News

Climate advocates praise Japan for joining breakthrough steel plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CLIMATE ADVOCATES PRAISE JAPAN FOR JOINING
BREAKTHROUGH CLEAN STEEL PLAN

[Tokyo] – 3 November 2021 – A coalition of climate advocates and civil society organizations, including Mighty Earth, today welcome the signature of Japan to the “Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda” This commitment to deploy clean technology covers many tricky climate-intensive sectors, notably steel – which alone accounts for 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is considered one of the more challenging sectors to decarbonise.

Announced at the Leaders’ Summit segment of the COP26 climate talks, the Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda is a commitment to work together internationally to accelerate the development and deployment of the clean technologies and sustainable solutions needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, ensuring they are affordable and accessible for all. It states the need for near-zero emission steel as the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient use and near-zero emission steel production established and growing in every region by 2030.

Earlier this week, a group of civil society groups from across Australia, Japan and the Republic of South Korea encouraged their respective governments to sign on to the Breakthrough Agenda. The agreement could reduce the first movers’ risk for companies willing to decarbonise if government signatories agree to similar decarbonization timetables and announce national policies to assist with implementation.

Joojin Kim, managing director of Solutions for Our Climate said: “The steel sector accounts for more than 13% of Korea’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. We welcome the Republic of Korea committing to the Glasgow Breakthrough and look forward to seeing concrete policies that will support the sector’s decarbonisation.”

Roger Smith, Japan Director of Mighty Earth said: “To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, each country needs to begin the shift to low-carbon steel today. We welcome the commitment of the Government of Japan to the Breakthrough Agenda as we see tremendous potential for Japan to lead the way globally on material efficiency and the recycling and utilization of steel scrap.”

###

Full list of signatories by country:

  • Australia - Australian Conservation Foundation, Beyond Zero Emissions, Carbon Market Institute, Climate Action Network Australia, Green Building Council of Australia, Greenpeace Australia and Pacific
  • Japan - Kiko Network, WWF Japan
  • Republic of Korea - Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (Dangjin, Kwangyang and Pohang branches), Solutions for Our Climate
  • International - Green Alliance, Greenpeace East Asia (Japan and Korea), Market Forces, Mighty Earth

###

CONTACT

Roger Smith, Mighty Earth - [email protected]

ABOUT MIGHTY EARTH

Mighty Earth is a global environmental campaign organization that works to protect forests, conserve oceans, and address climate change. Learn more about their global steel campaign: www.mightyearth.org/steel

ABOUT CLIMATE CATALYST

Climate Catalyst is an international organisation focused on accelerating action on climate change through policy change. More information: www.climatecatalyst.org


BREAKTHROUGH: Supermarkets Pledge to Cease Purchases Tied to Deforestation

Major Breakthrough in Meat Sustainability as Supermarkets Pledge to Cease Purchases Tied to Deforestation

As the world’s eyes look to Glasgow for climate action, huge change may be coming right in the meat aisle. Leading British and European supermarket chains representing more than 50,000 supermarkets around the world earlier this month sent a clear and unprecedented message to the meat companies responsible for enormous deforestation: change the way you do business, or you’re cut off.

The companies pledged not to purchase meat or dairy raised on soy animal feed sold by companies connected to deforestation that occurred after August, 2020. Europe imports typically imports more than 30 million metric tons of soybeans and soymeal every year, primarily for animal feed. This soy has caused more deforestation than any other commodity imported into the EU and UK from 2005-2017.

The supermarket chains that are part of the commitment are members of the Retail Soy Group - Aldi South, Aldi Nord, Ahold Delhaize, Coop, ASDA, Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Migros, and Woolworth’s. These chains also are looking at ways to reduce consumption of meat altogether by increasing sales of plant-based and other sustainable proteins.

Now the question becomes whether this coalition of some of the world’s largest retailers will actually implement this commitment, or try to pull a bait and switch on their customers.

What Happened

On October 5th, the Retail Soy Group laid out a new industry road map to stop industrial deforestation driven by growing soy for animal feed. The Group represents major commercial chains like Ahold Delhaize, Aldi South, Aldi North, Asda, Co-op (UK and Switzerland), Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Migros, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose & Partners – which taken together operate nearly 50,000 supermarkets, provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of employees, and bring in revenue worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

This commitment is the first of its kind at this scale, and could be a huge deal for forests and for the planet. That’s because enormous swaths of land in Latin America are destroyed to grow the soybeans used to feed chickens, pigs and cows.

70 percent of this destruction is concentrated in just one critical biome – the Cerrado in Brazil – which holds some 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and some 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide in its immense root system. Half of the Cerrado – an area the size of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined – has already been destroyed.

The Commitment Say the Right Things:

Right now the roadmap is just words on paper, but they’re the right words. Specifically, it says that:

  • Retailers will cut-off agribusiness traders from lucrative markets within 14 months if they continue to buy animal feed from deforesters. Until now, traders like Cargill and Bunge have refused to agree to dicscontinue traders engaged in deforestation – but 50,000 supermarkets speak loudly.
  • Retailers will impose a cut-off date of August 2020 after which they will not accept embedded soy from either legal or illegal conversation of native ecosystems. And, they will cascade these requirements to their direct and indirect suppliers while imposing clauses in supplier contracts.
  • Retailers will apply these stipulations at the group level, which means suppliers won’t be able to sell ‘clean supply’ in one part of their supply chain while continuing to support deforestation in another.
  • Retailers will create strategies that acknowledge reducing dependence on soy means finding pathways to alternative proteins, meat reduction and non-soy animal feed.
  • Critically, the road map finally turns its back on achieving deforestation-free supply chains through certification, credits or offsets– no deforestation means no deforestation.

