brazilian legislature, which if passed, puts at least 19.6 million hectares of public land in the Amazon at risk from large agribusiness companies trying to grab land to make more industrial feed and meat.

Within this context, the new requirements for Tesco meat suppliers sourcing from South America to have a strict no-deforestation, no-conversion and no-human rights abuse policy – based on a ‘cut-off date’, a biome-wide agreement and improved transparency in sourcing represents an improvement over the status quo.

However, unless the details are strengthened, Tesco shoppers will still be eating chicken and pork connected to the destruction of the rainforest and tropical savannah in Brazil for some time.

Supplier impunity on deforestation 

Tesco’s policy, in essence, allows agribusinesses that supply animal feed to continue driving deforestation with impunity while supplying the company. In particular:

  • Tesco fails to spell out how or when it will suspend meat suppliers sourcing soy animal feed from companies that drive the destruction of the Amazon and the Cerrado in Brazil, nor how they will exclude traders from their supply chain complicit in deforestation. For example, even with a recent policy commitment to zero deforestation, US agribusiness behemoth Cargill will accept or condone deforestation in its supply chain until at least 2030 – giving industrial meat interests nine years to bulldoze as much land as possible.
  • The scheme allows suppliers to purchase ‘mass balance’ credits or certificates if they are unable to prove that their soy is either from deforestation-free areas or from a ‘gold standard’ certified source of supply. This discredited approach is a ‘get out of jail free’ card because it could inadvertently support deforestation by allowing Tesco suppliers like Cargill to buy soy from recently destroyed forests and savannahs, and then buy credits from land that was cleared some time ago. This type of approach has also been criticised for lacking transparency and undermining traceability.
  • Finally, while the policy pays lip service to the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFI), it fails to advance the principle of ‘group level accountability’ for deforestation into practice. The AFI is currently advancing guidance that bestows responsibility on traders for land conversion that happens on any farms owned by the farmers supplying them, rather than just the farms directly in their supply chain. At present, the Tesco policy allows traders such as Cargill to sell Tesco suppliers certified no-deforestation animal feed, while continuing to buy from farmers that are razing forests in other parts of its supply chain.

A tangible way forward

We have seen whole industries change when they enforce robust policies on suppliers engaged in deforestation, pollution, or human rights abuse.

Many consumer facing companies have adopted strict policies on palm oil, for instance, that simply required suppliers not to engage in deforestation, with no excuses, no credits, and no greenwashing. Those policies were a key driver of a massive environmental success: deforestation for palm oil is down more than 90%.

Until Tesco and other companies adopt similarly strong policies and cut ties with supplier companies that are driving the destruction of Brazil’s forests – such as JBS, Cargill and Bunge, its meat is still going to be driving environmental destruction on an enormous scale.

These policies are simple, clear and affordable: to comply, all producers must do is produce meat and beef on the 1.6 billion acres of previously deforested land instead of expanding on the agricultural frontier.

That should just be the easy first step, instead of something we must fight for. But if Tesco is going to provide truly sustainable protein, it needs to go further:

  1. Help shift consumers to sustainable, plant-based diets. As a leading retailer in the UK, Tesco has a role to play in influencing consumer behaviour towards these diets which begin to tackle the demand-drivers of deforestation.
  2. Support strong forest protections in producer countries, while promoting the use of existing agricultural or degraded land for soy production. Advocacy by Tesco and other supermarkets when forest laws are under threat can help in this regard, as can cutting commercial links with suppliers that support deregulation of forest protections.
  1. Work with others to ensure full transparency and traceability in meat from farm to product; ensure that all soy entering the market is from ‘clean’ suppliers and move forward the principle of ‘group-level responsibility’ for deforestation - meaning that companies cannot deforest in some parts of their operation while selling ‘sustainable soy’ simultaneously to other parts of the market.

While Tesco shows positive intent through its new policy, action in these three areas would prove that the company is serious in tackling the drivers of deforestation, rather than allowing its suppliers to cut down forests on one hand, while reaping the benefits of sustainability certification and credits on the other.

Hat Yai sustainable rubber workshop

Learning how to 'do' sustainable rubber

July 27, 2021

Read the Report

As part of Mighty Earth’s continuing efforts to advance sustainability within the natural rubber sector, we are thrilled to be co-publishing a new practical guide for rubber industry actors, entitled “Sustainable Natural Rubber: pathways, policies and partnerships”.

The guide is based on expressed demand from stakeholders following a workshop of the same title, held in Hat Yai, Thailand, in September 2019, which was co-hosted by Mighty Earth, Rainforest Allianceeinhorn ProductsEarthnet Foundation, and the Prince of Songkla University. This event brought together over one hundred rubber farmers, traders, processors, CSOs representatives, government officials, academics, and consumer brand companies to share knowledge and and potential solutions to environmental, social, and economic challenges in the industry.

Like the workshop itself, the guide is a collaborative piece, consisting of four distinct yet complementary perspectives on the proactive steps companies purchasing natural rubber can take to engage with their supply chain. These are just four potential ways out of a long list of courses of action a company may find themselves interested in pursuing. The ultimate goal of this guide is to encourage companies interested in establishing sustainability initiatives to expand their knowledge of potential paths, and further learn how they can best accomplish each route.

Mighty Earth and our partners hope that this resource will equip companies interested in sourcing sustainable natural rubber with additional tools and ideas for doing so.

Notorious palm oil and timber company Korindo expelled by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Baca dalam Bahasa Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia — The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a leading global forestry certification organization, announced that it has decided to terminate the certification of Korindo Group, a notorious Korean-Indonesian logging and palm oil conglomerate operating in Papua and North Maluku, Indonesia.

The decision follows a 2017 Mighty Earth complaint, and efforts by multiple organizations across Indonesia, Korea, and the world to expose the company’s wrongdoing.

“The FSC’s expulsion of Korindo provides more evidence that despite all its grandiose claims that it is embracing sustainability, the company still cannot rouse itself to meet basic standards for environmentally responsible business in the 21st Century,” said Mighty Earth advocate Annisa Rahmawati. “The FSC's decision should serve as a warning to any company that thinks they can use greenwashing and legal intimidation to destroy forests and trample on Indigenous communities’ rights with impunity.”

The FSC Complaints Panel found Korindo had destroyed more than 30,000 hectares of rainforest (equivalent to 42,000 football fields) in the previous five years and committed violations of Indigenous peoples’ traditional and human rights, in contravention of FSC standards.  Papua is the largest intact rainforest in Indonesia, and one of the most important landscapes for the climate in the world.

Nevertheless, the FSC had retained a ‘conditional association’ of Korindo, requiring Korindo to enact improvement and remediation measures.  The FSC’s Secretary General  announced today it was terminating the association based on Korindo’s failure to agree to procedures to independently verify its compliance. In a statement about the decision, Korindo said it would try to regain certification.

“Although the FSC found that Korindo had violated its policy through vast deforestation and abuse of Indigenous people’s rights, Korindo has continued to spread false information about the severity of its actions and has used its continued association with FSC to greenwash its bad practices,” Rahmawati said. “With today’s announcement, Korindo can’t hide behind the FSC anymore."

