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Tackling the deforestation on supermarket shelves

New legislation is likely to require UK and EU supermarkets to ensure the products they sell are not linked to deforestation - are the necessary checks in place?

Supermarkets are under growing pressure to address the deforestation hidden in products on their shelves. Consumers are increasingly saying they don’t want deforestation in the goods they buy, and new legislation is in the pipeline requiring UK and EU companies to check products are deforestation-free. Ending tropical deforestation has been identified by the IPCC as one of the most effective land-use measures for addressing climate change, and at COP26  governments committed to halt deforestation in commodity supply chains by 2030.

Supermarkets are exposed to deforestation through palm oil (found in a range of processed foods), soy (mainly used in animal feed, so indirectly present in meat, fish and dairy), imported cattle products including from the Amazon and the Chaco (processed beef, leather, tallow), and through timber and pulp and paper (used for packaging). Supermarkets can take steps to ensure their supply chains are deforestation-free - and in some cases will soon be required to do so - but our latest Forest 500 assessments suggest that all of the European-based supermarket groups still have a lot of work to do.

Gaps in commitments

The Forest 500 ranking includes the 350 companies with the most exposure to tropical deforestation-risk worldwide. Each company is assessed on their approach to deforestation and associated human rights, based on the information published by the company on its website. Assessments look at the deforestation policies or commitments made by the company, and at how the company reports on how the policy is being implemented on the ground. Do companies monitor supply chains, for example, or report on the proportion of their supplies that are verified deforestation-free?

Just six of the 14 European supermarket groups assessed in the Forest 500 have made a public commitment to ending deforestation across all of their supply chains, and none of the supermarket groups meet Forest 500’s definition of a strong commitment - to be free from deforestation, conversion of all natural ecosystems, and free from associated human rights abuses (specifically labour rights, rights to land, resources and territory, free and prior informed consent, and zero tolerance for threats and violence against land and environmental defenders).

The German Schwarz Group, which owns Lidl, Kaufland, Handelshof and Kaufmarkt, has a zero gross conversion commitment (no deforestation or other ecosystem conversion) for all commodities (it is not assessed for leather), but drops points on commitments to prevent human rights abuses.

ICA Gruppen, which owns supermarkets in Sweden and across the Baltic States, has not made any commitments to zero-gross deforestation or conversion for any of its commodities. It does have a commitment to using a credible certification scheme for palm oil, timber and pulp and paper supplies, but only has a vague commitment for their soy to be “responsibly sourced” (classed as a sustainability commitment in Forest 500) and no commitment at all for beef.

And SPAR International only has a commitment for credible certification for pulp and paper - with sustainability commitments for soy and palm oil. Sustainability commitments are not recognised in the Forest 500 assessment because they do not include a specific commitment on deforestation.

Table shows which supermarkets have commitments for which commodities
Supermarket commitments for different forest-risk commodities

Performance is weakest for beef, where just six of the supermarkets assessed have a deforestation commitment, and strongest for timber and pulp and paper. Thirteen of the supermarkets have a commitment for palm oil, leaving just one, SPAR International, that does not. 

Graph shows proportion of commitments per commodity

Gaps in implementation

Commitments are only worthwhile if they are implemented, and to do this supermarkets need to look to their supply chains and engage with their suppliers to ensure deforestation-free supplies. 

Just one of the supermarket groups assessed, Carrefour, reports on its progress towards implementing its commitments across all commodities covered by a deforestation commitment. Just three supermarket groups have a process in place to monitor their suppliers for compliance with their policies across all of their commodities. 

Only four supermarket groups commit to check that their commodity supplies are produced legally. None of the supermarkets assessed report on how much of all of their commodity supply chains are deforestation-free. 

Table shows which supermarkets report how they are implementing commitments
Do supermarkets publish details of how they are implementing their commitments?

Some supermarkets do report on how they implement their commitments in some supply chains. 

Twelve supermarkets report on progress in implementing their commitment in palm oil supply chains and nine of the 12 monitor supplier compliance for palm oil. 

Nine of the supermarket groups report on soy commitments, but just six of these actually monitor supplier compliance. 

Due diligence

Taking steps to check supply chains is a crucial part of the due diligence measures being introduced through legislation in the UK and EU, and it is positive to see that some supermarkets are already doing this for some commodities. The EU legislative proposals require companies to check on the origin of the commodities they buy, and to check that the farms are not linked to deforestation. The measures in the UK Environment Act also require due diligence to be carried out to ensure that imported commodities are not linked to illegal deforestation. While the precise details of which commodities are included are still to be decided, it is clear that some supermarkets - including those with the most influence on tropical deforestation - will need to up their game to meet the requirements.

Graph shows proportion of supermarkets monitoring supplier compliance

Raising the bar to deliver on climate goals

While the overall picture shows that no supermarkets are doing enough to ensure that all of their commodity supply chains are deforestation-free, the progress made in palm oil supply chains, and the action across commodities by some companies points the way for others to follow.

The legislation in the pipeline for EU and UK markets is expected to drive further action from companies, and it is important that the legislative measures cover all commodities for both jurisdictions. 

But to meet the climate goals set out in the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land-Use, supermarkets need to go beyond the legislative requirements and take more ambitious action to ensure their supply chains are free from deforestation and associated human rights abuses. 


Written by: Helen Burley, Global Canopy's Corporate Performance Communications Lead

Photo: Father.Jack via, creative commons licence.

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