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Finance & Investment
Major Companies, Investors Still Blind to Their Role in Deforestation

Global Canopy’s 10th annual Forest 500 report reveals that, despite some pockets of progress, voluntary private sector action has failed to generate meaningful progress on commodity-driven deforestation.

Today, Global Canopy released its tenth annual Forest 500 report and ranking — which tracks the policies and performance of the 350 most influential companies and 150 financial institutions most exposed to deforestation risk in their supply chains and investments.

Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the companies and financiers that have been included in each of the 10 annual assessments since the Forest 500 was established have still not published a single commitment on addressing deforestation. These companies include Europe’s biggest shoe manufacturer, Deichmann Group; China’s second-largest food and beverage company, Bright Food Group; and one of the world’s largest institutional investors, Vanguard — which has long been the target of environmental campaigners due to its unwillingness to acknowledge or address the climate impacts of its investments.

“There is no solution to climate change without ending deforestation — almost every country in the world has committed to join in efforts to urgently address and reverse deforestation,” says Niki Mardas, Executive Director of Global Canopy. “Yet — after a decade of being in the spotlight and numerous engagement attempts — it is remarkable that this group of highly exposed companies has failed to produce a single, publicly available deforestation commitment. Ignorance has long since ceased to be a defense.”

Companies

The assessments show that 37 percent of Forest 500 companies — including Aldi, Carrefour, Domino’s, Ferrero, Inditex, New Balance, Prada and Walmart — have published a deforestation commitment for at least one commodity, but not for all commodities they are exposed to and have influence over.

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Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies that have set commitments — including Adidas, Starbucks and Gap — are failing to publish adequate evidence of their implementation. Just 6 percent of the companies with a deforestation commitment showed adequate evidence of implementation for all highest-risk commodities.

Financial institutions

In 2014, just 11 percent of financial institutions in the Forest 500 had published a deforestation policy — 10 years later, that figure has risen to 45 percent. But this means that the majority (55 percent) of financial institutions with the highest exposure to deforestation in their portfolios — including BlackRock, Vanguard and T. Rowe Price — are still yet to set a single policy.

85 percent of financial institutions still do not have a publicly available policy for all the four highest-risk commoditiessoy, cattle products (beef and leather), timber products (timber and pulp and paper), and palm oil — which drive two-thirds of tropical deforestation.

Associated human rights abuses

Assessments of the Forest 500 show that the human rights abuses linked to deforestation are being largely ignored across the board. Just 1 percent of the companies assessed in 2023 had a publicly available commitment in place for all of the human rights commitments across at least one of the highest-risk commodities for which they’re assessed; and none had this for all commodities. 28 companies that have been continuously assessed since 2014 have scored 0 for human rights in the Forest 500 every year.

The same is true for financial institutions. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited was the only financial institution assessed that required its clients and/or holdings to have a zero-tolerance approach for violence and threats against forest, land and human rights defenders in their supply chains.

10 lessons from 10 years of data

Over the last 10 years, the Forest 500 project has gathered 1.3 million data points on the 350 companies and 150 financial institutions with the most influence on commodity-driven tropical deforestation.

Chief among the 10 lessons learned is the need for regulation, as the data show voluntary action by the private sector is not working. Regulation for companies is now in place in the EU; but other key markets, including the US and the UK, need to follow suit. And the laws need to be strengthened to include financial institutions, due to the influence they can exert over companies.

“Voluntary action alone doesn’t cut it; regulation is the only way to make the vital shift to the system as a whole that the world so urgently needs,” Mardas asserts.

Another lesson is that human rights must be embedded and better understood as linked to deforestation, as deforestation and conversion are intrinsically linked to human rights abuses. This includes violence and threats against forest, land and human rights defenders; conflicts over customary rights to land, resources and territory; and failure to secure the free prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Other key lessons include:

  • To achieve net zero, deforestation must be recognized as central to the climate agenda — Although a third of the Forest 500 companies have set high-profile net-zero commitments across their supply chains in the past decade, 94 percent are currently off-track to achieve those commitments based on their action on deforestation and conversion.

  • Public pressure leads to action — Public pressure, alongside accessible and credible certification schemes, can drive rapid progress on deforestation and conversion on the ground in supply chains. A good example is palm oil —numerous global investigations and campaigns over the past 20 years have shined a light on the environmental and social unsustainability of conventional palm oil production; the impact of this public pressure is evidenced by 52 percent of companies in palm oil supply chains having a commitment in 2014, which grew to 76 percent in 2023. Financial institutions have also made progress on palm oil — 8 percent had a deforestation policy in place for palm oil in 2014, compared to 40 percent in 2023, an increase of 32 percentage points.

  • More attention must be placed on cattle farming, the biggest agricultural driver of deforestation globally —Despite its significance, 65 percent of the companies assessed for beef and 70 percent of those assessed for leather have still not set a single publicly available deforestation commitment for these commodities. With this staggering level of inaction on these commodities compared to their impact, greater attention must be placed on cattle products.

  • Commitments are never enough — They are not worth the paper they are written on without implementation.

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