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recent analysis by the Zoological Society of London found that over half of the 100 most significant tropical timber and pulp companies do not publicly commit to protecting biodiversity and only 44% have yet to publicly commit to zero deforestation. As of 2021, forests still cover about 31% of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1990, the world lost 1.3 million sq km of forest due to deforestation for land uses and commercial agriculture. The area of primary forest worldwide has since decreased by over 80 million hectares. Despite the rate of deforestation have shown signs of decreasing, where between 2015 and 2020 deforestation was estimated to be down from 16 million hectares every year to 10 million, a number of companies remain to be the drivers for deforestation. They should be named and shamed and made to account for their actions, which threaten every inhabitant of the planet: human, animal, and plant. There are many, but here are 13 companies that are responsible for deforestation.

Who is Responsible for Deforestation?

1. Cargill

The US-based company has a long history of destruction and one of the biggest companies that contribute to deforestation, according to a report by NGO Mighty Earth. The report details how Cargill profits from the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of people. In Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia, Cargill is involved in the destruction of the Amazon, Grand Chaco, and Cerrado ecosystems for the production of soy and beef. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Cargill buys coca that has been illegally grown in protected areas and national parks. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Cargill buys palm oil from companies that illegally clear rainforests.

The report also claims that Cargill uses inaccurate accounting methods to underestimate how harmful its practices are.

Its corporate customers include McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart, Walmart, Unilever, and more.

2. BlackRock

In January 2020, investment firm BlackRock announced it would exit investments with high environmental risks, including thermal coal. They also said that they would launch new investment products that screen for fossil fuels.

However, BlackRock has been accused of “climate hypocrisy” since, in September, a big data tool found that the firm’s ESG funds hold companies with a deforestation risk that stretches over 500 hectares of land, more than any other fund.

3. Wilmar International Ltd.

The world’s largest refiner and trader of palm oil, Wilmar International received a total score of 25% on Forest 500, which assesses the biggest companies in the world in terms of their anti-deforestation commitments. The company is one of the world’s largest oil palm plantation owners and processors, reportedly controlling around 45% of worldwide palm oil trade sourced from more than 80% of global palm oil growers. Wilmar also has a global soybean crushing capacity of 36 million metric tons per year, the majority of which is in China.

It has no commitments to protect priority forests and no commitments to report on its supply chain. They also do not monitor or verify supplier compliance.

Furthermore, in April 2020, the company left a committee that helps to identify forest areas for protection.

4. Walmart

Walmart has set zero-deforestation goals for 2020, however, it does not have a system in place to track and monitor the origin of forest-risk commodities – palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, and beef; it says that implementing such a system is “not an immediate business priority.

It is unlikely that it will meet the goals defined for these key commodities, but it also “does not know” what percentage of the soy and beef used in the product it sells is produced with zero net deforestation.

In 2019, NGO Mighty Earth was publicly linked to the fires in the Amazon as it conducted business with the Brazilian beef company JBS. Walmart is also a major buyer of Cargill’s products, the second-largest Brazilian soy exporter.

5. JBS

JBS is one of Brazil’s leading exporters of beef and one of the more known deforestation companies. It operates over 200 production facilities worldwide, processing many tens of thousands of cattle per day. In addition to beef, JBS uses soy in its animal feed in cattle feedlots, poultry, and swine farms.

On the Forest 500 index, it has received a score of just 39%.

Further, in July 2020, JBS reportedly acquired cattle from a farm in the Brazilian Amazon which is under sanction for illegal deforestation, the fifth time in a year that the company has been linked to illegal deforestation.

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6. IKEA

Despite claims that it does not accept illegally logged wood in its products, a report accused IKEA of sourcing manufactured products from suppliers that have used logs that were felled illegally in Ukraine. VGSM, one of IKEA’s suppliers, also cut down trees during a “silence period” between April and mid-June, when certain forms of logging in Ukraine are banned during the critical breeding period for lynx and other species.

Those logs were also felled under a “sanitary felling” permit, a widely-used loophole in Ukrainian that allows for trees to be cut down and sold provided they were already damaged by disease or insect infestation. These permits are often issued even when the felled trees show little or no signs of degradation.

