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Company action is key to addressing world hunger sustainably

On World Food Day, Theo Stanley asks what companies in forest-risk supply chains are doing to ensure that the delivery of zero hunger is sustainable - and deforestation-free.

by Theo Stanley

For the last three years, the number of undernourished people has slowly grown. According to the FAO more than 820 million people are hungry today.

As we mark World Food Day, dedicated to addressing global food security, it is perhaps timely to ask what companies in forest-risk supply chains are doing to ensure that the delivery of zero hunger is sustainable — and deforestation-free.

High-profile commitments

At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York last month, some of the world’s largest food production companies came together to address the unfolding biodiversity, deforestation and climate crisis.

Nineteen companies signed the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) initiative, pledging to protect soil health, diversify the ingredients they use and produce, and eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.

Despite its appealing rhetoric, it should be remembered that the OP2B pledge sits within a wider history of high-profile commitments from big businesses to address tropical deforestation. So far, lofty promises have translated into limited progress.

In 2010, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), an industry network of over 400 manufacturers, retailers and other related organisations, pledged to achieve net-zero deforestation in its members’ supply chains by 2020.

Five years ago, excitement surrounded the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), an agreement signed by over 200 endorsers which pledged to “at least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and end natural forest lost by 2030”.

But the most recent NYDF progress report, which uses Global Canopy’s Forest 500 data, shows that the 2020 deforestation goals will not be met. Despite the CGF’s and NYDF’s promises to decrease deforestation, the rate of tree cover loss has actually increased by 43% since the NYDF was signed. In fact, on average, each year between 2014 and 2018, a forested area the size of the United Kingdom was cleared.

Natural forest loss from Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests

Forest 500

One of the OP2B’s explicit goals is to “Ensure that the sourcing of commodities at risk (palm oil, soy, paper and beef) does not drive deforestation, which is a major contributor to biodiversity loss”.

Global Canopy’s Forest 500 project assesses whether (or not) individual companies have policies and commitments to realise these goals. Forest 500 tracks how the 500 most influential companies and financial institutions in forest-risk supply chains are performing in the race to remove deforestation.

Individual companies are ranked on whether they have adopted zero-deforestation commitments and commodity-specific policies, and whether they present their commodity supply chains in a transparent manner.

Forest 500 members in the OP2B Agreement. Source: Forest 500.

Just eight of the most influential companies signed the OP2B. Of these, only Nestle received a full 5/5 ranking for its commitments to ensuring a deforestation-free supply chain. Other companies either do not have progressive enough deforestation policies, or fail to be fully transparent in revealing their supply chains.

Forest 500 data highlights how merely signing agreements does not necessarily translate into a progressive supply chain policy. For example, OP2B signatory Kering S.A. who own Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, scored only 2/5 in Forest 500’s 2018 rankings, due to their weak commodity policies and inadequate reporting and implementation.

Similarly, Dutch company DSM, who use significant quantities of palm oil and soy in the manufacturing of products related to health, nutrition and materials, received 2/5.

Clearly then, companies signing the OP2B agreement must improve their individual commitments, actions and implementation.

Absent animal feed companies

Despite the sector having a serious impact on deforestation-risk supply chains, there are few animal feed producers signed up to the OP2B agreement. Whilst consumer-facing companies, such as Mars, Unilever and Danone, are keen to make steps towards sustainability public, companies that consumers probably haven’t heard of continue to operate opaquely.

Animal feed companies scores in Forest 500

New Hope Group, one of the largest animal feed producers in the world (20 million tons of it, in 2015), is notably absent from OP2B. They score 1/5 in the Forest 500 assessment, having no commodity-specific policy on paper, soy or palm oil. They have not signed the NYDF, and are not members of the CGF.

Similarly, 10 million member-strong Japanese agricultural cooperative JA Group, and American agribusiness company Land O’Lakes Inc. are not OP2B signatories. Their respective subsidiaries ZEN-NOH and Purina are two of the largest animal feed producers in the world. Both companies received a 1/5 score in Forest 500’s 2018 rankings, again having no commodity-specific policy for paper, palm oil and soil.

Food for the future

The deadlines for the NYDF and CGF have not been met. Clearly, multi-corporation agreements to ‘stop deforestation’ mean nothing when companies do not pledge progressive individual commitments. 

Yet so long as commodity-specific policies and supply chain transparency remain opt-in rather than obligatory, companies who hide away from agreements can continue their destructive deforestation practices.

Tropical deforestation and world hunger are interrelated; and increasing. To address world hunger, food companies cannot be content only in supplying food. Forest 500 can guide companies towards cultivating more transparent, sustainable — and ultimately ethical — supply chains. And this is crucial for establishing long-term food security.

Theo Stanley is this year’s Claudia Comberti Intern at Global Canopy


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