More than 20 brands, including McDonald's, Nestlé and Tesco, have come together in support of illegal deforestation. These major companies have written an open letter to the UK government calling for stricter measures to combat this catastrophic environmental damage, which is legal in certain countries. But could it be a way of boosting their image at a time when consumers are more and more ecologically minded?
Twenty-two major brands, including supermarkets, restaurant chains and food manufacturers, have called on the UK government to go further with its proposed legislation against deforestation, by expanding it to encompass even legal activities. The letter was unveiled Monday, October 5 on the final day of consultation for the bill, which aims to combat illegal deforestation and protect tropical forests.
Personally addressed to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Boris Johnson's government in the UK, the letter is signed by major household names like McDonald's, Tesco, Nestlé, Sainsbury's, Lidl Great Britain and Marks & Spencer, to name just a few. "We are fully supportive of the government's intention to develop a coordinated strategy to set a level playing field where sustainable commodities are the norm throughout the UK and beyond. To that end, we encourage the Government to go further in the proposed Environment Bill to ensure that this opportunity establishes an effective, workable, and cost-effective framework for halting all forms of deforestation," the open letter reads.
Combatting legal and illegal deforestation
Currently, the law proposes fines for companies that are complicit in using products from illegally deforested land, such as palm oil, rubber and soy. Big brands will have to state the origin of their tropical products and it will be against the law to use products harvested illegally in their countries of origin. However, in some countries, certain producers can legally destroy forests to produce crops. "Restricting action to illegal deforestation would not achieve halting the loss of natural ecosystems, especially when governments have discretion to decide what is legal," the letter states.
The food giants also draw attention to the fact that smaller companies could slip through the net, importing materials such as rubber without necessarily having to worry about the new requirements. The letter proposes shifting the focus to the volume of material involved rather than the size of the company.
Faced with pressure from consumers who are more and more attentive to the environmental impact of brands and their products, these major international firms have joined forces to support the proposed law while also highlighting its weaknesses. "This is a step forward, but it's not currently envisioned to be enough to halt deforestation and we encourage the Government to go further to embrace requirements that will address this issue," the letter concludes. "The proposed legislation would continue to allow rampant deforestation in hotspots such as Indonesia and Brazil," Robin Willoughby from the green group Mighty Earth told the BBC.