According to the company, they are the largest producer of wooden furniture in the world, meaning that their operations require large amounts of timber.

Despite saying that it will investigate the claim and potentially end its relationship with the law-breaking supplier, the Swedish furniture company received a score of 48% on the Forest 500 index, failing in the commodity categories of timber, leather, pulp and paper, and palm oil. Its commitment strength to protect priority forests is also low for all commodities.

In 2021, the Swedish giant was also implicated in an Earthsight investigation for selling children’s furniture made from wood linked to illegal logging in protected Siberian forests in Russia.

7. Korindo Group PT

Korindo group is an Indonesian-based producer, processor, and manufacturer of various products, including wind towers, battery separators, specialised container vehicles, and cast iron products. It has plantations of palm oil and timber.

two-year investigation process by the International Board of Directors of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global certification body on responsible forest management found the company guilty of violating its association policies. Korindo has engaged in massive-scale deforestation in Papua and North Maluku (more than 30 000 hectares in the two years prior to filing the complaint), Indonesia, and has been using the FSC’s eco-forestry label to greenwash its practices. The investigation also found that the company destroys critical wildlife habitats and violates traditional and human rights.

It sells its timber, plywood, pulpwood, biomass, and newsprint to Asia Pulp & Paper, APRIL, Sumitomo Forestry, Oji Corporation, and News Corps Australia.

The company has received a score of 38% on the Forest 500 index based on its poor commitment strength, reporting and implementation, and social considerations.

8. Yakult Honsha Co. Ltd

This is the Japanese manufacturer of the popular probiotic milk drink Yakult. It also produces a variety of other food and beverage products, as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Through its various product lines, Yakult is exposed to forest risk commodity palm oil, soy, and pulp and paper.

Shockingly, it has a score of 3% on the Forest 500 index; it has made no commitments to protect any priority forests in which it operates. In 2018, it committed to ending deforestation by 2020 but it has since dropped that commitment.

9. Starbucks

In 2015, Starbucks was ranked as the largest chain of coffee shops in the world by the number of stores; in 2017, it had over 24 000 outlets in 70 countries. Starbucks also sells teas, bottled drinks, baked goods, snacks, and other food. Its products and packaging expose the company to various forest risk commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, and paper. On the Forest 500 index, it performs very poorly for palm oil, soy, and pulp and paper, but especially soy, where its commitment strength, reporting and monitoring, and social consideration scores are abysmal. It scored 25% on the index overall, making it one of the companies that caused deforestation.

Starbucks says that 99% of its coffee is now ethically sourced, but it has yet to adopt sourcing policies that ensure that the palm oil in its baked goods does not contribute to deforestation, climate change, and human rights violations. A Wall Street Journal investigation found human rights abuses on plantations in Malaysia.

10. McDonald’s

McDonald’s has more than 36 000 locations in over 100 countries. Its burgers, sandwiches, sides, and beverages involve significant amounts of beef, soy, and palm oil, as well as paper in packaging. In 2015, over 120 000 metric tons of palm oil were used by McDonald’s. The fast-food restaurant gets its soy from Cargill, one of the most renowned deforestation companies.

These companies conduct billions of dollars’ worth of business all around the world- they should not be allowed to continue their wanton acts of destruction against the environment, deforestation or otherwise. Wherever possible, the countries in which they operate should mandate that they either source their products in an ethical and sustainable way, or move their production somewhere else. If every country were to take this hard a stance, these unethical companies would soon have nowhere to go.

11. Yum! Brands

The American fast food corporation owns a majority of the country’s biggest fast food chains including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Considering the massive amounts of meat, soy, palm oil, and paper used in its restaurants in the US and across the world, Yum! Brand is unsurprisingly one of the major companies that contribute to deforestation in order to get ahold of these commodities. According to the WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard in 2019, Yum rack up to a total of 157,776 tonnes of palm oil used in a year. 

Despite the corporation having made a commitment to eliminate deforestation from their global supply chains by 2020,  a CDP Consumer Deforestation Report found that not only Yum was not able to achieve that target,  but industry-wide deforestation goals were also not met. 