But Does it Matter?

If the commitments are actually implemented, and if they’re more than just words on paper. We think three tests will tell the tale:

  • First: Will supermarket companies embed these principles and stipulations in supplier contracts? Up to now, asking nicely has proven futile – last year, over 160 retailers wrote a letter to large traders in Brazil asking them to accept the principle of a cut-off date and transparency, but the traders defied them. Instead, we need commercial action – backed up by robust monitoring and evaluation – to actually force change by rewarding clean suppliers at a group level and sanctioning others until they clean up, too. These kind of efforts have been so successful that deforestation for palm oil has been reduced more than 90% in Southeast Asia.
  • Second: How seriously will supermarket companies handle non-compliance? The roadmap acknowledges the need for commercial penalties, hut also stipulates that buyers should engage and support the supplier to come up with a time-bound plan to address the problem. This sounds solutions-oriented, but in fact our experience shows that companies can become trapped in an endless cycle of engagement over non-compliance that doesn’t bring real change. The Retail Soy Group members need to be crystal clear that non-compliance with the cut-off date, transparency and group-level responsibility principles will result in commercial consequences – such as suspension of contracts or dropping of volumes. This too is easier if these stipulations are written right into the contracts.
  • Third: Will supermarket companies get serious about alternative proteins? Less meat consumption reduces demand for industrial animal feed and therefore reduces pressure on land. Any genuine strategy from retailers which aims to end deforestation must include offering consumers better choices. That can include giving more shelf space to vegetables, fruit and plant proteins and setting meat and dairy reduction targets, and increasing the share of plant-based food in the average shopping basket.

Mighty Earth will be watching closely and applying these three tests as the Retail Soy Group moves forward with its roadmap. If taken seriously, this could mark a transformative moment for global agribusiness – and global forests.


Mighty Earth: Glasgow's $12 billion for forests great news, but just a start

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

2 November 2021

Contact:

Joel Finkelstein | 202.285.0113 | [email protected]



MIGHTY EARTH on GLASGOW DEFORESTATION ACTIONS

Glenn Hurowitz Founder and CEO, Mighty Earth

“$12 billion to protect and restore the world’s forests is a welcome boost for nature conservation, but it is still paltry compared to either the need or the investment happening in the energy sector. Nature based climate solutions represent 37% of the solution, and until now have received just two percent of total climate finance.

“Climate policymakers are still indulging in an energy fetish that is blinding them to the outsized potential for forests, mangroves, and grasslands to suck extra carbon out of the atmosphere. Sure, we need to go big on energy, transportation, and industrial decarbonization – but we need to go at least as big when it comes in investing in the natural climate solutions all around us.”

On the source of the finance commitment:

“It’s remarkable that philanthropy is providing such a large share of this pledge, when governments and the private sector have vastly more resources. The battle to stop the collapse of the natural systems that underpin life on Earth shouldn’t depend so disproportionately on charity.”

On other upcoming deforestation decisions:

“The UK, US, and European Union are all considering new legislation to ban the import of commodities linked to deforestation. Big ag interests are aggressively lobbying for some giant loopholes. We hope Glasgow is a springboard to go from talking about action on forests to making deforestation illegal once and for all.”

On some noticeably absent investors:

“It’s great to see several large investors pledging to curtail financing deforestation, but several of the biggest bankrollers of deforestation like BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street are notably absent. Notorious forest destroyers like JBS and Bunge just shouldn’t have access to mainstream capital markets to finance the bulldozing of the world’s last rainforests.”

On the missing meat sector:

“The meat industry drives more deforestation and climate pollution than the entire global transportation sector, but is missing entirely from the pledge. It’s not surprising given that the giant meat companies that supply the UK and other markets like Cargill and JBS have resisted calls from customers and financiers alike to shift their development to the Earth’s 1.6 billion acres of previously deforested lands. It’s time for Tesco and other supermarkets to stop putting up with their suppliers’ continued efforts to tear down everything the world is calling for when it comes to conservation.”

# # #

ABOUT GLENN HUROWITZ

Glenn Hurowitz is a globally recognized leader and campaigner on forests, agriculture, and climate change.

Glenn Hurowitz is the founder and CEO of Mighty Earth, a global environmental organization. Glenn leads campaigns to protect forests, conserve oceans, and solve climate change, and is an internationally recognized expert on forests, agriculture, and climate change. Under his leadership, Mighty Earth has achieved transformative forest, climate, and human rights policies from the world’s biggest emitting industries – including major contributions to driving a 90% reduction in deforestation for palm oil, industry-wide action to end deforestation and land-grabbing in the rubber and cocoa industries, and billions of dollars in new clean energy investments. In addition to advocacy, Mighty Earth monitors tends of millions of acres of forests globally as part of its Rapid Response satellite monitoring and supply chain analysis program. Glenn previously co-founded Chain Reaction Research, which provides major financial institutions with in-depth risk analysis of companies’ sustainability risk; served as Managing Director of Waxman Strategies, and chaired the Forest Heroes campaign, which won the Benny Award from the Business Ethics Network for itssuccesses in transforming global agriculture.

