Tackling tropical deforestation and social impacts in supply chains
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Tackling tropical deforestation and social impacts in supply chains
Across the world, governments, organisations and communities are taking action to stop deforestation caused by forest-risk products, such as imported beef, soy and palm oil.
In Wales, many of our own imports are linked to deforestation, habitat loss and social impacts, such as child labour and the abuse of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Will you join the movement? Sign up here to become a deforestation free business champion.
A deforestation free business has done all it can to remove tropical deforestation from its supply chains. This means looking at the forest-risk commodities it buys, whether as raw ingredients or processed foods, products such as furniture, paper and cardboard, or services, such as catering. It means working with suppliers and adopting ethical sourcing practices as much as possible. It also means taking steps to reduce consumption and waste, e.g. adopting the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy.
A deforestation free business will be a champion for tropical forests and inspire others along the way.Become a Deforestation Free Business Champion
Learn about the Guarani Indigenous People of Brazil, the key issues driving deforestation on their territory and why we must act.
The Deforestation Free Business Toolkit has been designed by Size of Wales to help businesses ensure that the products, commodities and services they buy, produce or invest in, are not causing tropical deforestation, habitat destruction and social impacts overseas.
Seventy-three per cent of all tropical deforestation is caused by the production of just a handful of agricultural products – products we buy, use and consume in Wales every day, including beef from South America, soy (fed to livestock here in Wales), palm oil, coffee, cacao, timber, paper and pulp.
Wales imports significant quantities of these forest-risk commodities, which are linked to deforestation, habitat loss and social impacts, such as child and forced labour and the abuse of Indigenous Peoples rights.
Sustainability commitments can benefit businesses in a number of ways, for example, increasing public confidence, employee engagement and retention, reducing risks and increasing climate resilience. Eighty-seven per cent of people want action on deforestation and do not want the products they buy to cause deforestation.
Research suggests that by 2030, 60% of consumers will be actively buying sustainable goods and services. Along with the introduction of EU, US and UK due diligence legislation on forest-risk commodities, it is clear that making changes now will help businesses adapt during the transition to a lower-carbon economy.
Read our FAQs for more information on deforestation free and what it means.
Size of Wales has produced a Deforestation Free Business Toolkit, Forest-risk Commodity Info Cards and practical audit templates to support you on your Deforestation Free journey.
For businesses taking part in the pilot campaign in Monmouthshire, we can offer 1-2-1 Deforestation Free sessions, which will support your learning objective and guide you through the forest-risk audit templates to help identify some concrete actions. We can also link you to other businesses who are going through the same process to share learning and offer peer support.
Tropical forests are crucial habitats that are not only home to many plants, animals and people, particularly Indigenous Peoples, but play a key role in ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, water purification and disease prevention, as well as the provision of shelter, food and medicine.
Trees store carbon in their roots, bark and leaves, and trap it deep in the soil. The fewer trees we have, the less our planet is capable of absorbing the carbon emissions we generate through human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Without them, global heating would increase and climate change would continue unchecked.
Everyone is in a different position with what they can realistically afford to do. However, ethically sourced does not always mean higher costs for the consumer. For example, the growing demand for ethically produced commodities, such as coffee and chocolate, means that many Fairtrade products are now as cheap – if not cheaper – than non-Fairtrade alternatives.
We can also reduce costs by buying less, but better quality animal products, and by supplementing meals with whole grains and high-protein plants, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas.
Research from Oxford University shows that in high-income countries, vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets can significantly lower food bills:
It can be helpful to remember that consuming meat in such high quantities is only a very recent trend. Meat consumption has nearly doubled in the past 50 years, at a faster rate than the rate of population growth. This is clearly an unsustainable pathway. However, changing habits does require rethinking our relationship with food and perhaps learning new skills to minimise waste and overconsumption, e.g., simply using meat as a side dish or flavouring, or using a whole chicken for multiple meals, rather than buying the most expensive cuts e.g., chicken breasts, for one meal.
For businesses, there are also many circular economy approaches that can help reduce costs. For example, Cardiff-based restaurant and farming partnership, Ansh, uses waste hops from a local brewery as a way to supplement their livestock feed. This not only reduces the costs associated with buying or producing feed, but turns a waste product into a valuable source of nutrition.