In addition to failing to meet its obligations to FSC, Korindo has sought to silence its critics by filing a SLAPP lawsuit in Germany against civil society organizations who have worked to expose its wrongdoing and call for remedy.   As a result, a jury of distinguished European parliamentarians and expert NGOs – empanelled by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) – awarded the Korindo Group the dubious title of International Bully of the Year.

“Korindo is clearly not acting in good faith.  If Korindo is serious about improving its environmental and human rights performance to address its violations of FSC’s standards, it needs to restore the forest habitat it destroyed, pay restitution to affected Papuan Indigenous communities and stop its legal harassment of civil society groups who have tried to stand up to its abuses,” said Hye Lyn Kim, a Campaigner with the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements.

High quality photos and video of Mighty Earth’s investigation into Korindo communities are available for download here.

7 EU NGOs Call on the EU Commission to include leather as a key forest-risk commodity in new deforestation law.

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon - while most of the beef is produced for domestic consumption, nearly 80% of the leather is exported, mainly to the EU.

Hence, today 7 NGOs write to EU Commissioners, Frans Timmermans, and Virginijus Sinkevičius urging them to ensure that leather is also considered as a key forest-risk commodity in the upcoming EU law to halt #deforestation, so that its imports are regulated!

Download the letter

Dear Vice President Timmermans, dear Commissioner Sinkevičius,

Re: Ensuring that the EU is not driving deforestation through the unregulated import of forest leather

We are writing to urge you to ensure that leather is kept as a key forest-risk commodity in the upcoming EU law to halt deforestation and forest degradation. Cattle is the number one driver of deforestation of the world’s tropical forests, and leather is intrinsically linked to this production.

The Amazon is currently bracing for what experts warn may be one of the most dramatic fire seasons for decades, after a year of record-breaking deforestation.1 Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon2 and while most of the meat is produced for domestic consumption, nearly 80 percent of the leather is exported.3 This represents both opportunities and responsibilities for importing countries to influence the cattle ranching trade so that it becomes more sustainable and free from deforestation.

While parts of the leather industry and big brands using leather claim that it is an insignificant by- product of meat production, it is in fact a global multibillion dollar industry. The value of the Brazilian leather industry alone is estimated at over US$50 billion. Many meatpackers operate on low profit margins, and non-meat products, of which leather is a key component, can make up to 26% of large meatpackers’ incomes.4 Leather sales can therefore determine whether or not they turn a profit or a loss, and if hides cannot be sold, there will be a disposal cost. The largest meatpackers, such as JBS, also have vertical business structures, refining the leather in their own tanneries and thus increasing the value of the production and sales of leather.

The EU is a key market for leather, especially from South America. Brazilian leather is essential to the Italian tanning industry, which sees €5.2 billion in annual turnover, and accounts for 20% of the total tanning industry turnover worldwide.5 In 2021, Italy replaced China as the largest export market for Brazilian leather,6 and over 36% of all wet-blue (chrome-tanned) hides imported to Italy came from Brazil, followed by just 14% from the United States.7 Most of the wet-blue hides exported from Brazil come with a high deforestation risk, since specialised wet-blue tanneries account for six of the top ten exporting Brazilian tanneries located in the Amazon basin.8

The value of leather imports exceeds that of other forest-risk commodities imported to the EU, such as cocoa, soy, beef and palm oil. 9 Additionally, imported leather carries a greater forest-risk than these other commodities. More than 10% of raw or tanned hides imported to the EU come from the forest-risk countries of Brazil and Paraguay, with a value of US$158 million.

However, even these numbers hide the true extent of the impact of forest-risk leather on the EU market. While China is also a top market for Brazilian leather, much of it is re-exported to the EU as finished leather products, including shoes, bags, and clothes. In 2019, 13% of China’s leather imports were from Brazil and Paraguay. It can then be estimated that 13% of the $2.3 billion of leather goods entering the EU from China in that year, with a value of $279 million, also originated from a forest-risk country.10 This fact should be taken into account when designing a risk benchmarking system.

Almost half of the leather exported from Brazil is consumed by the car industry. This includes major European car producers, and EU imports of cars produced in non-EU countries. All of the top five European car manufacturers (Volkswagen Group; BMW Group; Daimler; PSA Groupe and Groupe Renault), source leather from clients of Brazilian companies linked to large-scale deforestation. Between 2019 and 2020 those companies were exposed to at least 1.1 million hectares of recent deforestation through JBS Couros, the leather branch of one of the largest meatpackers in Brazil.11

As public knowledge of the connections between leather and deforestation risk rises, sourcing leather from South American producers becomes more of a public relations challenge for European producers. Therefore, including leather in the legislation will not disadvantage the European leather industry, it will catalyse them into taking the steps they need to take anyway.

The leather industry is already primed for a shift in this direction. VF Corporation, the company that owns Vans, Timberland, The North Face, and other brands, have started boycotting Brazilian leather, following the 2019 Amazon fires.12 Customers in the automotive, fashion and furniture industries are increasingly seeking low cost, synthetic alternatives, or looking for environmentally friendly bio alternatives. If the Italian leather industry were to demonstrate its commitment to zero-deforestation sourcing practices, this could provide a competitive advantage to combat the falling value of leather.

Initiatives and commitments to become deforestation free are emerging from the sector, and traceability is a low cost solution that is already in place in key stages of the supply chains. To a large extent it is a question of adopting available policies and tools. It is important that the EU, one of the world’s largest markets, not only supports and strengthens these efforts, but accepts its responsibility for not importing deforestation leather to the EU.

Leather from the Amazon continues to carry a high deforestation risk, and yet a large percentage of this leather is imported to the EU. If the EU legislation on forest commodities were to include leather as a priority product, it would therefore drastically reduce the extent to which the EU market drives deforestation. It will also support growing initiatives to protect critically endangered tropical forest biomes, at a time when world leaders are coming together to mitigate climate change and preserve biodiversity and ecosystems.

On behalf of the signatories

Nils Hermann Ranum
Head - Drivers of deforestation team Rainforest Foundation Norway

2 Walker, N. F., Patel, S. A., & Kalif, K. A. (2013). From Amazon pasture to the high street: deforestation and the Brazilian cattle product supply chain. Tropical Conservation Science, 6(3), 446-467.
3 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Animal Slaughter Quarterly Survey. pesquisas-trimestrais-do-abate-de-animais.html?=&t=series-historicas
and Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC).
4 Libera, C. Mirote, S & Horta, A. (2020). Brazil’s Path to Sustainable Cattle Farming.
5 Mammadova, A., Masiero, M., & Pettenella, D. (2020). Embedded Deforestation: The Case Study of the Brazilian–Italian Bovine Leather Trade. Forests, 11(4), 472.
6 CICB 2021.
7 UN Comtrade,
8 Rainforest Foundation Norway. (2021). Driving deforestation: The European automotive industry’s contribution to deforestation in Brazil.
9 UN Comtrade,

U.S. Cocoa Imports: Secretive mega-traders get the lion’s share. 

Mighty Earth and Stand.Earth partnered together to undertake preliminary cocoa supply chain research to improve our understanding of how cocoa enters the U.S.—the biggest chocolate market in the world. Though the results confirm a lot we know already, some new revelations are stunning. Our findings uncovered a damning story of the action of a few dominant traders, the secrecy in cocoa/chocolate imports, an international web of opaque cocoa-laundering, and a cover-up of corporate value captured from poor producer countries.