Glenn has worked extensively in politics, and is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, Politico, The American Prospect, and The Singapore Straits Times, among others. He’s appeared on many international media outlets, including CNN, Bloomberg, BBC, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, and NPR. He is a graduate of the Green Corps fellowship and Yale University. 


Jardines Caught Clearing Forest NOW in Rare Orangutan Habitat

Jardines Caught Clearing Forest NOW in Rare Orangutan Habitat

New Satellite Imagery Shows October 2021 Clearing

Mighty Earth has exposed a new threat to the rarest great ape on the planet, and the world is watching. The critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan of northern Sumatra was just identified in 2017 and fewer than 800 exist in the world, but satellite imagery from the past two weeks shows their habitat being eaten away by deforestation.

Since 2018, the Martabe gold mine in northern Sumatra has been owned by United Tractors, through Astra International, a subsidiary of British conglomerate Jardine Matheson. And Since February of this year, the company has been in talks over a plan to conduct an impact assessment of the gold mine on Tapanuli orangutan habitat -- but while talks have dragged on for months, this new evidence shows deforestation continuing the whole time. The investigation was covered by the Financial Times.

“One could look at the continued expansion and it suggests they are engaging in bad faith. This is a species on the brink of extinction.”
-- Amanda Hurowitz, senior adviser with Mighty Earth

“[I am] surprised and disappointed. While you are negotiating, they are continuing to fight and gain advantage. From what what I can see, there is significant clearance of what was natural forest.”
-- Ian Redmond, biologist and conservationist known for his work with great apes

When the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was identified in 2017, it was the first time since the 1920s that a new species of great ape had been discovered. The 1100 sq km Batang Toru Ecosystem is their only home. It is also home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, pangolin and helmeted hornbill. Sun bears, tapir, serow and a host of other rare endangered species, including more than 300 bird species, also rely on this habitat.

In all recorded human history, no great ape has been made extinct. This is one of humanity’s closest relatives, and we now have only a small window left before it’s too late to save them.


Read our letter to the European Commission: EU anti-deforestation regulation would largely fail to address deforestation in Brazil

Download the full letter.

Mighty Earth, together with our friends and partners at Canopeé, Reporter Brasil, Earthsight, Rainforest Foundation Norway, the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Fern have written to the European Commission demanding changes to the proposed anti-deforestation supply chain regulation. It currently has big loopholes that would allow deforested cattle and beef products to still enter the European market.

Leaked drafts of the Commission’s regulatory proposal indicate that the EU law will fail to address cattle-driven deforestation by leaving out leather and processed beef - the strongest links between European consumption and deforestation in Brazil. Europe imports as much processed beef as fresh beef. In addition, savannahs like the Brazilian Cerrado are also out of the scope of the regulation, even if all the most deforestation associated with the soy imported into the EU comes from those ecosystems. Soy to feed chickens, pigs and cows has caused more deforestation than any other commodity imported into the EU between 2005 and 2017, even more than palm oil. Around 70% of this destruction was concentrated in one critical biome, Brazil’s Cerrado.

"Nico Muzi, Europe Director of Mighty Earth, said: "It's nonsense for the EU anti-deforestation law to allow Brazil, the country that experienced the highest deforestation rate in the world in 2020, to keep exporting beef and soy resulting from deforestation. If Vice President Timmermans is serious about protecting Europeans from fuelling forest destruction, he should make sure the upcoming EU law covers processed beef, leather and natural ecosystems like savannahs and wetlands."


Déforestation: Cooperl, premier fabricant d’aliments à s’engager pour un soja durable

Déforestation: Cooperl, premier fabricant d’aliments à s’engager pour un soja durable


Angers, 26 octobre 2021 – Nos organisations de défense de l’environnement saluent l’engagement de la coopérative de porc et fabricant d’aliments pour animaux Cooperl avec la signature du “Manifeste des acteurs français pour lutter contre la déforestation”

Déjà avancée dans une démarche d’approvisionnement durable, la coopérative Cooperl renforce son engagement en rejoignant le mouvement pour un soja sans déforestation amorcé il y a un an par la grande distribution.

En signant ce manifeste, l’entreprise s’engage notamment à inclure une clause contractuelle de non déforestation dans ses contrats avec ses fournisseurs. Nico Muzi, directeur Europe de Mighty Earth, commente: “Nous accueillons favorablement la démarche de Cooperl de ne s’approvisionner qu’en soja non issu de la déforestation. Mais c’est sur leurs actions qu’ils seront jugés, par sur leurs intentions. Cooperl doit donc signer de nouveaux contrats spécifiant bien que le soja produit sur des sols convertis après la date butoir de 2020 pour le Cerrado Brésilien ne sera plus accepté. C’est le seul moyen de forcer les grandes entreprises de soja Cargill et Bunge à arrêter de contribuer à la déforestation.”

La coopérative reconnaît ainsi le rôle des fabricants d’aliments dans la lutte contre la déforestation liée au soja. Pour Klervi Le Guenic, chargée de campagne forêts tropicales à Canopée: “Cooperl est le premier maillon face aux négociants comme Cargill et Bunge, au cœur de la filière, et exposés à un risque de déforestation d’environ 60 000 ha chacun entre mars 2019 et 2021. Après l’engagement des enseignes de la grande distribution en novembre 2020 et celui du géant de la volaille LDC en février dernier, celui de Cooperl enfonce le clou: les négociants de soja ne peuvent pas continuer à déforester sans en payer les conséquences.”

