Two-thirds of finance giants ‘continuing to fund deforestation’, report warns

Even among financiers with commitments

Published today (13 January) by Global Canopy, the analysis states that these 93 financial firms have collectively provided more than $2.6trn of investment in, and lending to, the 350 corporates that are the most exposed in the world to deforestation risks.

Banks and investors named and shamed in the non-profit’s ‘Forest 500’ report include the world’s three biggest asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, as well as banking giants including Santander, ScotiaBank and Wells Fargo. UK-based firms on Global Canopy’s list of deforestation laggards include Legal & General, Janus Henderson, Baillie Gifford, Schroders and Prudential UK.

The report also argues that simply having an anti-deforestation commitment or set of principles is not good enough. Of the 57 finance firms with commitments in this space, less than half (23) have reported progress publicly in the past 12 months, according to Global Canopy. Moreover, the report reveals a general trend towards businesses making environment-related commitments on forests but not human-rights-related commitments to protect and empower forest communities.

Overall, there is only a very slight improvement on the data recorded by Global Canopy in last year’s edition of the Forest 500 report.

Banks and asset managers have been facing mounting pressure to address deforestation in their value chains. The landmark ‘Bankrolling Extinction’ report, published in late 2020, exposed how several of the world’s largest banks have been linked to industries that are causing mass deforestation and biodiversity loss, with some in the finance sector providing loans and underwriting worth more than $2.6trn to climate-wrecking initiatives.

Since then, several initiatives have been launched in an attempt to buck the trend. The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has launched a new action plan to help these firms halt their contribution to global deforestation; dozens of finance firms have signalled their support for the forthcoming Task Force for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework and, at COP26, asset managers representing $8.7trn pledged to stop financing agri-food firms linked to deforestation by 2025.

But the new analysis today reveals slow progress. Global Canopy is warning that, unless things change, corporate actions financed by the private finance sector will risk undermining the new international commitment to end – and reverse, if possible – global deforestation by 2030.

 “Last year saw unprecedented political action as more than 140 governments recognised the urgent need to protect forests, yet most companies and financial institutions with the greatest ability to halt deforestation are doing little or nothing,” said Global Canopy’s executive director Niki Mardas.

Poor progress all around

Also detailed in this year’s Forest 500 report is an updated analysis of how major companies producing and using forest-risk commodities are approaching the transition to deforestation-free value chains. Commodities covered include palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper.

The analysis reveals that while two-thirds of the companies do have a deforestation policy of some kind – a proportion that has been steadily increasing – only 28% have policies that cover all of the forest-risk commodities they use. Moreover, less than one-tenth of the firms have stated that deforestation is a direct financial risk.

As with the financial firms, many of the companies with deforestation policies were not reporting progress sufficiently. Of the 233 firms with some form of commitment, 40 have provided no progress data at all within the past 12 months. A further 50 have reported on progress for some, but not all, of the commodities covered by their commitment. No companies publicly disclosed how many hectares of deforestation they have identified across the entirety of their supply chain network.

Among the businesses to recieve Global Canopy’s lowest ratings this year are fashion brands Steve Madden, Jimmy Choo and Versace; retailers SPAR International and Deichmann; restaurant firms Domino’s and Inspire Brands; food manufacturers Land O’Lakes and Kikkoman; luggage giant Samsonite and health and beauty major Natura&Co, which owns the Body Shop.

“As major consumer governments start to translate these commitments into hard and fast legislation, businesses which have not taken deforestation seriously are woefully unprepared and face real risks,” Global Canopy’s Mardas added. The UK Government has notably implemented a “comply-or-explain” requirement for corporates with multinational supply chains procuring forest-risk commodities. It is under continuing pressure to extend this mandate to financial firms.

Global Canopy notes, in the report, that businesses based in Asia and North America are generally falling behind their European counterparts in terms of tackling deforestation. Companies with public deforestation commitments and reports covering all commodities include GlaxoSmithKline, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer Group, Tesco, Unilever, Morrisons and Kingfisher, which owns retail brands including Screwfix.

Sarah George

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