We can achieve deforestation-free supply chains, but collaboration is key

Sarah Rogerson

How can companies be sure that their eggs don’t come from chickens fed on deforestation-risk soy?

Many companies are now trying to address the challenge of removing deforestation from their complex supply chains. While nobody wants to be responsible for driving the destruction of vast areas of tropical rainforest, it can feel like an impossible task to identify the source of the soy that was fed to the chickens that laid the eggs that you sell in your supermarket, or to be sure that the palm oil in your cakes and biscuits did not come from deforested land in Indonesia.

Global Canopy asked experts from companies and industry associations to explain how companies can go about addressing this challenge.

We asked what can companies do to achieve deforestation-free supply chains?

Companies can focus on three areas of activity in order to achieve deforestation-free supply chains:

1. Firstly, companies must understand their exposure to deforestation in their supply chains. Do they source forest-risk commodities, and if so how much and from where? What issues are associated with those production landscapes?

2. Secondly, they need to adopt a robust policy that addresses their exposure — including commitments that address the issues associated with the commodities they source and their position in the supply chain.

3. Finally, they must implement their policy in order to effect change in their supply chain. Action can be prioritised by the risk of deforestation in certain supply chains or sourcing regions.

Just over one third of companies assessed in the Forest 500 last year scored zero or one out of five points for their policies to tackle deforestation in their supply chains. This indicates that a lot of companies are still at the start of this journey, and undertaking each of the above activities does not come without significant challenges for these newcomers.

Learning from others

But the challenges can be less daunting when tackled in collaboration. Companies can collaborate pre-competitively with one another, as well as with civil society organisations, to identify effective solutions to creating sustainable supply chains. For example, 12 companies in the cocoa supply chain are collaborating to stop deforestation in West Africa.

Leading companies who have already begun to tackle these issues are in a unique position to share important lessons learned from their own journeys to provide guidance for other companies not as far along, and by doing so can begin to share the burden of transforming a supply chain.

Even with guidance from leading companies, an important opportunity exists to provide a clear, step-wise process by which companies can address deforestation in their supply chains. Existing guidance materials provide a useful framework for navigating this process, but civil society can do even more to agree upon, and promote, clear expectations of company action.

Better collaboration

The Supply Chain Transparency Network — convened by Global Canopy and the Stockholm Environment Institute — aims to help build this coordination by connecting many organisations working towards sustainable, and transparent, agricultural commodity supply chains. The Accountability Framework Initiative is also working across organisations to develop common definitions and best practices for supply chain commitments.

More and improved collaboration among civil society organisations will more effectively drive progress among the companies at the heart of commodity supply chains, via aligned and coherent messaging on the details of what companies need to do.

But ultimately it is the companies that need to commit to, and follow, the journey necessary to remove deforestation from their supply chains. More and improved collaboration among companies, among civil society organisations and between the two groups will help to reduce the burden each company faces, and move the whole industry further on the path to sustainable supply chains.