These results are from the analysis of vessel tracking and American vessel manifest data from January to October 2020, using various algorithms to clarify the data. We focused on American imports of cocoa from four major cocoa-producing countries: Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, and Peru.

Patterns of exploiting cocoa farmers continue: Our research exposes the extent to which cocoa-producing countries are losing substantial revenue by not exporting directly to consumers, and by exporting raw materials rather than processed cocoa products. This is due to post-colonial models of exploitation of the Global South by predatory Western corporations, unfair trade deals dictated by former colonial powers, and a failure of governance, commitment, and development by cocoa-producing governments. Large volumes of Ivorian and Ghanaian cocoa beans are sold to the U.S. via Belgium and Spain, meaning that revenue and profits that could go to farmers are diverted to foreign traders instead.

This also extends to grinding capacity ownership. Cote d’Ivoire's grinding capacity is considerably large—16 percent in 2019—but much of its installed grinding capacity is owned by foreign companies. Although grinding cocoa beans brings more value to the country, capital flight drains most of this revenue from the country. Ghana mostly sells cocoa beans, but comparatively, gains more from the trade due to its less liberalized market where the regulators action reduces the negative market shocks.

The EU exports cocoa into the U.S.: 43 percent of cocoa beans from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire pass through Europe—specifically Spain and Belgium—often re-exported without any value addition. This tells us that whatever the EU decides on cocoa sustainability will have a massive impact on American cocoa trade policy, and vice versa.

Other cocoa laundering countries - Panama and Columbia: Large amounts of Peruvian and Ecuadorian cocoa funnel through Panama and Colombia into the U.S. Yet Panama has never made any sustainable cocoa commitments, has no traceability or transparency goals for cocoa, and is not yet appropriately scrutinized as a major cocoa player. The sustainability of Panama's cocoa industry must be re-examined, and a “Cocoa & Forests Initiative” (CFI) for Panama would be a good start. Colombia has already taken steps with its own “Cocoa, Forests and Peace Initiative” to reform its sector. Our research points to one clear conclusion: this initiative should now cover all cocoa that passes through, not just what Colombians grow.

The irony of traceability: Traceability sheds light on where cocoa comes from to address problems at the farm level, but it also needs to show where cocoa products go. Besides the murkiness of traceability or re-exported cocoa from Europe, there are widespread omissions and normalized errors in American import data. What should be seen in vessel manifest data is often missing or difficult to trace, because shipper and consignee information is removed. Our research shows such a pattern and practice of obfuscation that we must now ask, "What are the importers hiding?" In 2020, 40 million kilos of untraceable chocolate products entered the U.S. The U.S. government must revise its systems to ensure that cocoa becomes traceable to the companies involved in the actual transaction, not just forwarding companies. This means that American data on imports and exports must dramatically improve, and chocolate companies should be obligated by the U.S. authorities to disclose their entire global supply chains at both ends, not just their suppliers.

The EU is far behind on importer-side traceability: While U.S. customs manifest data needs to greatly improve, the EU has a long way to go. Currently, the data ends at the EU ports. The EU’s opaque systems of customs manifest data facilitate concealment of crimes, thus there is no way to trace cocoa from producer countries to processors or manufacturers. This lack of transparency is unacceptable for a major cocoa consumer block like Europe. The EU must urgently reform its customs data to bring it in line with best practices on commodity transparency. France has recently set a new model with reforms for transparency around customs data, which the rest of the EU ought to emulate.

The trader's trick to hide: While beans get sold in vast bulk shipments through integrated supply chains like Olam and Cargill, finished chocolate goes from a wide variety of manufacturers to what seems at first glance to be a wide variety of consignees. A closer look reveals, however, that these are often different iterations of the company name. For instance, we found 35 versions of the name of the world’s largest cocoa trader called ‘Barry Callebaut’ — breaking up the volume across a variety of businesses so that the full size of its monopolies or value of its trade is hidden. After delving into all the versions of names, our research clearly shows how the biggest cocoa traders—Barry Callebaut, Olam, ECOM, Sucden, and Cargill—are running the show. We were even able to pierce through the fog to show how ECOM is the biggest trader of cocoa beans into the U.S., though it masquerades amongst other things behind the name Atlantic Specialty Coffee. If Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Olam, Sucden, ECOM, and other cocoa trading companies are serious about traceability, they should solve this data challenge of nomenclature immediately, with or without American regulatory action. America's largest grinder, Blommer, is conspicuously absent from the consignee space and delivers little or no data on its website to guarantee traceability. If they have nothing to hide, they should publish their names properly on all their transactions–no more games.

 Where do we go: Our research underscores how the Biden administration must act decisively to advance cocoa sustainability and bring together chaotic, siloed, and disparate engagement various government agencies. The U.S. should also seriously consider establishing an "ISCO." The multi-stakeholder platform could bring together the appropriate federal government agencies, NGOs, chocolate manufactures, and cocoa traders together to strengthen the cocoa industry's traceability, transparency, and sustainability. Legislatively, regulation to restrict imported deforestation is long overdue for chocolate and other commodities. And beyond passing legislation, the U.S. must regularly engage with cocoa-producing countries to improve governance and strengthen the voices of farmers and local civil society in cocoa discussions.

Lobby group representing Michelin, Goodyear and Continental pressures EU Commission to exclude rubber from deforestation law

A row has erupted between NGOs and the rubber industry following lobbying by the EU tyre and rubber industry association to the European Commission, pressing for natural rubber to be excluded from forthcoming new EU due diligence regulations designed to stamp out deforestation, ecosystem loss and human rights abuses in key global commodity supply chains.

Civil society organisations from Europe, Africa and the US are highly alarmed that rubber dropped out of the list of the Commission’s high forest-risk commodities and urged senior officials to keep rubber in the upcoming regulations. New research published by Greenpeace highlights the role of the industry in pushing for this change.

A key European Parliament resolution adopted in October 2020 had identified rubber as one of the main drivers of deforestation. More recently, on 25 February 2021, the Commission included rubber in a presentation detailing the preliminary list of key forest and ecosystem-risk co commodities covered under the draft EU Regulation.

However, the European Tyre & Rubber Manufactuers’ Association (ETRMA) – whose members  include powerful EU and global rubber and tyre makers such as Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli – issued public statements in late 2020 urging European Commission officials to drop rubber from its target list of key forest and ecosystem-risk commodities covered by the EU’s new mandatory due diligence Regulation.

The Greenpeace report shows how ETRMA further argued to the European Commission that rubber is now considered a “low-risk commodity” in relation to deforestation, [1] and instead said it supports a more focused approached to EU policy measures on deforestation and so supports the call for the EU to act on products ‘that have “the most proven impact.”’ [2] The ETRMA conclude that regulatory action to combat rubber-related deforestation instead should be done locally, in producing countries, or at the global level. [3]

The CSOs point out that ETRMA’s stance that rubber is a low forest-risk commodity runs counter to the widely accepted evidence. A major report for the European Commission in 2018 highlighted that an estimated three million hectares of forests were cleared to make way for rubber cultivation in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia since 2000. Environmental groups  such as Global Witness, Greenpeace and Mighty Earth have also documented harrowing evidence of widespread deforestation, illegal logging, human rights abuses, habitat loss, and biodiversity and livelihoods destruction linked to the expansion of rubber cultivation in numerous countries, such as Cambodia, LaosVietnam, CameroonIndonesia and Papua New Guinea.

