This piece first appeared on Forest 500 blog here.
The private sector is still not doing enough to address deforestation. This year’s Forest 500 annual assessment has found that even among companies with forest policies, the majority do not cover all the key forest-risk commodities they are exposed to.
Overarching deforestation policies are an important next step for these companies to systematically address deforestation in their supply chains and operations. Only 16% of the Forest 500 companies have an overarching deforestation policy. Nearly 40% of the companies assessed have a forest policy for one, but not all, of the commodities in their supply chains.
Forest 500 identifies the most influential players in the supply chains of the four key forest risk commodities: palm oil, timber, cattle and soy. Each year these companies, financial institutions and governments are ranked on their commitments to tackle deforestation. If they do not act, deforestation linked to these commodities cannot be halted.
This year marks the halfway point from when Forest 500 began to track these players to the 2020 deadlines of the New York Declaration on Forests and the Consumer Goods Forum goals, which many of the companies assessed have signed up to.
Our 2017 analysis of company commitments shows that at current rates of policy uptake, the 2020 goals to eliminate commodity driven deforestation will not be met. At current rates, the 250 most influential companies will not have introduced, let alone implemented, policies covering the key forest risk commodities by 2020.
Companies in beef and leather supply chains are failing to address deforestation
Disappointingly, the 2017 results show that nothing has changed. As we have reported in previous years, cattle supply chains still have the fewest forest policies, and there has been almost no improvement at all in the last four years.
Only 15 of 86 companies assessed for cattle have a deforestation policy for production or procurement. Worse, many companies in this sector are going backwards. Four companies – Nike Inc., Burger King, VF Corp’s subsidiary Timberland, and Eagle Ottowa – have removed deforestation policies for beef or leather procurement from their website over the last three years.
This is a particularly serious problem because cattle production is the largest driver of deforestation and despite increasing numbers of public and private commitments to mitigate and prevent deforestation, global tree cover loss continues to rise.
One third of the companies who do not have a cattle deforestation policy, have a policy for one of the other forest risk commodities. This shows they are aware of the risks of deforestation – but are not addressing these risks across all of their supply chains. And, they are failing to address the largest driver of deforestation.
Companies must work towards overarching deforestation commitments
The different forest risk commodities have very different supply chains so it makes sense that companies have commodity-specific policies, commitments and targets.
But, commodity-specific commitments should be used to complement and work towards an overarching goal of tackling deforestation in all aspects of a company’s supply chain.
Only 16% of the Forest 500 companies we assessed have an overarching zero or zero net deforestation policy that applies to all commodities and all operations. If the 40% of companies with one forest policy adopted overarching policies cattle supply chains in particular would have much better coverage of deforestation policies – bringing us closer to tackling commodity-driven deforestation.
A piecemeal approach addressing one biome or commodity at a time can only provide a partial solution – and in the worst case it can lead to leakage, where deforestation issues are simply shifted elsewhere.
Companies need to do more to recognise and tackle all the risks in their supply chains, or the global resource that so many within business depend on will disappear.
Sarah Rogerson is the author of this year’s annual assessment of the Forest 500, Achieving 2020: how can the private sector meet global goals of eliminating commodity-driven deforestation?