Le soja est la première cause de déforestation importée de la France. Provenant principalement du Brésil où son expansion est responsable de la destruction des savanes et forêts, il est en grande majorité (87% au niveau européen) destiné à l’alimentation animale.

Cet engagement arrive au moment où la Commission européenne prépare une proposition de loi contre la déforestation importée, mais qui risque de ne pas protéger les savanes arborées, principal écosystème menacé par la culture du soja. Cette succession d’engagements montre bien l’importance de cette question pour les entreprises européennes et doit inciter à l’extension du périmètre de cette loi.

Contacts média:

Klervi Le Guenic, Canopée: +33 752 64 08 54, [email protected]

Nico Muzi, Mighty Earth: +32 484 27 87 91, [email protected]


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

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

 

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

Mighty Earth is gravely concerned that rubber has been excluded from the European Commission’s proposed new anti-deforestation legislation to tackle EU-driven deforestation – and joins civil society and Indigenous peoples’ groups calling for rubber to be restored to the EU’s flagship law designed to eradicate deforestation from its global commodity supply chains. Due for release on 17 November 2021, the EU’s new anti-deforestation law will apply to 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 European Commission Impact Assessment [2] shows rubber has been dropped from the list of commodities covered by the forthcoming legislation. Instead, the new law will only apply to beef, palm oil, soy, wood, cocoa and coffee. The EC’s ssessment ranked rubber as responsible for the second lowest amount of embedded deforestation out of eight forest-risk commodities assessed, and concluded that including natural rubber in the legislation,

“…would require a very large effort, with little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption.”

Listed as one of the EU’s critical raw materials, the EU is a key actor in global rubber markets. The EU consumed an estimated 1.02 million tonnes of natural rubber for vehicle tires and non-tire use in 2020,[3] some 318 million auto tires were produced in European plants last year, [4] and three of the six largest global tyre and rubber corporations – Michelin, Continental and Pirelli – are based in the EU. With latest industry forecasts showing rubber demand is set to boom by a third by 2030,[5] this briefing sets out key reasons why failure to include rubber in the EU’s flagship anti-deforestation law poses a grave threat to millions of hectares of tropical forests and biodiversity in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America over the coming decade.

Working with a global rubber and deforestation expert, Mighty Earth analysed the dataset used in the EC Impact Assessment to quantify the embodied deforestation figures for rubber. We found that the dataset used by the European Commission only covers unprocessed natural rubber imports into the EU, and so misses large quantities of imports of processed rubber tires and other products, much of which may include embodied deforestation. We estimate embodied deforestation data for about two thirds of all natural rubber imports into the EU are potentially missing in the EC's impact assessment for rubber. In the light of this incomplete and flawed data, we believe the EC’s assessment may significantly underestimate the amount of potential deforestation embedded within natural rubber imports to the European Union.

We believe dropping rubber based on flawed deforestation data would be a major mistake and a huge set-back in the fight against deforestation, biodiversity loss and the achievement of the EU’s climate change goals.

1) Rubber booms cause mass deforestation and biodiversity loss

Fuelled by a boom in market demand, rapid expansion in rubber production since 2000 has had a devastating impact on millions of hectares of forests, ecosystems, habitats and biodiversity, as well as the human rights and livelihoods of hundreds of local and Indigenous communities.[6]

A study last year found over five million hectares of tropical forests were cleared across mainland Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for rubber plantations between 2003 and 2017.[7] Similarly, a 2018 study [8] for the European Commission attributes some three million hectares of forest loss in Southeast Asia alone – including in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – directly to an increase in rubber cultivation since 2000.[9]  In one of the worst-hit countries, Cambodia, 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.[10]  Studies show much of the rubber now grown in Cambodia ends up in European auto tyres; an estimated 25% of the rubber land share harvested in Cambodia goes to produce tyres in the EU.[11]

To highlight the devastating impact of unrestrained rubber expansion, groups like Greenpeace, Global Witness, Oakland Institute, Inclusive Development International and Mighty Earth have documented harrowing evidence of widespread deforestation, land degradation, forced eviction, illegal logging, livelihood destruction, harassment, threats, intimidation, criminalisation, human rights abuses, and biodiversity and habitat loss linked to the expansion of monoculture rubber plantations in numerous tropical countries, including in Cambodia, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

2) Rubber demand set for 33% boom by 2030

There is a lack of official, openly available data on most aspects related to natural rubber use and production. Currently operating within these constraints, academics find nearly three quarters of global rubber production is used to produce tyres,[12] however, rubber is also used in numerous other ways, from engineering and industrial applications, to boots, mats, condoms, apparel and latex gloves. Following a recent lull in expansion and a sharp contraction under Covid-19, global demand for natural rubber will soon exceed pre-pandemic levels[13] and is forecast to jump by a third by 2030.[14] Based on latest industry figures, the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) forecasts global natural rubber demand is set to boom by 33% by 2030 – up from 12.7 million tonnes in 2020 to 16.9 million tonnes in 2030.[15] Similarly, IRSG figures show global consumption of natural rubber for tires and tire products is forecast to jump by 28% over the decade to 2030 – rising from 9,125,000 tonnes in 2020 to 11,720,000 tonnes in 2030.[16]

3) Mass deforestation, carbon emissions, biodiversity loss & species extinction predicted

Geographically restricted to growing Havea brasiliensis rubber trees in the tropics and within certain latitudes, smallholder farmers produce about 80% of the world’s rubber on about 12 million hectares of land – often competing for land and forests with other tropical crops such oil palm, cocoa or cassava.[17] With rubber yields not increasing,[18] scientists say meeting increased demand still requires more land area and will not be met by increased yields on existing planted rubber area.[19]

