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Major consumer brands are failing to fight against deforestation

A recent analysis by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has evaluated key global brands on their efforts to eradicate deforestation and human rights abuses within their supply chains. 

Titled “Keep Forests Standing 2023 Scorecard: Evaluating the Brands Driving Deforestation and Human Rights Violations,” the annual report assigned letter grades to brands based on their policies, with a focus on forest-risk commodities such as palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, beef, cocoa, coffee, and wood products. 

Deforestation and investor risk

The report revealed that despite their commitments, no brand is close to securing an “A grade” and are not aligned with upcoming regulations like the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), potentially exposing their investors to significant risks.

Gemma Tillack from RAN has highlighted the gap between brands’ commitments and the actual rise in deforestation and violence against frontline land defenders globally. The report identified major loopholes in the brands’ adopted policies, which contribute to ongoing forest destruction and rights violations.

Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz, Ferrero, and Nissin Foods received the lowest grades in the report, while Nestlé, PepsiCo, Kao, Colgate-Palmolive, and Mars performed moderately. Unilever, although not perfect, earned the highest score of ‘C’ for its recent policy aimed at protecting Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

Lack of transparency 

The report also alerts consumers to a worrying trend where brands like Nestlé, Mars, and Ferrero claim ‘deforestation-free’ supply chains without transparent, third-party verified evidence. 

It further reveals that corporate practices continue to contribute to the destruction of intact forest landscapes and indigenous territories, with brands lacking concrete deadlines to halt deforestation, ecosystem conversion, and human rights violations in their supply chains. 

Despite nominal adherence to the No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation (NDPE) framework, many of these policies do not encompass all forest-risk commodities used by these brands.

New deforestation standards

The impending EUDR poses a significant challenge for these brands, requiring stringent traceability of commodities back to their production sites. The report suggests that most global brands and their suppliers are unprepared for these new standards.

On a positive note, some companies, like Unilever and PepsiCo, are investing in landscape initiatives and jurisdictional approaches, especially in regions like Aceh and North Sumatra in Indonesia. However, the report cautions that these efforts, while promising, are not progressing rapidly enough to counteract ongoing deforestation in critical rainforest areas.

Broader implications

The report underscores the necessity of a cross-commodity and corporate group approach for brands to fully address their impact on forests and communities. It exposes the practice of brands engaging with different arms of the same corporate group, where one complies with policy commitments while another continues business as usual, often through undisclosed operations. 

This highlights a systemic issue where conglomerates supplying ingredients to major brands manage to bypass accountability while maintaining destructive practices.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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