12. Procter & Gamble (P&G)

The consumer goods giant P&G was recently given a grade F in the scorecard released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) when evaluating the major companies, banks and other parties who are involved in deforestation. P&G has been criticised for their inadequate action in addressing the impact of its sourcing of forest-risk commodities, and failure to ensure that their forest sourcing does not infringe on Indigenous rights and negatively impact threatened species. 

The WWF reported that P&G used a total of 463,295 tonnes of palm oil in 2019 and was not able to guarantee sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil. 

13. Ahold Delhaize

The supermarket chain Ahold Delhaize, which forms an umbrella over companies like Stop & Shop, Food Lion, Giant, Hannaford, and other brands, has said they aim to achieve zero deforestation and conversion by 2025. However in 2018, they launched a $100 million joint venture with Cargill to operate a new meat packaging plant supplying Ahold Delhaize’s stores in the US, as well as continue to source meat from another leading deforestation company, JBS. The fact that the zero deforestation goal currently only applies to the company itself and not to the entire corporate group is also telling of its commitment to deforestation.

Featured image by: Sandile Ndlovu

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged to a 12-year high in the year between August 2019 and July 2020. 

During this time, 11 088 sq km of rainforest was destroyed- up 9.5% from the previous year and the highest level of destruction since 2008, according to the INPE during its annual news conference this week. 

Brazil’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, attempted to be positive about the figures as he visited INPE’s headquarters in São José dos Campos this week. Mourão claimed the annual increase of 9.5% was less than half the anticipated figure of about 20%. He said, “We’re not here to commemorate any of this, because it’s nothing to commemorate. But it means that the efforts being launched [against Amazon deforestation] are starting to yield fruit.”

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What is Happening?

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and is called the “lungs of the world” as one of the planet’s best defenses against climate change. The rainforest is capable of pulling billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. 

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

Russia contains the largest area of natural forests in the world, covering 49% of Russia’s landmass and 815 million hectares, 23% of the planet’s total forest area. Yet, much of the country’s forests are under the threats of rapid deforestation. From 2001 to 2019, Russia lost 64 million hectares of relative tree cover, equivalent to an  8.4% decrease since 2000 and 17% of the global total. In 2018 alone, Russia lost 5.6 million hectares of tree cover followed by Brazil with nearly 3 million. What obstacles does Russia face in preventing deforestation?

Russia’s forests stretch from the Baltic Sea to the Sea of Japan, encompassing the last wild forests of Europe and a substantial portion of the vast wilderness of Siberia. With their ability to soak up carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, the world’s forests are often referred to as the “planet’s lungs.”

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deforestation russia

An illustration showing the top five countries in the world for forest area (Source: Weforum.org). 

Poor Forest Management

The forests of Russia are owned by the state and are used for commercial reasons by the private sector. Forests can only be licensed as concessions to enterprises for one to 49 years, but the Office of the President of the Russian Federation reported an approximate 66% increase in illegal logging from 2008 to 2013 in the Russian Federation. 

Action to combat illegal deforestation is taken by the Federal Forestry Agency of Russia, which is responsible for forest policy, regulation of forests as well as enacting new laws. The 2013 Russian Roundwood Act requires the timber process to have documentation for Roundwood transportation, logs of valuable hardwoods and Roundwood sales to be declared in an open-source database alongside the implementation of penalties for non-compliance with the law concerning the Roundwood transaction declaration.

Additionally, an export tax in 2008 aimed to restrict log exports, reduce the loss of forest resources and increase domestic processing, jobs, and revenue for the domestic forestry industry.

Despite this, there are millions of hectares where it is unclear whether they are agricultural or forest areas, making it difficult to understand where illegal logging takes place; the government and administrative bodies often lack the funds to get clear indications of this.

Most illegal logging occurs through permits being issued illegally. The UN has stated that 14.2% of timber firms experienced at least one bribe payment request in 2012 with an overall lack of transparency during concession licensing processes with unfair competition and licences issued based on auctions to the highest bidder or given to individuals with connections to the issuing authorities.

In general, with little oversight by the government and high levels of corruption, many illegal timber activities are left unchallenged resulting in deforestation in Russia occurring unabated.

