Luxury car brands are helping fuel the destruction of precious South American forests

29 September 2020

Written by: Julia Christian

Luxury car brands are helping fuel the destruction of precious South American forests

While international attention rightly remains focussed on the unrelenting destruction of Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado biomes, 1,000 kilometres to the south, Latin America’s second most important forest – in terms of size and biodiversity - is also in danger. 

The dry forests of Gran Chaco are one of the most deforested areas on the planet, and are being destroyed at a startling rate. And today, a report published by investigative NGO Earthsight, reveals the role of some of Europe’s best-known luxury car brands in this destruction. 

Through undercover meetings, visits to remote ranches, sifting through thousands of records, and interviewing whistle-blowers and Indigenous activists over a period of 18 months, the researchers traced how land is illegally razed for cattle ranching in Gran Chaco to produce leather that enters auto industry supply chains. 

They found that BMW and Jaguar cars are fitted out with leather linked to illegal deforestation of forests inhabited by one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes. Cattle ranchers in the Chaco region of Paraguay illegally cleared land inhabited by the Ayoreo Totobiegosode - the only Indigenous Peoples living in voluntary isolation anywhere in the Americas outside the Amazon. 

Compounding these findings, the study outlines how none of Europe’s 10 largest manufacturers of leather-upholstered cars were able to fully trace the origins of the leather they used in their vehicles. 

Evidence has long been unassailable that European consumption - of beefcocoasoy, leather and other agricultural goods – is driving the destruction of forests around the world. The Earthsight study provides yet another example. It also vividly highlights how companies are either unable - or cannot be relied upon - to voluntarily clean up their supply chains. 

This is of vital importance to the EU and UK policymakers who separately are considering due diligence laws on agricultural imports: any new laws must ensure companies do not import goods that violate community land rights or destroy ecosystems. 

Furthermore, the study is also a stark reminder that the Free Trade Agreement that the EU signed last year with the Mercosur trade bloc, which includes Paraguay and Brazil, must not go ahead in its present form. 

The Mercosur agreement cuts tariffs on a number of forest risk agricultural commodities, including beef, and leather from Argentina and Uruguay, and will only worsen the already dire situation in Gran Chaco, the Amazon and the Cerrado, unless the deal contains enforceable protections for forests and rights. 

The EU and UK both have consultations open on policies to reduce deforestation in supply chains: 

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