As an issue putting nearly a trillion dollars at risk, deforestation has quickly become a front-of-mind concern for businesses dependent on forest-risk commodities, such as timber, palm oil and cocoa. However, new data released by the Forest 500 shows that the 250 companies with the greatest influence over forests are failing to adequately address deforestation risks, and will not meet 2020 goals to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
The Forest 500 annual ranking for 2017 — which marks the halfway point to the New York Declaration on Forests 2020 goal to eliminate deforestation from agricultural supply chains — shows that the biggest powerbrokers in the deforestation economy are not acting fact enough to address the risks tropical deforestations. What’s more, findings indicate that some companies continue to ignore the supply chain impacts on forests.
The Forest 500’s findings echo those of a recent study by CDP, which found that despite 87 percent of companies identifying at least one risk related to the production or consumption of forest-risk commodities, only 13 percent have made time-bound, comprehensive commitments to zero deforestation. With deforestation responsible for up to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly a third of companies saying they are already feeling the impact of these risks, this is particularly worrisome.
The Forest 500 identified cattle production as the biggest driver of tropical deforestation, but commitments from companies operating in beef and leather supply chains appear to have stalled, with some companies going backwards — four companies dealing in beef and leather have dropped commitments since Forest 500 began tracking in 2014.
Corporate Political Responsibility in an Environment of Distrust
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The Forest 500 assesses 250 companies and 150 financial institutions, all selected for their influence over forests. These organizations are scored for their commitments to address deforestation in four commodity supply chains: soy, palm oil, cattle and timber (including pulp and paper).
The 2017 assessment finds that although commitments by companies in timber and palm oil supply chains are growing, very few companies have strong policies for all the commodities in their supply chain. Just 18 companies merit a top score of 5/5, none of which are financial institutions. Only one in five of the companies and financial institutions assessed has a commitment to address all deforestation-risk commodities.
“This year’s ranking clearly shows that while some leading companies have recognized the importance of tackling deforestation in their supply chains, most have not, and many are taking a piecemeal approach,” said Dr. Sarah Lake, Supply Chains Program Lead at Global Canopy. “Companies need to develop policies across all their supply chains to ensure forests are protected, and financial institutions need to ensure that their investment policies recognize the deforestation risks in their portfolios.
Overall, the 2017 assessment shows a slow rate of progress with only five companies improving policies enough to increase their score to five out of five. Twenty-five companies received a score of zero. Progress among financial institutions is also slow, with just 13 scoring four out of five, and 65 financial institutions (43 percent) scoring zero.
The highest scoring companies based on strength of policies across at least three commodities are Nestl****é, Mars, Marks & Spencer, Danone and Kellogg Co. In October, Nestlé, Mars and Marks & Spencer and Kellogg signed off on the Cerrado Manifesto, a call to action for the elimination of deforestation and conversion of native vegetation in Brazil’s Cerrado. Mars and Nestlé also recently committed to the new Cocoa & Forests Initiative Framework of Action, which was delivered during COP23 and sets out a number of public-private actions for ensuring the protection and restoration of forest land, as well as the long-term economic viability of over two million smallholder cocoa farmers.
Other top performers include Unilever and L**’Or****éal**, both of which recently received top marks on CDP’s A-List for their water, climate and forest stewardship.