In response to public indications from senior officials that the European Commission is about to heed ETRMA’s advice and drop rubber from its target list of key forest and ecosystem-risk commodities covered by its new regulation, a global coalition of CSOs have written an urgent open letter to European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius, urging him to keep rubber in the EU’s deforestation law.

“It’s outrageous that ETRMA has aggressively lobbied the European Commission for rubber to be dropped from new EU regulations designed to stamp out rampant deforestation, ecosystem loss and human rights abuses in global supply chains,” said Dr Julian Oram, Campaign Director for Mighty Earth. “If the EU Commission bows to ETRMA’s lobbying pressure and shamefully drops rubber from its new deforestation law, then we’ll see more deforestation of rainforests, more destruction of ecosystems, and more violations of the rights of local and Indigenous communities.”

Mighty Earth approached ERTMA for comment but, at the time of publication, the lobby group had not responded.

The EU plays a key role in the global rubber supply chain: a quarter of global rubber production goes to the EU and five of the six largest global tyre and rubber corporations – Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli – have headquarters or key markets in the EU. With global demand for rubber products – which is predominantly for auto tires – projected to increase significantly post-pandemic, Governments and corporations need to adopt all the tools, laws and regulations at their disposal to help avert a destructive new wave of rubber-related deforestation in the coming years.


[1] In a supporting submission to the European Commission on 10 December 2020 in relation to an EU consultation question about which key commodities contribute to deforestation, the ETRMA said:

“Whilst ETRMA does not have any direct information on the impact of deforestation of the chosen conglomerate of commodities, there are several studies that were carried out by both EU Institutions (European Commission’s public consultation and European Parliament’s EPRS), international organisations (such as FAO) and NGOs (eg. WWF). All of these studies indicate that commodities such as cattle, soybeans and palm oil contribute to the bulk of deforestation (40% according to FAO). Furthermore, the summary report of the public consultation in the context of the Communication on stepping up EU action against deforestation shows that rubber is considered as a low-risk commodity.”

[2] See supporting submission ‘Deforestation and Forest Products Impact Assessment Consultation, Explanation supporting ETRMA’s responses to the questionnaire, 10 December 2020’, which says in relation to the range of products to be covered by the future EU policy measures:

“ETRMA supports the call to act on products that have “the most proven impact”, through specific measures designed to meet the specificities of each products’ value chain, on the condition that such impact is carefully studied in terms of recent and  current developments.” 

[3] In a supporting submission to the European Commission on 10 December 2020, the ETRMA argue against the wider need for EU due diligence regulation of rubber:

“The main issue with the approach taken in this consultation is that it looks for EU actions that should have an impact on countries on which the EU does not regulate and on which the EU has no control on. It is for this reason that the work should be done locally – in producing countries – or globally.”

Contact: Nico Muzi, Mighty Earth, [email protected] or + 32 (0) 484 27 87 91 (m)

Meet the Framework that helps give our deforestation campaigns bite

The Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) is a collaborative effort to build and scale up ethical supply chains for agricultural and forestry products. Led by a diverse global coalition of environmental and human rights organizations, the AFi works to create a “new normal” where commodity production and trade are fully protective of natural ecosystems and human rights. To pursue this goal, the coalition supports companies and other stakeholders in setting strong supply chain goals, taking effective action, and tracking progress to create clear accountability and incentivize rapid improvement.

Vice-President, Sarah Lake offers her personal reflections on the two-year anniversary of the Accountability Framework Initiative and its value in helping drive change. 

In 2014, at Global Forest Watch’s annual meeting, I watched as dozens of NGOs and leading agribusiness companies gathered in a single conference room to discuss private sector action on deforestation. Following a presentation on the state of corporate deforestation-free commitments (which, at the time, were few enough to fit on a single slide), we all discussed the needs of companies for setting robust commitments and acting on them.

But the ensuing discussion revealed the state of confusion and frustration by the companies. They asked: ‘What exactly do you want us to do?’ ‘Why are different NGOs asking us to do different things?’ ‘Can there be a clear guide from civil society on how companies should implement deforestation-free commitments?’

Companies wanted a clearer path forward to meet the mounting demands for sustainable production and sourcing.

“What if we created a framework; a set of expectations to guide companies in terms of action to address deforestation?” one participant from Rainforest Alliance said. And in that moment, the first seeds of the Accountability Framework were planted, as was the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi), the NGO-led coalition behind the Framework.

Now, the Framework is a foundation for forest and ecosystem protection and sustainable land use, utilized by dozens of companies to ensure their efforts are credible, robust and, most importantly, effective in advancing sustainable commodity production and trade, including human rights.

While my own career has moved from research and corporate engagement, to supply chain transparency tools, and now to advocacy, AFi has consistently proved to be an invaluable resource in all of my work. As a researcher at Global Forest Watch supporting company supply chain monitoring, I benefited from the initiative’s detailed guidance on monitoring and reporting. For the first time, widely agreed upon guidelines existed on what information was necessary, how frequently to collect it, and to what end companies should monitor their supply chains.

Later on, while I oversaw the Forest 500, AFi provided a forum to bring together the numerous initiatives that assessed, scored, and reported on company commitments and progress. With AFi’s intervention, the group was able to identify new areas of collaboration and opportunities to reduce the overlap of initiatives operating in a crowded space.

Most recently, when serving as the Global Director for Latin America at Mighty Earth, AFi proved essential to our campaigns targeting some of the world’s largest agribusinesses. By establishing clear expectations for companies across all thematic areas, the AFi emboldens our campaign efforts to ask for more ambitious private sector action. AFi has provided us with the dictionary for companies to understand the issues we aim to address, as well as the instruction manual for achieving supply chains that are deforestation- and conversion-free. Our campaigns build upon the common expectations of the Framework: that companies should adopt a cut-off date, and that companies should take action on non-compliant farms. With the credibility of the AFi behind our “asks” of companies, these asks are not only taken more seriously, but we are also in a better position to push for the next level of action required of companies.

It’s been two years since the Framework was launched. As the AFi continues to evolve, I look forward to seeing the Framework adapt to the new and pressing needs of commodity-driven deforestation, whether that be commodity-specific guidance, adapting the existing framework to help priority commodity sectors, or expanding to secure uptake by overlooked supply chain sectors.

You can find out more about the impact AFi has had in the two years since the Framework’s launch, here.

Towards Accountability?

While the world watched the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and people globally sheltered in place, companies like Vietnamese rubber and agribusiness giant HAGL Agrico quietly took to destroying lands and forests in Cambodia belonging to Indigenous communities, disrupting ecosystems, and desecrating sacred places in order to use the land for unsustainable mono-cropped industrial agriculture.

One member of the Indigenous Ka Chork ethnic group in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, where most of the destruction took place, described the devastation caused by HAGL:

“The company's investment has affected the burial ground of our people, our farms, streams, ponds, grasslands for raising cattle, and so on. We lost our forest, we don’t have wood to build our houses, or places to look for non-timber forest products. Women in my village do not dare to walk into the forest because they are afraid of the [HAGL] company workers. This year, there was a case where a company worker raped a woman in a nearby village. 