Alarmingly, leading rubber academic experts say millions of hectares of forest clearances are predicted as rubber demand rises and warn of associated damaging carbon emissions[20] and catastrophic biodiversity [21] and major species losses – including increased extinction risks for some 74 extinction-threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles – including threatened bats, frogs and forest shrews.[22]  Scientists estimate conversion of intact forest to rubber will generate carbon losses of 141.5 tC per ha in dense forest and 51.5 tC per ha in open forest, [23] and found conversion of lowland forest to rubber generates soil organic carbon emissions, too.[24]

To give a sense of the scale of the dire threat posed to forests, ecosystems and biodiversity, academics estimated in 2015 that 4.3–-8.5 million ha of additional rubber plantations were required to meet rising demand by 2024,[25] while industry estimates in 2018 found 2.5--3.9 million ha of additional land area will be required to meet rising demand by 2027.[26]

4) EU rubber consumption to grow 14% by 2030

While the bulk of the additional demand for natural rubber will go to booming Chinese and Asia-Pacific markets,[27] consumption in the EU is still highly significant. As the second largest rubber trading block to China, the EU consumes some 9% of the natural rubber produced globally. [28] Furthermore, the IRSG forecasts EU consumption of natural rubber is set to rise steadily by 14.5% over the decade to 2030 – rising from 1.023m tonnes in 2020 to 1.171m tonnes in 2030.[29]  A recent study demonstrates that mobility in the EU (for personal and goods transport) uses nearly a fifth of the annual harvest of natural rubber in several producer countries, contributing to the expansion of rubber plantations in the tropics.[30] The study finds car use is the main driver of natural rubber consumption in the EU and notes that car use is likely to increase with the economic development of eastern EU countries (see Fig.2).[31]

5) EU’s rubber land footprint set to grow

The EU’s global rubber land footprint is already large and is expected to grow. An estimated area of 594,000 ha is required to produce the natural rubber consumed annually through tire use in the EU,[32] corresponding to 5% of total global area harvested annually.[33] This land footprint is mainly located in Indonesia (32%), Thailand (23%), Malaysia (11%), Cote d’Ivoire (10%), and China (10%).

At the national level the share of land harvested to produce tires for use in the EU is particularly high in Cambodia (25%), while in Cote d’Ivoire (see Fig.4), Guinea and Cameroon, more than 15% of the area under mature rubber plantations serves European mobility (for passenger cars, trucks and vans).[34] While the primary hotspot for rubber expansion is Southeast Asia, scientists say similar trends are being observed in Africa.[35] Furthermore, the EU’s strategy to reduce its dependence on Southeast Asia[36] means that Africa is likely the new deforestation frontier. An estimated 25% of the natural rubber imported into Europe now originates from Africa,[37] and expansion could occur in climatically suitable but highly biodiverse new frontiers such as Guinea [38] or Central Africa, where foreign investment in industrial plantations is welcome, threatening vast areas of forested land that are not adequately protected by governments.[39]

6) Rubber was previously considered a FERC by the EC, and is still considered a FERC by the US and UK

The European Commission’s decision to drop rubber from the EU’s flagship anti-deforestation legislative proposal has little logical basis. Rapid expansion of rubber production in Southeast Asia and other tropical and sub-tropical areas has long been identified by the EC and other key actors [40] as one of the top seven agricultural imports into the EU associated with deforestation and forest degradation.

As early as 2013, a major report [41] for the European Commission on imported deforestation identified rubber as an important contributor to deforestation, while a key follow-up study for the EC in 2018 [42] 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.[43]

Most importantly, the European Parliament passed a Resolution[44] 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.[45] 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.” [46] Furthermore, other key countries that are currently drawing up similar supply chain anti-deforestation draft legislation, such as the US and UK, currently both include rubber as a key forest and ecosystem-risk commodities.

 7) Flawed deforestation data used in EC Impact Assessment

Mighty Earth has reviewed a copy of the leaked European Commission Impact Assessment and assessed the key research dataset with which the EC based their cost-benefit analysis to assess the share of embodied deforestation for a list of eight forest-risk commodities between 2008-2017 (see Fig.1).

Figure 1: Individual share of EU-embodied deforestation due to the eight pre-selected commodities between 2008-2017, Source: Pendrill F, Persson U M, Kastner T, 2020 (EC Impact Assessment, 2021)

The EC Impact Assessment cost-benefit analysis finds that rubber and maize contain the least amount of embodied deforestation out of the eight commodities (see Fig.2).

Figure 2: Cost-benefit analysis of commodities for the scope other than wood

Source: Pendrill F, Persson U M, Kastner T (2020) and own elaboration (EC Impact Assessment, 2021)

The EC Impact Assessment cost-benefit analysis concludes:

“Maize and rubber account for the smallest fraction of embodied deforestation among the commodities analysed, while their trade volumes are very large (around EUR 2.8 billion per year for maize and 17.6 billion for rubber). Including these two commodities in the scope would require a very large effort, with little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption.” 

However, having confirmed with a lead author [47]of the Pendrill et al (2020) [48] embodied deforestation dataset and research[49] – used in the EC Impact Assessment cost-benefit analysis – and taken advice from a global academic expert in natural rubber, deforestation and sustainability issues,[50] Mighty Earth’s considered position is that the Pendrill et al (2020) dataset [51] used by the EC for their analysis of embodied deforestation for natural rubber in particular has specific limitations that mean that they may significantly underestimate the amount of embodied deforestation for rubber imported into the EU.