China’s Wood Demand

China is the world’s largest importer of logs and lumber in the world, becoming a global wood product remanufacturing and redistribution centre. 48.3% of these lumber imports to China are supplied by Russia.

By Russia feeding China’s colossal appetite for wood, China has brought jobs and cash to regions of Russia. Yet China has sharply restricted domestic logging to preserve its own forests, as well as Russian timber facilities to only be staffed by Chinese labour.

Ms Avdoshkevich, the Kansk City Council member said that the Chinese timber barons based in China simply ship as much wood as they can, as quickly as possible, to China, without investment in manufacturing in Russia and without regard to environmental damage.

It is estimated that around 20% of the Russian wood exported to China is felled illegally, helping Russia to become a global leader in forest depletion.

Furthermore, corruption is allegedly widespread in the Russian timber industry. Nikolay Shmatkov from the WWF believes that the law enforcement officials are stretched to their limits and that they stand by without taking action with Russian forestry workers who sell the timber without necessary permissions to China.

Although China’s timber rush has temporarily stimulated Russia’s local economies, it has also stoked localised Russian public anger against China unwilling to let Russia truly benefit from its timber investments while destroying its forests.

Raging Wildfires

Since the start of 2020, it’s estimated by Greenpeace International that fires have burnt through 20 million hectares of the Russian landscape, an area bigger than Greece, and about 10.9 million hectares of forest. 

The Forestry Agency says the authorities will not extinguish 91% of the fires because they are located in “control zones.” Forests fall into control zones when the fires have no effect on local populations and when the cost of extinguishing them is greater than the residual damage of the fires.

“The role of fires in climate change is underestimated. Most of the fires are man-made,” said Grigory Kuksin, head of the fire protection department at Greenpeace Russia.

While the Russian government has previously declared states of emergency and dispatched the military to help firefighting efforts, local authorities have dismissed the wildfires as a natural occurrence, saying that putting out wildfires is not economically viable.

Environmental Damage in Russia Beyond Deforestation

In addition to the destruction of carbon-absorbing forests across Russia, the carbon dioxide, smoke and soot released have increased temperatures, with the winter of 2019 being the warmest winter in 130 years according to the Russian Hydrometeorological Research Center. It is these conditions that have invigorated heat and dry tundra conditions triggering forest fires along the Arctic Circle.

“Now we are seeing these fires within 15 kilometres of the Arctic Ocean,” according to Greg Henry, a climatologist and tundra researcher at the University of British Columbia. “Usually there’s not much fuel to burn there, because it’s kept cold by the ocean so you don’t get ignition of fires that far north.”

In turn, by burning so close to the Arctic, the fires are contributing to the thawing of Arctic permafrost which, in some cases, can lead to sudden ground collapse. The Western Russian Arctic is experiencing some of the highest rates of permafrost degradation globally with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasting that by 2050, near-surface permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere may shrink by 15 to 30%. 

“When surface soil rich in organic matter burns, it places the permafrost at risk which serves as an insulator against warm summer temperatures,” explains Sue Natali, Arctic programme director at Woods Hole Research Centre. 

Permafrost degradation risks the collapsing of infrastructure as well as the release of carbon feedback.

Another implication of forest fires in the Arctic Circle is the burning of peatlands, carbon-rich soils that accumulate as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. These are the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth; a typical northern peatland packs in roughly ten times as much carbon as a boreal forest and nearly half the world’s peatland-stored carbon lies between 60 and 70 degrees north, along the Arctic Circle. 

As a result of Arctic wildfires, northern peatlands could eventually shift from being a sink for carbon to a source, further dramatically accelerating climate change.

Russia ’s lacklustre response to tackle deforestation is in line with the country’s low commitment to addressing climate change, relying heavily on the oil and gas industry as well as having a poor record of enforcing green initiatives that could have greater negative global climate effects simply from not addressing deforestation and for short-term economic gains.

Featured image by: Flickr

A Greenpeace study in Hong Kong has found that nearly one-third of the city’s supply of beef comes from Brazilian ranches located in deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest.

The survey, conducted in August, found that imported beef from Marfrig, JBS and Minerva Foods, meat packers that represent nearly half of the cattle slaughtered in the Amazon, is being sold in at least one major supermarket chain in Hong Kong. 