“Currently, we can’t look for natural vegetables, fish, or crabs as before because the company uses chemical pesticides in the plantation which flow into the streams, so when our villagers walk down to the streams, we get rashes on our hands and feet. Since the company came in, our people have become poorer... and many have moved as they are afraid of the company clearing.”

Unfortunately, without strong action from their global business partners – in this case French auto giant Peugeot and other car makers - this story is and could become even more common in the rubber industry: a company with an unrecognizable brand decimates the environment and violates human rights, while their partners, buyers, and those profiting from their destruction can sit on the sidelines of an opaque value chain and wash their hands of any responsibility.

In short, there is a huge accountability gap.

However, one important step towards industry accountability happened this month. In June 2021, the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) announced the implementation of a grievance mechanism. This mechanism will provide access to remedy for individuals or groups negatively impacted by members of the platform or GPSNR itself, and will guarantee accountability to membership requirements and principles. This is a huge step forward for the rubber industry as an open, predictable, and just system for processing complaints can help ensure that the over 100 members of GPSNR adhere to supply chain requirements that will protect communities and farmers and advance environmental sustainability.

This significant achievement comes as GPSNR recently celebrated the second anniversary of its founding in March 2019 and, to date, there have been several major accomplishments. These include the passage of a comprehensive set of sustainability and human rights-based policy requirements, the formal inclusion of smallholder representatives from rubber producing countries in the platform and on the Executive Committee, and now, the launch of the grievance mechanism.

While these are all important and signal strong movement forward by the industry, GPSNR has yet to overcome a few critical challenges. One of the biggest of these is a reluctance to move towards supply chain transparency and data sharing that would help identify and solve some of the major environmental and social issues associated with the production of natural rubber, and which make the need for a formal grievance mechanism so great.

To date, GPSNR has not meaningfully increased transparency in the natural rubber industry. While movement towards transparent reporting is a core principle of the Platform (as highlighted in the Founding Members statement), as of 2021, the London Zoological Society’s SPOTT assessment reported that, for example, just 14% of companies they reviewed provided comprehensive detail on how they are supporting smallholders and even fewer have reported clearly where their natural rubber is coming from. Without clear obligations for reporting or commitments to disclose information for public knowledge, it is much harder to identify problems on the ground - such as those experienced by the Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri - or take steps to solve them.

Perhaps companies will get there on their own, but in order to act with the requisite urgency, they will need to feel pressure to take responsibility for environmental degradation and human rights violations – whether by themselves directly, in their supply chains, or by their business partners. This is why GPSNR has high standards for all members of the platform and will need to quickly develop a system to ensure implementation of those expectations.

We believe the GPSNR grievance mechanism can help resolve some issues that arise after the fact, but the goal should be to understand and share enough about corporate supply chains and business practices that GPSNR can help ensure proactive compliance with membership requirements before complaints need to be filed.

For true accountability and to ensure that companies are not just riding the coattails of a platform with “sustainability” in its name, companies must commit to concrete actions that will increase public knowledge of the supply chain, the risks, and the bad actors that are enabling environmental destruction and human rights abuses. The grievance mechanism published this month puts an emphasis on transparency of process and outcome: ensuring that all stakeholders understand how far a complaint has made it through the mechanism, what the findings are, and what actions are being taken. This will allow all parties to have the same information and be able to understand the credit or consequences for actions that need to be taken to remain in good standing with GPSNR. Hopefully, this step will get the industry closer to embracing transparency and enable it to learn from existing concerns.

If we seek to really solve problems in the natural rubber supply chain, like the deforestation and human rights abuses we see in Cambodia and across the rubber-producing world, we need big ambition and a commitment to transparency and accountability.

Open Letter on Racial Injustice in the Cocoa Sector

To mark Juneteenth 2021, NGOs across the Global North and South published this open letter, calling on all of us to stamp out residual slavery within the chocolate industry and throughout our food production systems. To join us, sign on here...


Open letter about Racial Injustice in the Cocoa Sector Update

Future of orangutans in balance as company with Scottish roots searches for gold - Ian Redmond

Originally published in The Scotsman

GOLD… is the colour of an orangutan’s hair in the morning, as they rise, backlit by the sun in their treetop nests.  At that time of day, the rainforest canopy echoes to the haunting dawn chorus of gibbons and birdsong.   Sadly, all too frequently, that chorus is accompanied by the sound of chainsaws and heavy machinery.

Gold is also one more reason driving the destruction of orangutan habitat, or at least the human love of the precious metal found in deposits beneath the forest.  Controversially, some of that destruction on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is around a mine owned by a British company with Scottish origins, Jardine Matheson, and it adds to the pressure on the rarest species of orangutan.

Until recently, scientists recognised two species of Asia’s only great ape, each named after the island where they are found – the Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan.  Then in 2017, genetic and morphological studies of the most southerly population of orangutans in Sumatra revealed that – to everyone’s surprise – the orangutans of Batang Toru are a separate species, named after the surrounding district, Tapanuli.  Unsurprisingly, no sooner was it described by science, the species was assessed by the IUCN as ‘Critically Endangered’ with a population of fewer than 800 and put on the Red List.

As Chairman of the Ape Alliance, a loose coalition of 100 organisations working for the conservation and welfare of all apes, I took a strong interest in this discovery.  In 2019, as parts of London were brought to a standstill by Extinction Rebellion, I found myself sitting in the board room of Jardine’s being reassured by the company’s senior management, that there were no plans to expand the Martabe Gold Mine into the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan.  Jardines, which has been controlled by the Keswick family since 19th century, had acquired the gold mine in 2018 through its Indonesian subsidiary Astra International.  The meeting had been arranged by Mighty Earth, an influential international organisation that tracks which companies are profiting from deforestation.

There are other threats to the Tapanuli: Indonesian civil society organizations have been working to halt the building of a hydro-electric dam that would flood a key corridor between two almost fragmented populations of Tapanuli orangutan.  The dam had been reported to be financed by the Bank of China, but in a series of meetings with the London and Jakarta branch managers we were assured that although a request for funding had been made to the Bank of China, the project was still under review.  To their credit, the Bank of China eventually decided not to fund the Batang Toru dam.   Work on the construction was further delayed by the global pandemic last year but not halted completely.

The risks of building a dam or a mine in an area prone to earthquakes were tragically highlighted by a landslide on 29th April this year, killing 13. A similar incident late last year killed one construction worker, and another was killed at the end of May, brining the total to fifteen lives lost.  The Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister was reported to be evaluating the case for the dam, but construction continues.

Satellite images taken this year show that the Martabe mine is still expanding; about five hectares of forest were cleared between April and May.   This is on top of the 27.38 ha destroyed by the mining operation overall – 8.67 ha of which were destroyed since the purchase by Jardines in 2018.  Orangutans are threatened by loss of habitat to industrial agriculture– vast monoculture plantations of fast-growing trees for paper pulp as well as the more familiar palm-oil plantations.  Companies in the public eye such as Hershey, the US chocolate maker, are working to make their supply chains ‘deforestation-free.’  Last month, in response to a complaint by Mighty Earth, Hershey and others have called on Jardines to extend their ban on deforestation for palm oil across commodities—including gold.   Public pressure is a powerful force – we all have the power to influence the behaviour of corporations by the choices we make in our shopping.  But globally, deforestation continues.

