Fruganomics

Supermarkets make a stand against Amazon deforestation – but are we partly to blame?

Action from supermarkets against Amazon deforestation

It’s encouraging to see a move by supermarkets against Amazon deforestation – UK supermarkets are threatening to pull out of Brazil. The window of change is wide open to a more sustainable supply chain.

Like an alcoholic chasing his next drink it’s almost impossible to get away from our need to consume. In a world that stops for no one, the pandemic forces us to slow down. But with Covid-19 anything’s possible. 

We’re addicted to progress even when it means exactly the opposite. We’re weighed down by the cumulative effects of cutting just a bit more forest, laying just a bit more concrete, digging up just a few more minerals.

Until yesterday I was positive but not that hopeful. Now I’m starting to become more hopeful. Forty UK supermarkets against Amazon deforestation and other outlets have written an open letter to President Bolsanaro of Brazil threatening to pull out of Brazil should a “land regularisation” proposal before Congress go ahead.

Amazon research institute Imazon estimates the bill would hasten the deforestation of 11,000-16,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest (see 10 things you should know about climate change).

The joint statement

The joint statement – signed by the likes of Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – states: “should this proposal pass, the ability of leading businesses to continue sourcing there will inevitably be called into question.” British and German MPs have also added their weight to the calls.

But it’s not that simple

The CEOs worry – rightly – about biodiversity and climate change but also the impact of deforestation on the spread of Covid-19. But as this article from the Independent shows it’s not so simple. The problem is in our supply chain. I learned that

1) The UK is a major market behind the destruction. We import commodities such as beef, palm oil and timber in huge quantities from countries with a high deforestation risk. Their production takes the equivalent of half the UK’s land mass.

2) Our finance industry helps to bankroll the devastation. A Global Witness investigation found UK-based financial institutions are the largest provider of international credit and finance to agribusiness companies involved in tropical forest deforestation.

Sadly, it’s “our money” that is helping to keep these markets alive and well in the first place. 

Sadly, it’s “our money” that is helping to keep these markets alive and well in the first place. We should all be against Amazon deforestation.

We in the UK want to do the right thing. We care about humanity, we want people to live in freedom and we want to respect their rights.  But we need a sustainable supply chain.

The UK’s ecological footprint is double the average for the planet. The planet is consuming at three times the rate it needs to. The problem is, we don’t know for sure where our goods come from. We don’t know if we’re accidentally part of the problem.

So what’s the solution?

The 40 companies are right to give ultimatums to suppliers we are helping to destroy the planet. I only hope they follow through. But the long-term solution is to clean up our supply chains.

To clean up your supply chain you need to understand it, and that’s proving to be incredibly difficult. The supply chain for a food product may have hundreds of links. Technology such as blockchain is starting to provide solutions but it’s some way off being fully adopted.

Meanwhile consumers can start by demanding answers from our suppliers. Magazines such as Ethical Consumer research thousands of well-known products and publish their findings for free. Or for more in-depth knowledge how about gifting a subscription?

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Clive Margolis

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