Frances Yeung Hoi-shan, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace, says to the South China Morning Post, “Some of the supply chains are like ‘beef laundering’. The smaller ranchers that farm on destroyed Amazon forest land sell to other ranchers, who then sell to larger farms, before it ends up with consumers. This means beef from ranches on destroyed forest land is mixed in with beef from other farms that are not on deforested areas.”

Hong Kong and China are the top two destinations for Brazilian beef, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In 2017, Hong Kong imported 780 000 tons of frozen beef and offal, of which 53% came from Brazil. 60% of this beef in Brazil came from the three meat packers, which is how Greenpeace arrived at its figure of 30% of beef consumed by Hong Kongers coming from these three companies.

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Cattle ranchers, loggers and farmers in Brazil often set fire to the Amazon rainforest to clear land for their activities. The pace of deforestation has increased rapidly since President Jair Bolsonaro came into power. He says that farming and mining in the forest is the only way to lift the country out of poverty.

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that 796 square kilometers of forest were cut down during the first three months of this year. A third of the devastation happened on land including national forests and conservation areas, which in general have become targets for land grabbers eager for big profits. According to the Institute, reports of deforestation were up 51% between January and March as compared to 2019.

According to the SCMP, while Yata and City’super responded to Greenpeace saying that they “rarely” sold Brazilian beef, ParknShop, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the city, said it sourced a “small portion” of beef from JBS and would switch to other suppliers once its current stock had sold out.

Hong Kong is already being affected by the climate crisis, seen in reports that this summer was the hottest since records began in 1884. The number of “very hot days” recorded this year has already reached 43, 32.8 days above the annual norm.

The UK government is planning to introduce a new law aimed at clamping down on illegal deforestation by fining large companies who cannot prove that their supply chains are not linked to illegal deforestation.

The legislation- drafted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs- would prohibit companies in the UK above a certain size to use products grown on land which has been subject to illegal deforestation. Ministers have launched a six-week consultation to discuss these measures, where they will consider how the law will impact businesses and other stakeholders. 

Businesses could also face substantial fines if they fail to publish information to show where these key products- including rubber, soil and palm oil- come from and whether they are produced in line with local laws protecting forests. The Department says that these illegally produced commodities ‘have no place in the UK market’. The size of these fines would be determined at a later date. A regulator will check that businesses have complied, and if found not to, the environment secretary will have the power to issue fines.

The proposal says that the legislation would target a relatively small number of businesses. Employee or turnover thresholds will be set out in the secondary legislation, but the department has said that the approach would minimise the regulatory burden on smaller businesses in the UK whose supply chain is less likely to have an impact. 

Deforestation accounts for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The issue has come into mainstream politics, with both the UK and the EU considering rules to outlaw the importing of products from illegally deforested land. 

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International Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, says that there is a ‘hugely important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint’ and that ‘the UK has a duty to lead the way in combating the biodiversity and nature crisis’. 

While industry associations representing food and drinks makers, as well as retailers, welcomed the announcement, Elena Polisano, forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK, says the law is ‘seriously flawed’. “We’ve all seen the way President Bolsonaro has championed the expansion of agriculture in Brazil at the expense of the Amazon rainforest. We will never solve this problem without tackling demand. Companies like Tesco, who sell more meat and dairy and so use more soya for animal feed than any other UK retailers, know what they need to do to reduce the impact they are having on deforestation in the Amazon and other crucial forests: They must reduce the amount of meat and dairy they sell and drop forest destroyers from their supply chain immediately,” she says. 

According to the recent report from WWF, to satisfy the UK’s demand for commodities including beef, cocoa, palm oil, and paper and pulp between 2016 and 2018, a total of 21.3 million hectares of land, equivalent to 88% of the UK land area, was needed each year. 

Earlier this year, more than 40 European companies, including retailers Tesco and Marks and Spencer, warned they would boycott Brazilian products if President Jair Bolsonaro’s government did not act on deforestation. 

Institutional investors have also urged Brasília to halt deforestation. 

In the first half of 2020, deforestation had risen by 25% from the same period in 2019, totalling 4 879 sq km

Featured image by: Nathanael Coyne

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