The key flaw in the use of the Pendrill et al (2020) dataset [52] to assess embodied deforestation for rubber imported to the EU is that the dataset only assessed data from the FAOSTAT database relating to trade to the EU in unprocessed natural rubber. An author of the Pendrill et al dataset recently confirmed to Mighty Earth that “processed rubber imports are not included in our numbers.” [53] This confirmation is significant because it means that large quantities of processed new rubber tire products imported into the EU – which potentially contain large amounts of embodied deforestation – are left out entirely from the dataset and its use therefore may significantly underestimates the embodied deforestation risk for rubber in the EC’s key assessment.

A more recent and in-depth analysis of the rubber supply chain for tires into the EU from the same research group, drawing on FAOSTAT but also COMTRADE databases of processed rubber products, shows that very substantial shares of processed natural rubber produced in countries with expanding rubber area (Cote d’Ivoire, Thailand, Indonesia) are imported to the EU.[54] It is highly likely that a re-analysis by the EC of embodied deforestation in processed rubber products captured by the COMTRADE database would substantially increase embodied deforestation risk, and that this risk is particularly high in Africa where deforestation for agro-industrial plantations is actively encouraged, and where the EU seeks to increase its share of rubber imports from.

Mighty Earth recently searched the Eurostat database for both unprocessed rubber and processed rubber imports – including processed new tires, inner tubes, apparel, hygiene and pharmaceutical articles and vulcanised rubber – and found 5.9 million tonnes in total were imported into the EU in 2019, including 2.3 million tonnes of unprocessed natural rubber, as well as 1.2 million tonnes of processed new rubber tires, and 841,000 tonnes of processed rubber inner tubes, pharmaceutical articles, apparel, retreaded tires and vulcanised rubber products.[55] in short, we found the rubber-related data referred to in the EC assessment captures less than three quarters of gross natural rubber imported into the EU, and so may significantly underestimate the amount of embodied deforestation from all natural rubber coming into Europe. Dropping rubber from the EU’s anti-deforestation law on the basis of inaccurate or incomplete deforestation data for rubber seems entirely flawed and unscientific.

Conclusion: The European Commission should restore rubber to EU anti-deforestation law

The EU plays a central role in the global rubber and tire supply chain. Seven out of ten of the top global tire and rubber corporations have their headquarters or key rubber and tire plants in Europe – including industry giants such Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin, Pirelli and Sumitomo. [56] With global rubber demand set to boom by a third by 2030 and steady growth in EU consumption forecast, the threat of millions of hectares of deforestation of biodiversity and carbon-rich forests and ecosystems over the coming years is real, and extremely urgent. That’s why we’re urging the EU to restore rubber to the EU’s flagship anti-deforestation law and pressing the EU to act now to do its part to eliminate deforestation and rights abuses from global rubber supply chains and consumer markets.

 Author:

Alex Wijeratna, Mighty Earth, Director of Special Projects


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

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

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

[6] Millard E (2019) Recent Experiences from the Natural Rubber Industry and its Movement Towards Sustainability, Sustainable global value chains, 1st ed. Ed. M. Schmidt, 499-520. Springer: New York

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

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

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

[10] 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

[11] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[12] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

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

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

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

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

[17] Millard E (2019) Recent Experiences from the Natural Rubber Industry and its Movement Towards Sustainability, Sustainable global value chains, 1st ed. Ed. M Schmidt 499-520. Springer: New York

[18] FAOSTAT global natural rubber yield data, downloaded 6 October 2021

[19] Personal communication, Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, 6 October 2021

[20] Warren-Thomas E et al (2018) Protecting tropical forests from the rapid expansion of rubber using carbon payments, Nature Communications, Art. 911 (2018), 2 March 2018

[21] 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

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

[23] Warren-Thomas E et al (2018) Protecting tropical forests from the rapid expansion of rubber using carbon payments, Nature Communications, Art. 911 (2018), 2 March 2018

[24] van Stratten O (2015) Conversion of lowland tropical forests to tree cash crop plantations loses up to one-half of stored soil organic carbon, PNAS, 11 August 2015, 112(32) 9956-9960, 27 July 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)

[25] 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

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

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

[28] ETRMA (2019) Sustainable Natural Rubber & European Commission Deforestation Agenda, 21 February 2019, ETRMA: Brussels

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

[30] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[31] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[32] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[33] ETRMA (2019) Sustainable Natural Rubber & European Commission Deforestation Agenda, 21 February 2019, ETRMA: Brussels

[34] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[35] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[36] ETRMA (2019) Sustainable Natural Rubber & European Commission Deforestation Agenda, 21 February 2019, ETRMA: Brussels

[37] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

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

[39] Feintrenie L (2014) Agro-industrial plantations in Central Africa, risks and opportunities, Biodiversity and Conservation, Ed. Hawksworth DL, June 2014, 23:1577-1589

[40] 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

[41] 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

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

[43] 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

[44] 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: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[45] 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: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[46] 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: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[47] Personal communications with Florence Pendrill, PhD student, Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, 30 September 2021 to 6 October 2021

[48] Pendrill F et al (2020) Deforestation risk embodied in production and consumption of agricultural and forestry commodities 2005-2017, see: https://bit.ly/3lcP96U