Surely we can do better. This is the year the human world is supposed to agree on a new deal for nature.  The UN is hammering out a ‘post-2020 Biodiversity Framework’ to halt the loss of biodiversity and we are beginning the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.   The UNFCCC CoP26 climate talks due to be held in Glasgow in November are concluding the details of carbon markets, including valuing the central role of tropical forests.  All signs of hope that our species is coming to its collective senses and learning to live within the finite bounds of our one planet.  And yet for some, it seems to be business as usual – despite the predictions based on the best available science that business as usual will lead to ecosystem collapse on a global scale.   Now is the time for the global economy to move from an extractive view of nature, where nature is seen as an ‘externality’ with a value of zero until mined or logged to a more regenerative view.  Like all life on earth, including orangutans, humans depend on the ecosystem services provided by natural processes and yet they do not appear in our balance sheets.  If we want fresh air to breathe, fresh water to drink and food to put on the table, we must begin to value nature as the foundation for our economy, not an externality.  That is the true gold!


Ian Redmond OBE is Chairman of the Ape Alliance, a trustee of the Orangutan Foundation and a co-founder of www.Rebalance.Earth

It's Juneteenth, but these American companies are still driving slavery

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 where an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were freed, marking the official end of slavery in the Confederacy-- two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and six months before the 13th Amendment to the Constitution finally banned slavery nationwide.

As much as Juneteenth is worthy of celebration, liberation is not complete. In our work, the most egregious and direct manifestation of that delayed justice is that American companies and institutions are continuing to drive slavery today at scale. The Emancipation Proclamation may have made it to Texas in 1865, but some companies are acting today as if it still doesn’t apply in their corporate suites. And on Wednesday, those companies got a free pass from the Supreme Court to continue the profit from slavery.  

There is probably no company that better symbolizes continued complicity with slavery than Cargill, America’s largest privately-held company and the world’s largest agribusiness.  Cargill isn’t a household name, but it’s bigger than even Koch industries, and sits astride much of America and the world’s food system. 

Cargill sells the chicken, beef, palm oil, corn, grain, cocoa and many other raw ingredients that’s found in much of what’s sold in supermarkets and restaurants. You may not know it, but you’re probably eating a Cargill product today. For instance, it’s actually Cargill that makes chicken McNuggets and Big Mac patties - and then just sends them to McDonald’s to be warmed up. The company has a terrible and well-documented record of driving destruction of forests, causing outsized climate pollution, and displacing Indigenous communities. 

While the company has many rotten elements, one of the worst is its role in the chocolate industry. Cargill’s agents go out into cocoa-growing regions in West Africa to purchase cocoa and finance expansion of cocoa operations, and then sell that cocoa to large chocolate companies like Nestle, Hershey’s and Mars.

The cocoa sector is notorious for its widespread use of child labor and other abuses-- so much so that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, groups from both cocoa producing and consuming countries signed an open letter on racial injustice in the cocoa sector.  It is estimated that 1.56 million children work in the cocoa industry; many are forced to use dangerous tools and chemicals and carry enormous weights, in direct violation of international labor standards, the UN convention on child labor, and domestic laws.

While a majority of the child laborers in the cocoa industry are living and working on their parents’ farms, at least 16,000 children, and perhaps many more, are victims of forced labor-- a euphemism for slavery, working on West African cocoa farms far from home. The Washington Post recently did a series of exposés about the extent of this problem and how Cargill and other companies had continued purchases linked to forced child labor for decades after pledging to work to end it. 

Indeed, most cocoa farmers in West Africa earn less than one dollar per day as they grow the raw ingredients that go into Kit-Kats, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and Nesquik chocolate milk. Living in some of the worst poverty in the world, Cargill and others finance the use of toxic chemicals that create health risks, while overall poverty contributes to related problems such as low life expectancy rates, illiteracy, and malnutrition. Farmers face tremendous obstacles in sending their children to school. 

It’s worth saying today that all of these children are Black and the chocolate companies are run largely by comfortable American and European executives who seem unable to gird themselves to take sufficient action to end their companies’ continued connection to Black slavery more than 150 years after the Civil War.

As a result, a group of formerly enslaved children from Mali sued Cargill and Nestle for buying cocoa from the owners of the farms where they worked under brutal conditions. The plaintiffs provided evidence that Cargill and Nestle representatives had visited the farms, and that the companies had provided financial and technical assistance in exchange for exclusive access to their crops. The plaintiffs sued under the Alien Tort Act which can be used to bring legal accountability for human rights violations and other breaches of international law. 

Unfortunately, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs needed to provide more information to establish their standing to sue, giving Cargill and Nestle at least temporary impunity for their complicity in conditions of slavery. However, the plaintiffs are planning to refile their suit in ways that meet the standards laid out by the Court, though any successful legal action is likely to take years more - cold comfort for the formerly enslaved children.

That doesn’t mean these companies can’t be held accountable. For those looking to go beyond symbolic action on this Juneteenth, consider ways to bring pressure to bear on these companies. Send a message to chocolate companies like Nestle, Hershey’s and Mars asking them to end their connections to slavery. Consider how companies are performing on slavery and child labor when you purchase chocolate - our buying guide is a way to do that. And contact your legislators to urge them to ban import of cocoa and other agricultural goods connected to egregious human rights and environmental abuses.  

So today, celebrate Juneteenth for the progress it brought, but continue the fight against American companies’ ongoing contributions to Black slavery.



Paris, 17 juin 2021 - Ce matin, une dizaine de militants de l’ONG Canopée se sont rendus dans l’agence BNP Paribas du boulevard Sébastopol à Paris où ils ont déclenché une alarme incendie afin d’alerter sur la responsabilité de la banque dans les feux de forêts au Brésil. (voir video ici).

Cette action fait suite à plusieurs alertes restées sans réponse satisfaisante malgré l’urgence :

  • BNP Paribas a accordé près de 200 millions de dollars de financements liés au risque de déforestation à Cargill et Bunge entre 2015 et 2020 (1).
  • Plus de 60 000 hectares de forêts et d’écosystèmes ont été détruits par chacune de ces deux entreprises en 2019 et 2020 pour cultiver du soja au Brésil (2).
  • BNP Paribas n’a pris aucune mesure concrète et urgente pour couper ses liens avec ces entreprises. En février 2021, BNP a annoncé un objectif vague, et sans plan d’action concret, pour mettre fin à ses soutiens à la déforestation à l’horizon 2025 (3).
  • En mai 2021, la déforestation en Amazonie a augmenté de 41% par rapport à mai 2020. Un nouveau niveau record qui augure du pire pour la saison des incendies qui commence (4).

“C’est parce que BNP Paribas ne semble pas comprendre l’urgence à agir que nous venons tirer la sonnette d’alarme. S’il y avait vraiment le feu dans les agences, est-ce que la banque attendrait 2025 pour éteindre l’incendie?” explique Klervi Le Guenic, chargée de campagne chez Canopée.

