Companies need governments to stop deforestation

4 April 2017

The world’s forests are still being destroyed to make way for industrial-scale agriculture despite many companies pledging to eliminate deforestation from supply chains for products, such as palm oil, timber, cocoa and rubber. A new Fern survey, Promises and challenges: How companies are meeting commitments to end deforestationtakes the innovative step of interviewing senior executives to understand obstacles confronting those companies.

Fifteen leading companies, including Unilever, Nestlé, IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Cargill, and Asian Pulp and Paper, spoke candidly with authors Mark Gregory and Duncan Brack.

Many pointed to the chaotic conditions they faced on the ground in high-deforestation countries. Some said they viewed tackling social issues such as land tenure disputes as a higher priority than previously, and thornier to resolve than purely environmental issues. It is essential, they said, that governments take greater action to clarify and implement consistent policies on customary land tenure, as well as on regional-level land use planning and concession allocation. They felt that governments should improve forest laws and enforce them more effectively, as well as better protect high conservation value and high carbon stock forests. Companies were however disinclined to press governments on such issues themselves.

Some reported that efforts to obtain free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of affected communities were hindered by difficulties recruiting staff culturally sensitive enough for the task, and willing to spend time in remote areas.

Certain executives reported that developing country governments viewed sustainability standards with scepticism, considering it a new form of colonialism.

Finally, while most companies were confident that they would meet their own deforestation-reduction targets, they held out little hope that global targets like the New York Declaration on Forests would be met – nor even that global performance could be accurately assessed. Fern’s conclusion is that without governments providing a legal framework, it is likely the pledges will just remain as aspirations.

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