[49] See: Pendrill et al (2019) Deforestation displaced: trade in forest-risk commodities and the prospects for a global forest transition, Environmental Research Letters, 14 (2019) 055003, 1 May 2019; Pendrill F et al (2019) Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions. Global Environmental Change, Vol. 56, May 2019, 1-10

[50] Personal communication, Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, United Kingdom, 6 October 2021

[51] See: Pendrill F et al (2020) Deforestation risk embodied in production and consumption of agricultural and forestry commodities 2005-2017, see: https://bit.ly/3lcP96U; Pendrill et al (2019) Deforestation displaced: trade in forest-risk commodities and the prospects for a global forest transition, Environmental Research Letters, 14 (2019) 055003, 1 May 2019; Pendrill F et al (2019) Agricultural and forestry trade drives large share of tropical deforestation emissions. Global Environmental Change, Vol. 56, May 2019, 1-10

[52] Pendrill F et al (2020) Deforestation risk embodied in production and consumption of agricultural and forestry commodities 2005-2017, see: https://bit.ly/3lcP96U

[53] Personal communication with Florence Pendrill, PhD Student, Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, 6 October 2021

[54] Laroche P et al (2021) Assessing the contribution of mobility in the European Union to rubber expansion, Ambio, A Journal of the Human Environment, 12 June 2021

[55] Eurostat data on natural and process rubber imports into EU from Jan-December 2019, accessed by Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas on 8 October 2021

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


Mighty Earth Activists in Brussels Urge the EU to Protect Threatened Habitats

Mighty Earth Activists in Brussels Urge the EU to Protect Threatened Habitats

October 21, 2021 

On the eve of the crucial COP26 climate negotiations, due to begin in Glasgow at the end of the month, Mighty Earth activists from four continents are meeting this week with officials from the European Commission, urging them to strengthen pending legislation aimed at preventing consumer goods linked to deforestation from entering the European Union. The delegation has also been meeting with major European companies, industry associations, and journalists.

Following a 2019 EU Communication, and a 2020 resolution by the European Parliament, the Commission has been developing legislative proposal that will make it illegal to place goods into the European market that have been produced by destroying forests. This will most likely include commodities such as soy, palm oil, wood, beef, coffee, and cocoa.

While this represents a major step forward in the fight against global deforestation, Mighty Earth is concerned that the proposals may contain significant loopholes, including overlooking key forest-risk commodities such as natural rubber and leather. Worryingly, the draft legislation also excludes agricultural commodities grown in other threatened habitats and massive carbon sinks, such as Brazil’s Cerrado, Indonesia’s peatlands, and El Pantanal wetland ecosystems shared by Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. Each one of these ecosystems have immense biodiversity importance and play a vital role in maintaining climate stability. Additionally, there is concern that human rights abuses associated with the production of commodities will also be ignored in this landmark legislation.

The “Fab five”

Mighty Earth’s five representatives – Gina Méndez, Nico Muzi, Julian Oram, Annisa Rahmawati, and Amourlaye Touré – have been bringing stories from the frontlines of deforestation and human rights abuses linked to agricultural production. Below, Gina, Annisa, Amourlaye and Julian explain why they have come to Brussels, and share the message they are bringing to the officials and companies they are meeting with.

Gina Méndez – Bolivia

I am from Bolivia, a country that in the last few years experienced the world’s second-highest rate of deforestation. Before we were one of the top three countries to protect our forest, now we hold the opposite position.

I am a former a Congresswoman, Minister of justice and human rights and the first female Mayor of Santa Cruz, my hometown, which is now the epicentre of deforestation in Bolivia.

Seeing the devastation of our incredible biodiverse forest made me determined to quit public administration after 15 years of service and start a citizens movement to protect and restore Bolivia’s forests from the devastating expansion of soy and cattle production. I named the movement El Llamado del Bosque. I ran a public campaign and gathered 600 signatures from national leaders of all walks of life, including journalists, historians, artists, indigenous leaders, businessmen and scientists.

Given the accelerating rate of forest destruction in my country – the Santa Cruz region lost 4 million hectares to the massive forest fires of 2019 – I see my visit to Brussels as a great opportunity to advocate for a strong EU anti-deforestation law. An ambitious EU regulation will provide our business leaders with a powerful incentive to produce soy, beef and leather without bulldozing our forests and savannahs. Thus, the upcoming EU law must include all types of beef (including processed beef) and leather, a co-product with huge profit margins for the industry.

We are also very concerned that by only protecting forests, soy and beef expansion in South America will shift from the Amazon basin and the dry forests of Gran Chaco to the savannahs of Brazil (Cerrado) and Bolivia, as well as El Pantanal wetlands. That’s why I am urging the cabinets of Commissioner SinkeviVius and Vice-President Timmermans to expand the scope of ecosystems to include savannas, peatlands and wetlands.

 Annisa Rahmawati – Indonesia

I took a long journey to come to Brussels all the way from Indonesia, a major producer of forest-risk commodities including palm oil and rubber. For many years, environmental activists in Southeast Asia have been calling on the industry to ensure that they protect our forests and other valuable ecosystems and uphold the human rights with the implementation of NDPE (No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation) commitments.

The EU move to propose a law to break the link between consumption in Europe and deforestation worldwide could become a powerful catalyst to align public-private commitments in Indonesia and Malaysia. It would also send an important signal to the world that we need to protect natural ecosystems to tackle the climate crisis threatening our very existence.

