From Aldi to Waitrose: UK food giants threaten to boycott Brazilian suppliers over deforestation

A string of big-name supermarkets, food-to-go chains, suppliers and manufacturers have threatened to boycott Brazilian products if lawmakers there do not bolster laws designed to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Deforestation is believed to have accelerated amid Covid-19, and green groups are concerned that new legislation could make the problem worse still

In an open letter sent to the Deputies and Senators of the National Congress of Brazil today (5 May), the businesses urge lawmakers not to pass a new legislative proposal known as PL 510/21. The measure has been dubbed a “land grabbers bill” by environmental groups including Fridays For Future.

Under the new legislation, private-sector firms or individual asset owners would be permitted to transform lands that were occupied by local communities as recently as 2014. Under current rules, lands must have been vacant since 2011.

Moreover, to receive the title to the land, new owners would not need an on-site inspection – another alteration from current requirements. The bill would also enable those currently occupying land illegally to apply for formal ownership, while many green groups want to see such pieces of land made public once again.

If PL 510/21 or similar legislation is passed, the letter states, the businesses “will have no choice but to reconsider our support and use of the Brazilian agricultural commodity supply chain” on environmental and ethical grounds.

The letter states that the measure is “are counter to the narrative and rhetoric we have seen internationally from Brazil as recently as 22 April 2021 at the summit with US President Joe Biden” and that, if passed, the nation will risk losing international trade as net-zero targets and stricter biodiversity requirements come into force. In the UK, for example, Defra is now requiring all multinationals sourcing forest commodities to eliminate illegal deforestation from supply chains.  

Dozens of businesses have signed the letter, including Aldi, Asda, The Co-operative Group, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose & Partners and Morrisons. Also signing are trade bodies including the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Red Tractor Assurance and the National Pig Association, as well as producers such as Cranswick and Pilgrim’s UK. Many of the firms already have zero-deforestation commitments in place for key commodities.

‘The Amazon faces a new threat with legislation that undermines the credibility of environmental protections in the Amazon being proposed,” the Co-op Group’s head of policy Cathryn Higgs said.

“Its rainforest is essential to planetary health and it’s imperative the proposed legislation isn’t given any airtime by the Brazilian government. We are joining forces with environmentally and socially responsible organisations to oppose the measures being put forward. If these new laws are brought in, we will have no choice but to reconsider our support and use of the Brazilian agricultural commodity supply chain.”

Back in 2019, as forest fires ravaged the Amazon, businesses including VF Corporation and H&M Group notably paused the procurement of commodities such as leather and rubber from Brazil.

Sarah George


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