Crackdown against 'environmental criminals' follows Greenpeace report
Some of the world's top footwear brands, including Clarks, Adidas, Nike and Timberland, have demanded an immediate moratorium on destruction of the Amazon rainforest from their leather suppliers in Brazil.
The move is the first major development since the Guardian revealed a three-year undercover investigation by Greenpeace in June. The investigation said leading Brazilian suppliers of leather and beef for products sold in Britain had obtained cattle from farms involved in illegal deforestation.
"The decision is good news," said Carlos Minc, Brazil's environment minister. "With government pressure on one side and with the pressure of the consumer on the other, we have started to close in on [environmental] criminals."
"It's great progress in a very short space of time," said Greenpeace's James Turner. "What this does now is really put pressure on the UK food companies. The shoe companies have realised there is a problem and taken action, now it's up to the supermarkets to follow that lead."
Clearing tropical forests for agriculture is estimated to produce 17% of the world's carbon emissions – more than the global transport system. Cattle farming is now the biggest threat to the remaining Amazon rainforest, a fifth of which has been lost since 1970. "I'd say that 65-75% of deforestation is linked to the growth of ranching," Minc said. "We are closing in on this, but it is still the sector that is most opposed to change and responsible for the most deforestation in the Amazon."
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, who is in the Amazon on an unrelated diplomatic trip, said: "We can only get an agreement on climate change if it involves Brazil and it involves forestry. There is no solution to the question of climate change without forestry. The Amazon forest is such a beautiful place when it is untouched and then you see these scars on the landscape from the deforestation, bigger and bigger scars."
In addition to the moratorium on leather from newly deforested areas, the footwear makers have also demanded that suppliers bring in a stringent traceability system within a year, which will "credibly" guarantee the source of all leather.
Last night, one large supplier agreed to ensure that the farms it takes cattle from are not responsible for deforestation. Bertin, one of Brazil's - and the world's - major suppliers of leather and beef also agreed to meet Greenpeace this month to negotiate how to prevent cattle ranching from driving deforestation.
The Greenpeace investigation compiled field work, government records, company documents and trade data from Brazil, China, Europe, Vietnam and the US to piece together the global movement of leather and meat from Brazilian cattle.
The organisation said cattle from hundreds of legal and illegal farms across the Amazon were mixed and processed on their way to export sites, making it currently impossible to trace the origins of products. "In effect, criminal or 'dirty' supplies of cattle are 'laundered' through the supply chain," said the report. Greenpeace has asked companies to refuse to buy from such suppliers and for consumers to press supermarkets and high street brands to clean up the supply chains.
It said that some Brazilian processing companies exported products linked to Amazon destruction to dozens of blue-chip companies across the world, and named three major processors, Bertin, JBS and Marfrig, which together control a third of Brazilian beef exports.
"We all agree [preventing deforestation] is possible," Leonardo Swirski, head of Bertin's leather division, told the Guardian last night. But he warned against measures that would harm the livelihoods of the 20 million people in the Amazon region.
"If all [consumers] are not buying any products from the Amazon, they will surely create other sorts of problems." He believes other supply companies will also take action: "We have an advantage if they don't. I believe everyone will follow."
JBS and Marfrig reiterated commitments to not sourcing cattle from illegally deforested land, and all three have agreed with the federal prosecutor to reject these cattle. Marcus O'Sullivan, a director in JBS's London office, said: "We are very committed to the protection of the Amazon biome. We work closely with Ibama [the Brazilian ministry of defence's enforcement agency] and don't purchase cattle from the blacklisted farms."
Under the moratorium, the footwear companies will refuse to buy leather sourced from farms on both legally and illegally deforested land. It will be extended if the demand for credible traceability is not in place within a year.
Clarks, which is a major customer of Bertin, said in a statement: "Clarks will require suppliers of Brazilian leather to certify, in writing, that they are not supplying leather from recently deforested areas in the Amazon biome."
Timberland said: "We are grateful for the work of NGOs such as Greenpeace in exposing problems deep within the Brazilian leather supply chain."
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017