Throughout my life, I have witnessed the fires and haze caused by the destruction of our forests and peatlands, and how it has made our people suffer. These fires were started to make way for palm oil plantations to cater to EU demand for the edible oil. We have learned that peatlands are essential ecosystems for our survival in this climate crisis, and thus need to be protected by the upcoming EU law. Otherwise, it could create a perverse incentive to shift palm oil production from the rainforest to peatlands.

Furthermore, the law also needs to protect local communities and tackle human rights abuses linked to commodity production in countries like Indonesia. Goods imported to Europe should not be tainted by environmental destruction or human rights violations.

 Amourlaye Touré – Ivory Coast

I live and work in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), where I have worked on human rights and environmental justice issues for over 20 years.

In the space of a century, Côte d’Ivoire has lost 70% of its forests, mainly for agriculture, with cocoa (of which the country is the leading producer) as the primary cause of deforestation. The situation is almost identical in neighbouring Ghana, with both countries producing 65% of the world’s cocoa each year. The remaining little forest cover is under threat, despite official proclamations.

The Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI) raised high hopes when it was launched in late 2017. However, its promises regarding the fight against any further deforestation are not being fulfilled in any meaningful way. Today, the situation is no longer tenable, especially since only about 6% of the annual $100 billion from cocoa goes to producers living in poverty. Alarming estimates have been made of when the Ivorian forest and certain endemic animal species will likely disappear.

There is an urgent need for the EU to act, especially since cashew nuts, of which Côte d’Ivoire is also the world’s leading producer, are attacking the savannah in the centre and the north. The country is thus caught between two deforestations at its southern (cocoa) and northern ends (cashew nuts). This threat is vital for the countries of Africa’s hinterland. Indeed, the greener, forested West Africa Atlantic coast countries constitute a barrier that was supposed to slow the advance of the desert.

Hence, we urge the EU to think holistically and cover all critical natural ecosystems and commodities with their anti-deforestation law.   

Julian Oram – UK

For the past twenty years, I have been working to promote more sustainable models of tropical agriculture and forest commodity production, having witnessed first-hand the devastation and terrible rights abuses associated with exploitative commodity production systems in many parts of the world. Since 2019 I’ve led Mighty Earth’s work on rubber, and more recently also on cocoa.

While cocoa is likely to be covered by the pending EU legislation, rubber is potentially excluded. This would be a terrible mistake. Over the past 20 years, rubber has been a major driver of tropical deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction, particularly in the Greater Mekong region of SE Asia. The EU has conducted an impact assessment which deemed rubber less significant than other tropical commodities. However, this assessment only considered unprocessed rubber imports, whereas the large majority of rubber imported into the EU is embedded in processed consumer goods, such as automobile tires.

From our work, we also know that rubber has been linked to terrible human rights abuses and extensive land-grabbing. With the EU’s demand for natural rubber set to rise steadily over the next decade, its crucial the legislation covers this essential and irreplaceable commodity.

 Nico Muzi – EU

I have been campaigning and communicating on climate change in Brussels for the past 15 years. My passion for land issues and connection with agriculture is deeply rooted:  I grew up in Argentina, watching my dad rearing cattle and planting wheat to the south of Buenos Aires.

My passion is clearly shared by a large proportion of EU consumers. A record 1.2 million citizens urged the Commission to go beyond forest protection and include natural ecosystems such as savannas, wetlands and peatlands in the law – the second most participated public consultation in the history of the EU.

Businesses also support strong regulation: more than 70 big companies such as supermarket chains Carrefour and Lidl, food processors like Danone and Ferrero (and even Groupe Avril, France’s largest animal feed producer) urged the EU to protect other threatened habitats and protect human rights.

Unfortunately, the leaked EU anti-deforestation law has several loopholes big enough to drive a bulldozer through! These are:

  • Exclusion of natural ecosystems such as savannas, peatlands and wetlands
  • Exclusion of top forest-risk commodities and co-products: rubber, leather and processed beef
  • Exclusion of international human rights standards, especially customary land rights
  • Weakened liability

If Vice President Timmermans and Commissioner SinkeviVius are serious about protecting and restoring the world’s forests and other key biodiversity hotspots, the upcoming law must close those loopholes. European citizens and local communities in the frontlines of deforestation will thank them for their service to humanity, wildlife and the global climate. The Commission is clearly not alone in this fight.


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.

AN INTERVIEW WITH GLENN HUROWITZ

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.


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


1 https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/brazil-sees-most-june-fires-amazon-rainforest-since-2007-2021-07-01/
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. https://www.ibge.gov.br/estatisticas/economicas/agricultura-e-pecuaria/9203- pesquisas-trimestrais-do-abate-de-animais.html?=&t=series-historicas
and Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC). http://abiec.com.br/en/
4 Libera, C. Mirote, S & Horta, A. (2020). Brazil’s Path to Sustainable Cattle Farming. https://www.bain.com/insights/brazils-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. https://cicb.org.br/cicb/dados-do-setor
7 UN Comtrade, https://comtrade.un.org/data/
8 Rainforest Foundation Norway. (2021). Driving deforestation: The European automotive industry’s contribution to deforestation in Brazil. https://d5i6is0eze552.cloudfront.net/documents/Publikasjoner/Andre-rapporter/Driving_Deforestation_16_June-compressed.pdf?mtime=20210617202546
9 UN Comtrade, https://comtrade.un.org/data/.


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.


Notes:

[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