BNP fait la sourde oreille. La banque est soumise à la loi sur le devoir de vigilance mais n’a toujours pas intégré des mesures pour réduire son exposition au risque de financer des entreprises dans la déforestation.” ajoute Sylvain Angerand, coordinateur des campagnes chez Canopée.

Près de 140 000 personnes se sont mobilisées pour demander à BNP d’arrêter de financer la déforestation (5). Si dans ses déclarations la banque promeut de grands engagements, ses réponses concrètes ne font en réalité preuve d’aucune ambition. Nous espérons que cette fois-ci, BNP saura user de son leadership à bon escient et renforcer sa politique pour enfin être à la hauteur de l’enjeu.” ajoute Leyla Larbi, chargée de campagne chez SumOfUs.

“BNP Paribas est le premier financeur au monde des activités à risque de déforestation des plus grands traders de soja du Brésil, Cargill et Bunge. Son virage est donc fondamental, mais ne doit être qu’un premier pas vers une transformation nécessaire du secteur financier, qui leur a accordé plus de 2 milliards d’euros entre 2015 et 2020” (6), conclut Nico Muzi, directeur européen chez Mighty Earth.

Contact presse:

Leyla Larbi, Chargée de campagnes, SumOfUs, +33 750 960 130
Klervi Le Guenic, Chargée de campagnes, Canopée, +33 7 52 64 08 54
Nico Muzi, Directeur Européen, Mighty Earth, +32 484 27 87 91


Mighty Earth submit $1bn ‘Green bond’ application to convert Central Park and Hyde Park into rubber plantations

LONDON – Two of the world’s most famous recreational parks – Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London – could be razed and transformed into huge new industrial rubber plantations under a proposed $1 billion ‘Green bond’ application submitted today by environmental campaign group Mighty Earth.

US-based Mighty Earth released a set of images including of New York's iconic Central Park, and Hyde Park in London, of their audacious plan to deforest and replace these two historic parks with lines of rubber trees as they submitted their $1bn application to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) in London – the body that oversees the booming $1.3 trillion global ‘green bond’ market.

“We’re following in the footsteps of other financiers that have used green bonds to back industrial rubber projects that destroyed rainforests in Indonesia,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Alex Wijeratna. “We’re asking the CBI to rubber-stamp a $1 billion ‘Green bond’ to finance the flattening of Central Park and Hyde Park so we can plant thousands of rubber trees.“

“Millions of visitors to these famous parks might be a bit peeved by our rubber reforestation plans,” said Wijeratna. “But we promise we’ll keep a small part of the lake in Central Park intact and leave the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s sprawling Royal pad, Kensington Palace, in Hyde Park, untouched, too.”

Mighty Earth’s images show a scarred and unrecognizable landscape and the potentially catastrophic impact of their outlandish plans to bulldoze and industrially ‘reforest’ the iconic 340-hectare Central Park in New York and 253-ha Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens in London, which are renowned for their abundant trees, lakes, wildlife and natural beauty, and together are visited by over 55 million people each year.

Mighty Earth’s application to the CBI and green bond principles standard setting body the International Capital Market Association (ICMA) is designed to draw attention to the burgeoning issue of ‘greenwashing’ linked to self-labelled green bonds and the failure of the CBI to investigate and respond to Mighty Earth’s formal complaint and allegations of widespread deforestation linked to a $95 million CBI-screened ‘green bond’ on French tire maker Michelin’s 70,716-ha joint venture natural rubber project in the rainforests of Jambi, Indonesia.

Mighty Earth alleged in their complaint to the CBI on March 11, 2021, that over five thousand hectares of rainforest in Jambi – a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, that was home to two forest-dependent Indigenous communities and critically endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers and orangutans – was industrially deforested by a subsidiary of Michelin’s local partner. The complaint claims that Michelin’s knowledge of this deforestation was never publicly disclosed to investors when the bonds were sold to green investors on the Singapore Exchange in 2018, in a bond offering arranged by French bank BNP Paribas and facilitated by financiers ADM Capital.

Mighty Earth call for the $95m bond on Michelin’s rubber project to be struck off and delisted as an official CBI-screened green bond. Mighty Earth have had no formal response from the CBI to date and were recently told by CBI’s CEO Sean Kidney that their complaint about massive deforestation was “not a priority” for the CBI.

“Green bonds are plagued by greenwashing and the Climate Bonds Initiative has absolutely no interest in investigating our highly credible but inconvenient allegations of deforestation linked to Michelin’s flagship green bond-financed rubber project in Sumatra,” said Alex Wijeratna. “We’d like to test the CBI’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the deforestation of precious and iconic green spaces by seeing if they would approve of Hyde Park and Central Park being razed, bulldozed, and replanted with a massive industrial rubber tree plantation!”

About Mighty Earth

Mighty Earth is a global environmental campaign organization that works to protect forests, conserve oceans, and address climate change. We work in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and North America to drive large-scale action towards environmentally responsible agriculture that protects native ecosystems, wildlife, and water, and respects local community rights. Mighty Earth’s team has played a decisive role in persuading the world’s largest food and agriculture companies to dramatically improve their environmental and social policies and practices. More information on Mighty Earth can be found at

Contact: Campaign Director, Alex Wijeratna, a[email protected] or + 44 (0)1753 370 824.


Peugeot Must Act Against Land-Grabs in Cambodia

On June 10, 2021, Mighty Earth, Equitable Cambodia, and Inclusive Development International sent an open letter to Peugeot, a global automobile brand. Despite new leadership and a strong commitment to sustainability, Peugeot has repeatedly refused to publicly condemn land grabbing and environmental damage perpetuated and caused by a subsidiary of their business partner, Truong Hai Auto Corporation (THACO). Recently, mediations restarted between the Indigenous communities and THACO, but so far they have refused to return Indigenous land in Ratanakiri in Cambodia. It is time for Peugeot to hold their partners accountable for land grabs and human rights abuses. Read our open letter to Linda Jackson, CEO of Peugeot, to learn more.

Open to letter to Linda Jackson, CEO of Peugeot.

Notorious Palm Oil Giant Korindo Wins International Bully of The Year Award

Brussels, Belgium – A jury of distinguished European parliamentarians and expert NGOs – empaneled by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) – have awarded the Korindo Group the dubious title of International Bully of the Year. The notorious Korean-Indonesian palm oil, logging and wind tower conglomerate has been using legal tactics to intimidate and silence its critics for exposing it’s appalling track record on large-scale rainforest destruction and violation of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Papua and North Maluku, Indonesia. Rather than acknowledge and remedy these egregious practices, Korindo has responded with a range of legal threats to journalists, an international forestry certification body (the Forest Stewardship Council), and NGOs in Indonesia and around the world.

Since early 2020, one of Mighty Earth’s NGO partners, Center for International Policy, and its German NGO ally, Rainforest Rescue (Retten den Regenwald), have had to contend with an onerous and ill-conceived defamation suit (a so-called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or “SLAPP”) filed against them by a Korindo supplier in Germany.

