Companies complicit Amazon fires

As fires continue to rage across the Amazon, Josie Wexler looks at companies that are implicated.

Nine months after the far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was elected on a platform of plundering the Amazon, the forest is ablaze.

It’s unlikely to have been big corporations that struck the match – that is thought to be smaller farmers who have the (probably correct) impression that they can now get away with it. Yet there is no doubt that the forest is mostly being cleared for agriculture, and the main products are cattle and soya.

We, therefore, had a look for companies that are implicated, or that might have the power to do something about it.

Companies in the beef industry

Fresh and frozen beef sold in the UK is generally reared in the UK or other European countries, as South American beef has been priced out by the EU’s external tariff policy.

(This could change in a No Deal Brexit scenario, in which countries like Brazil could potentially have equal access into the UK beef market.)

However, tens of thousands of tonnes of Brazilian beef is consumed here each year in the form of corned beef. Corned beef is an exception to the tariff policy, which largely only applies to “high-quality beef” (and as anyone unfortunate enough to have ever eaten it will be able to attest, corned beef is not high quality).

Three big companies dominate Brazilian beef exports – JBS, Minerva and Marfrig. All three have been accused of being complicit in deforestation. Brazilian corned beef from the three companies has been found at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Coop and Asda. It is also sold to NHS Supply Chain, which manages food across the health service, and to the Ministry of Defence.

In the last month, there have been protests in the UK at McDonald's and Burger King over their use of Brazilian produce. The chains made a big deal of telling everyone that they only sell UK and Irish beef in the UK, which is true (and the result of the tariffs, not idealism).
 

image: billboard fast food fries forests

But they all sell Brazilian beef extensively in other countries. McDonald’s lists Brazil as one of the top 10 countries it sources beef from at a global level. Burger King not only buys Brazilian beef, but it is also owned by a Brazilian company: 3G Capital.

Leather

While 80% of Brazilian beef is consumed domestically, 80% of Brazilian leather is exported, potentially giving foreigners more leverage to force change. Brazilian leather is primarily used for car seats and furniture rather than clothing, although about 20% is used for shoes.

Both H&M and VF Corporation – the company behind Timberland and The North Face- have said in the last month that they have stopped using leather from Brazil because of the Amazon fires.

H&M said that this will hold “until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.”

Both companies say that they didn’t source that much from Brazil in the first place – VF Corporation said less than 5% of its leather was sourced from Brazil, and H&M said that only a “very small” amount ever came from there. However, given the size of these companies, their statements are still significant.

An Oxford-based NGO called Global Canopy has made a list of 15 key US and EU-based leather-using companies that it believes have the power to affect Amazon deforestation due to their size and influence, and because they manufacture in China, the principal importer of Brazilian leather.

VF Corporation made the list. The other 14 were: BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Ashley Furniture, DFS, IKEA, Macy's, Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Sketchers, and La-Z-Boy.

The moratoriums - keeping the destruction in check

In the early years of this century the Amazon was being trashed at a mind-boggling rate – in 2004 27,772 km2 were cleared. Concerted efforts brought that down to 4,571 km2  in 2012, but it has steadily been rising again – in 2018, the figure was 7,900 km2. Scientists warn that this year it is likely to pass 10,000 km2 for the first time in a decade.

There isn’t agreement on what caused the deforestation rate to fall so dramatically after 2004. However, it is most likely to have been a combination of actions by the left-wing government led by president Lula da Silva, and the soya and cattle moratoriums.

The moratoriums are agreements between companies not to buy any soya or cattle from recently deforested land. As we described in our last guide to meat-free alternatives, the soya moratorium has been widely praised as one of the most successful consumer initiatives ever, because since its creation very little soya has been grown on recently deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon.

The cattle moratorium is far less watertight, however, and there are some loopholes in both schemes.
 

Soya for animal feed

The EU used to get most of its soya from Brazil, but the trade war between China and the US has disrupted that, and most Brazilian soya is now going to China, while the EU’s soya largely comes from the US. In 2017, only 19% of the EU’s soya came from Brazil.

Presumably due to this, and the perceived success of the soy moratorium, there hasn’t been a huge focus on soya over the fires in the UK, although Greenpeace has been protesting against some of the fast-food chains that sell chicken, which is very soya-intensive, containing about 109 grams of ‘embodied soya’ per 100 grams of meat.

Soya for human consumption

With the proviso that most soy is fed to animals, details of where the companies making soy-based meat substitutes source their soya are shown below, so you can avoid eating Brazilian soya directly.

Source: Meat substitutes guide.
Sourcing of meat alternatives based on soya Meat substitute brands
Sourced from outside Brazil Cauldron, Taifun, Vivera, Tofurky, The Vegetarian Butcher, Oumph!
No info Beyond Meat, Vbites, VegiDeli, Cheatin & Making waves , Dragonfly, Linda McCartney, Tivall, Fry's, Wicken Fen, No Bull (Iceland)
No info, but can be assumed to source some from Brazil due to the quantity used All the supermarkets

Investments

Some investors are also taking action, particularly in Norway, which has been very involved in action to protect the Amazon over the last decade.

Norway’s biggest investors, Storebrand ASA and pension fund KLP, have stated that they are researching which companies may be contributing to Amazon deforestation with a view to exiting them. Meanwhile Nordea, one of the Nordics’ biggest banks, announced that it is suspending purchases of Brazilian government bonds.

In September, 230 global investors with $16.2 trillion in assets issued a statement warning companies to meet deforestation commitments or risk economic consequences.

An American NGO called Amazon Watch has been attempting to identify those who have major investments in relevant companies. It identified the following as holding significant equity investments in JBS, Marfrig and Minerva: Capital Group, BlackRock, Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, Brandes Investment Partners, Storebrand, Azimut, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and Invesco.

Conclusion

The soya moratorium (see boxout) showed the power that purchasing companies have to affect change in this area. We all need to keep the pressure on them to do more.

At the same time, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that Bolsonaro is at the centre of this, and it is fundamentally a political issue.

Image: bolnasero amazon protest women shouting with placards
The UK Student Climate Network, Survival International and Greenpeace protested against the visit of the Brazilian environment minister, Ricardo Salles on October 3rd outside the Brazilian Embassy. They sent a clear message to Salles that until his government's destructive agenda is reversed and the Amazon and its people are protected, he is not welcome here.

There is international political momentum around the issue at the moment, with France and Austria threatening to pull out of the Mercosur trade deal, which will, if it goes through, allow more Brazilian agricultural produce into the EU.

We need to keep holding governments’ feet to the fire and forcing them to act because companies and consumers are not going to be able to tackle this on their own.

Links for actions

There are some petitions and campaigns on this topic circulating at the moment. Here are a few:

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