Palm oil’s versatility, low production costs and high yields are the reasons behind its popularity. It has a long shelf life and a neutral flavour and aroma, making it an ideal ingredient in many food preparations. It can be broken down into various derivatives, which have many uses outside of the food industry, e.g. it makes soap bubbly and lipstick creamy. It also requires less land to produce 1 tonne of oil, compared to other oils such as sunflower and soy.
In ultra-processed foods (UPF), palm oil and its derivatives have many uses, including creating texture, creaminess and emulsification (i.e. binding ingredients together). It is also used to bulk out products more cheaply than the more costly ingredients, e.g. peanuts in peanut butter.
In addition, 50% of Wales’ palm oil imports are used to feed livestock.
First and foremost, Size of Wales advocates for reducing consumption of highly or ultra-processed foods (UPF) due to their impact on human and planetary health. Not only does demand for UPF drive unsustainable palm oil production – a cause of deforestation and nature loss – but there is a growing body of research on many of the derivatives used in UPF, (including palm oil derivatives), and their links to poor health outcomes and mortality, including obesity, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. For this reason, we promote reducing UPF, which is the main way we consume palm oil.
However, we do not support a blanket boycott on palm oil, as this could lead to more deforestation, not less. For example, if we were to switch to an alternative oil, such as soybean, sunflower or sesame, this would require much more land to produce the same amount of oil, leading to more deforestation and habitat conversion. It would also mean less pressure for companies to switch to sustainable production, allowing unsustainable practices to continue unchecked.
A boycott could also drive down the price of palm oil, making it more attractive to markets with less focus on sustainability. What’s more, there are millions of people, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, who are reliant on palm oil as their main source of income.
Therefore, if you are buying or selling packaged or processed foods or you’re sourcing palm oil for use in your own products, we would recommend sourcing palm oil that has been physically certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). RSPO physically certified supply chains – Identify Preserved and Segregated – are traceable back to the unique mill or mills. These can reduce deforestation risk and demonstrate stronger commitments to social and environmental sustainability.
The other two types of RSPO certification – Mass Balance (MB) and Book and Claim (BC) – only support sustainable production and are not consistent with a deforestation free approach. MB mixes certified palm oil with uncertified and BC allows companies to purchase credits from sustainable palm producers, whilst continuing to use uncertified palm oil.
To become certified, farmers and producers should meet certain environmental, social and economic standards. While RSPO is industry led and far from perfect, these standards have improved with the demand for sustainable production, and since 2019, have included standards for no further deforestation, peat development or burning of land. (As this precludes direct deforestation for palm plantations that occurred before 2019 it is impossible to completely remove the risk of deforestation).
Global supply chains are complex and often opaque, which can make it very difficult for consumers to make informed choices about the products they buy. With many companies making ethical claims about their products and even creating their own eco labels, this becomes even more complicated.
This is where ethical certification schemes, such as Fairtrade and the Soil Association Organic standard, can help. Under these schemes, farmers and food producers have to meet certain social and environmental criteria in order to become certified and use their logo. Ethical certifications provide neutral, third-party verification, and offer assurance to consumers that food and goods have been produced with ethics in mind.
Some certification schemes are more robust than others, e.g. those which are a partnership between campaigners and companies, and some are industry-led, relying more on pressure from NGOs who advocate for better standards. However, they are a step in the right direction. Without them, consumers would have no way of knowing how food and goods were produced and whether human and environmental rights were considered at all in their production.
While currently, no ethical certification scheme can absolutely guarantee zero deforestation, they do support greater transparency and traceability, and demonstrate commitments to social and environmental standards. Ethical certifications can have a real impact for communities and the environment, including fair pay, terms and conditions, no child labour and nature-friendly farming, such as agroforestry, no-pesticide use, higher animal welfare standards and no-deforestation commitments.
Again, while we can use ethical certifications to help reduce deforestation-risk, first and foremost, we must reduce how much we consume overall. This is especially the case for intensively farmed meat and dairy and ultra-processed foods, which usually contain palm derivatives and are bad for both human and planetary health.
In addition to ethical certifications, we need governments to put in place laws to stop companies deforesting and destroying habitats and ensure they are held to account. Voluntary standards and certification schemes are not enough on their own.