Deborah Lapidus, Vice President at Mighty Earth issued the following statement:

“The world is now recognizing what we have exposed for years—Korindo’s pattern of bullying its way into getting what it wants, from its unsavory acquisition of Indigenous lands to its burying investigative reports of its wrongdoing under the rug—and now through legal action aimed at silencing its critics.  Mighty Earth hopes that this award is a further reminder to Korindo that its strategy of clearing rainforests and running roughshod over Indigenous communities, then threatening those who expose these harms, is not only bad for people and bad for the climate – it is bad for business, as it further drags its reputation into the mud.

Korindo should drop its immoral lawsuit and focus its efforts and resources on preventing deforestation, compensating for rainforests and ecosystems it has destroyed, and providing restitution to the Indigenous people and communities that it has harmed.

Mighty Earth stands in solidarity with CASE in calling for the European Union to adopt legislation to protect NGOs and people across the EU against SLAPPs so that it’s not so easy for deep-pocketed companies like Korindo to bully NGOs, journalists, and activists into silence.”

Mighty Earth’s new monitoring data reveals deforestation connected to soy trader and meatpackers in Brazil more than doubled over two-year period

Mighty Earth’s new monitoring data reveals deforestation connected to soy trader and meatpackers in Brazil more than doubled over two-year period

The largest soy traders and meatpackers in Brazil have failed on their promises to end deforestation in their supply chains and continue to do business with suppliers that are destroying rainforests and savanna. 

review of the past two years of monitoring data (March 2019-March 2021) demonstrates that deforestation detected in companies’ supply chains more than doubled in the second year of monitoring compared to the firstHowever, despite this escalating crisis, only one case of deforestation has ever been resolved by these companies out of the 235 recorded by our monitoring.  

Thupdated tracker includes new data from Mighty Earth’s three latest Rapid Response reportsreleased in partnership with Aidenvironment. The new data builds on the original version of the tracker and policy brief released in December 2020 to encompass a full two years of monitoring (March 2019-March 2021.) 

Key Findings: 

  • The tracker update reveals that major soy traders and meatpackers are linked to more than 314,000 hectares deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado over the past two years (March 2019 to March 2021) -- an area larger than twice the size of London. Yet, out of 235 cases of deforestation that Mighty Earth has sent to companies, only one has ever been resolved. 
  • The data reveals a pattern of escalating amounts of deforestation carried out by soy trader and meatpacker suppliers. On average, deforestation connected to supply chains of soy traders and meatpackers more than doubled over a two-year period of monitoring. This pattern mirrors increasing rates of deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes overall during this time periodi. 
  • JBS was the worst-scoring meatpacker and company overall. It has been linked to 100,000 hectares of clearance the past two years – an area larger than all of Berlin. 75 percent of this clearance occurred in protected areas, making it potentially illegal under Brazilian law.  
  • Bunge and Cargill are the worst performing soy traders, despite their recent sustainability reports touting their nearly deforestation-free supply chainsBunge is linked to almost 60,000 hectares of clearance – more than a third of which took place in protected areas. Meanwhile, Cargill is linked to more than 66,000 hectares of clearance -- the largest amount out of any other soy trader.  
  • While no company performs well in the tracker, some are performing better than others, such as Amaggi and Louis Dreyfus out of the soy traders. 

Many US supermarkets continue to buy from Bunge, Cargill, and/or JBS despite these numbers – including Costco, Walmart, and Kroger. Bunge, Cargill, and JBS are also major suppliers to European supermarkets, including Tesco, EDEKA, Carrefour and Albert Heijn (Ahold Delhaize.)

In addition to the worst-scorer JBS above, the other two meatpackers included in the tracker, Marfrig and Minerva, are also poor performers, having been connected to more than 50,000 hectares of clearance eachMost of this clearance is potentially illegal, having occurred in protected areas. Much of the deforestation included in the meatpackers’ scores is related to their indirect suppliers, which meatpackers currently cannot fully trace and therefore cannot monitor for deforestation. 

Although Mighty Earth sends all instances of deforestation detected in our monitoring system to meatpackers and soy traders on a monthly basisthey very rarely take action on the suppliers responsible for the destruction. Only one case of deforestation has ever been resolved by a company, out of 235 cases to date that Mighty Earth sent to companies in the past two years 

One example of this inaction is meatpackers continuing to source from Agropecuária Santa Bárbara Xinguara (AgroSB a company that has direct and indirect links to JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva. Mighty Earth and Aidenvironment have caught AgroSB deforesting or setting fires on six separate occasions during the past two yearsAgroSB has also been accused of exploiting workers and money laundering.ii The clearance carried out by AgroSB now totals more than 2,800 hectares, more than 2,200 of which occurred in protected areas. The clearance could have been stopped long ago, but inaction from meatpackers allows business to continue as usual.  

Similarly, Cargill and Bunge continue to source from SLC Agrícola despite repeated deforestation cases connecting the supplier to more than 11,000 hectares of clearance over our two years of monitoring. Furthermore, SLC Agrícola is associated with $200 million land grabbing corruption schemeiii. While SLC Agrícola committed to stop deforesting in 2020, it admitted it still had more clearing to do before implementing the commitment and has actively opposed a deforestation cut-off date in the Cerradoiv. It also recently bought 8 new properties through its acquisition of Terra Santa Agro, one of which overlaps with more than 18,000 hectares of Indigenous land in Mato Grossov 

AgroSB and SLC Agrícola are examples of how the agricultural groups and property owners implicated in deforestation cases are often also connected to land conflicts, labor rights violations, government bribery and environmental crimes, which are further detailed in our Rapid Response reports. 

Beyond the issue of deforestation, many cases added to the tracker involve the concerning use of fire. About half of the deforestation cases from Rapid Response reports added to the latest tracker update also involved fire incidences. Often, producers use fire to clear debris from bulldozed trees after they’ve deforested. Fires set by agricultural companies can often spread out of control, resulting in the destruction of land and air quality of Indigenous and local communitiesvi. The worst performers in the tracker tended to be linked to more fire incidences. For instance, 63 percent of new cases connected to Bunge included in the updated tracker involved fire events on the property. Meanwhile, 55 percent of new cases connected to JBS involved fires. 

Ultimately, no company featured in the tracker can claim a clean supply chainAll companies in the tracker lack full traceability of their direct and/or indirect supply chain and therefore are limited in their validation and investigation of our reports of deforestation. Even the best performer in the tracker, soy trader Amaggi, still only earns a total of 56 points out of 100 points and is connected to more than 5,000 hectares of clearance. 

The Solution 

The buyers and financiers of the soy traders and meatpackers must take significant action that includes contractual penalties if significantly more progress on their zero-deforestation commitments is not made by supplying traders and meatpackersThey should ensure that the soy traders and meatpackers in their supply chain: 

1) Agree to a cut-off date for deforestation in the Cerrado with a 2020 cut-off date 

2) Adopt zero deforestation and zero conversion commitments for all sourcing areas, including those outside of Brazil. 

2) Adopt a suspend-then-engage approach to suppliers with widespread conversion, either legal or illegal 

3) Develop a publicly available joint-monitoring system that includes transparent traceability to farm-level for all suppliers 

4) Commit to the advancement of corporate and government policies that protect Indigenous land and secure workers’ rights 

Want to learn more about our methodology? 

*Data reflects company responses as of April 15 2021 

Want to take action? 

Visit our petition page