This article is a translation of a post originally published on the website ((o)) eco, by Bernardo Camara.
It was another normal day for McDonald's, back in April 2006. That is, until dozens of six-foot chickens invaded restaurants across Europe and chained themselves to the tables. Customers were stunned; and they were not the only ones. "The president of McDonald's called us and gave the ultimatum: 'Solve this problem'," recalls Mark Murphy, Global Director of Sustainability at Cargill. Dressed as chickens, Greenpeace activists announced that the soy used to feed cattle and chicken reared for fast-food was leaving a trail of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The main supplier was multinational food company Cargill, one of the giants in the marketing and distribution of agricultural commodities such as soy and palm oil, with 150,000 employees in 70 countries, 8,000 in Brazil alone.
Greenpeace’s 2006 demonstration appeared in newspapers around the world, and set in motion an agreement that later became known as the Soy Moratorium. From then on, the industry voluntarily began to make efforts to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Murphy recalled the story in his address at the opening panel of the Second General Assembly of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020), a global partnership between governments, business and civil society to end deforestation in commodity production such as soy, meat, wood and palm oil. The meeting took place in Brasilia in March this year.
"Before the Moratorium, 30% of the soy expansion in the Amazon was in deforested areas. After the agreement, that number dropped to around 1%”.
"It does not seem like a long time, ten years ago. But in terms of sustainable behaviour, Brazilian agribusiness has come a long way," says Carlo Lovatelli, President of Abiove (Brazilian Association of the Vegetable Oil Industry), which has, among its multinational associates, companies such as Cargill, Bunge and Amaggi. And it is not just agribusiness that has changed. Since then, strategies to tackle deforestation in tropical forests have included an increasingly diverse group of actors. Techniques which were once limited to laws and crackdowns, known as "command and control," have evolved, and today it is almost impossible to speak of combating deforestation without looking at the private sector and its commodity supply chain.
Each year, the number of companies and governments with ‘no deforestation’ commitments increases. According to the project Supply Change, of the NGO Forest Trends, today there are already more than 400 companies with about 700 commitments of this type; an increase of 43% from the previous year. Most of these companies either produce or buy commodities from countries with extensive forest cover, such as Brazil and Indonesia. "About 12% of the commitments we monitor involving soy and 28% of those related to livestock are focused on the Amazon biome," says Stephen Donofrio, one of Supply Change's coordinators.
Command and agreements
"Command and control actions went as far as they could. Then they reached the point where they were unable to progress further without the cooperation of other sectors. It is at this moment that public-private partnerships and market mechanisms to tackle deforestation began to emerge," says Isabella Vitali, Brazil Country Director of Proforest. According to her, a key strength of the Soy Moratorium is its multi-stakeholder nature, involving industry, government and civil society. And it follows the model of other initiatives that have operated beyond national boundaries. "It comes after a similar moratorium was established for the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay, and they are trying to do something similar in Indonesia for palm oil."
And the momentum is only increasing, as the establishment of the TFA 2020 shows. Within five years, and perhaps as a sign of the times, demand from the private sector culminated at the Rio+20 summit where the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – a network of large global companies such as McDonald’s, Unilever and Nestlé, committed to achieve zero net deforestation in their supply chains by 2020.
However, this is no small feat, and these companies recognised that they wouldn’t get anywhere without help. "They then demanded a platform for dialogue with other sectors, especially governments and civil society organizations. And that is how TFA 2020 was born ", explains Fabíola Zerbini, regional coordinator of the network in Latin America.
Throughout the week, the atmosphere at the TFA 2020 General Assembly was one of friendly exchange. Cargill's Mark Murphy recalled the story of the chickens at McDonald's sitting side by side with the former director of Greenpeace Marcelo Furtado. "In a global society, you have to understand that a goal as ambitious as ending deforestation can only be achieved in partnership," says Furtado.
This is what happened in the case of the Soy Moratorium. And that is what is happening in the Livestock Agreement: since 2009, meatpackers, supermarkets and multinational companies that buy meat or leather from cattle raised in the Amazon have committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
The data shows that the strategy works. In a survey published by the journal Science, American and Brazilian researchers found that before the Moratorium, 30% of soy expansion in the Amazon was in deforested areas. After the agreement, that number dropped to about 1%.
In another study from the NGO Imazon, the same progress is also apparent in the livestock sector. According to the data, JBS, the largest slaughterhouse operating in the Brazilian Amazon, significantly reduced its purchase of cattle from illegally deforested areas. When researchers analysed a sample of the company’s refrigeration plants which accounted for 30% of the total slaughter in the state of Pará, they found that the percentage of JBS's farms that had deforested between 2009 and 2013 had fallen from 36% to 4%.
For Fabíola Zerbini, this change in private sector behaviour comes with a maturation and a new notion of shared responsibility: "The recent movement has been towards co-responsibility, which can be driven by marketing ambitions – i.e. when a company wants to add social or environmental value to their brand – or by reputation – i.e. when there is a risk of their products being associated with certain social and environmental problems."
Greenpeace costumed activists. Photo: Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
When Greenpeace set loose chicken-costume-clad activists in McDonald's restaurants, they knew they were tinkering with the reputation of a whole industry. Companies began to take responsibility for the deforestation of the Amazon, and decided to be proactive in avoiding the risk of having their businesses associated with the destruction of forests.
As a result, the state no longer had the dominant role, opening space for alternative solutions. "Private governance mechanisms began to emerge, bringing solutions that the government, as a state, could not provide, because things were more complex," says Fabíola. "In a way, this then created parallel structures of governance. They may be voluntary agreements, but they are there, and they have begun regulating and legislating without being an actual government ".
As the number of actors and commitments grow, so do the data platforms that support the monitoring and implementation of these agreements. Forest Trends’ Supply Change is one of these data platforms, publishing an annual report on the companies with ‘no deforestation’ commitments and their performance in relation to these pledges.
The Trase transparency platform, which aims to map the commodity supply chains on an unprecedented scale was also presented for the first time at the TFA 2020 General Assembly in Brasilia. With just a few clicks, Trase produces details about deforestation, marketing data, use of slave labour and other risks associated with the production of these commodities. It can even identify investment opportunities in places where sustainable practices are being implemented.
The tool was officially launched at the end of 2016, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Morocco. Through it, it is possible, for example, to observe deforestation rates in a municipality where soy is exported by companies with zero-deforestation commitments, and compare this with other municipalities where the commodity is exported by companies that have not made these commitments.Looking at the dynamics of forest destruction between these two scenarios can tell us a lot about the effectiveness of these commitments.
So far, Trase has created a map of Brazilian and Paraguayan soybeans, as well as beef exported by Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Over the next five years, the platform aims to provide information on over 70% of the total commodity production currently posing deforestation risks. What’s more, all of the information produced is available to be downloaded for free.
"If the data does not exist or is not made available, it is impossible to say whether a zero-deforestation agreement is succeeding or not. Trase is an almost unique tool to help answer this question," says researcher Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environmental Institute and one of the creators of Trase.
The ground, therefore, is fertile for favourable change. With intense global exchange, provided by initiatives such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, the tools and mechanisms against deforestation are increasingly powerful. Nevertheless, the struggle is far from over: in recent years, rates of deforestation have risen again in the Amazon.
"In all the international discussions that I participate in, Brazil is presented as a hero and a villain at the same time,” says Isabella Vitali of Proforest. “Everyone recognizes the progress and many innovative solutions made here, but when you consider the increasing rates deforestation, other countries are looking at us somewhat apprehensively. In the language of the private sector, Brazil remains a source of risk ".