By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA - Nearly half of the 500 top global companies and investment firms that produce, use or finance commodities posing a threat to forests have made no public commitment to prevent deforestation in their supply chains, researchers said on Wednesday.
Swathes of tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin and in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa are being cleared each year to produce palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper, according to UK-based environmental group Global Canopy.
Its sixth annual Forest 500 report tracked the policies of 500 companies and financial institutions with the most influence on tropical forests, as well as how they monitor and report on progress made on their commitments to curb deforestation.
The report found that 40% of the 350 companies which produce, trade, use or sell the largest amounts of the six key commodities had made no public commitment to prevent deforestation in their operations and supply chains.
Nor had nearly 70% of the 150 banks and investment firms financing the companies, it said.
Those lacking pledges include internet retailer Amazon, Dutch supermarket chain SPAR and luxury fashion group Capri Holdings, which owns Versace, Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors.
In the financial sector, four of the world's five biggest asset managers - BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and Fidelity Investments - had made no public commitments to protect forests.
"The picture as a whole is quite bleak obviously, with deforestation rates still rising. Clearly something is not working and that's basically because there is not a sector shift," said report author Sarah Rogerson.
The proportion of companies with no deforestation commitments had barely changed since last year, she noted.
She called for "way more pressure" to be put on such companies which are "often hidden in the middle of supply chains".
Overall progress on voluntary commitments made by the business and finance sector to curb deforestation in supply chains was "painfully slow", she added.
Protecting tropical forests is vital in the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of planet-warming carbon they store.
With forest fires last year and rising deforestation rates, particularly in Brazil - home to the biggest share of the Amazon - safeguarding the forest is an urgent priority and "time is running out", Rogerson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to the report, about a fifth of the 350 companies examined - including Gap Inc, Starbucks and Adidas - had made a deforestation commitment for only one of the commodities they source or produce.
Companies also need to be more transparent about their supply chains, said Rogerson, as the report showed 100 companies were not reporting on progress to implement their deforestation commitments.
Some companies were even backsliding, the report noted, adding that voluntary commitments to end tropical deforestation by 2020 had "failed".
Of the 157 companies that had pledged to stop deforestation by 2020 or earlier, four removed the commitment completely last year, and 18 companies, including food giant Nestle, removed the deadline for it to be met, the report said.
But in the past year, 25 companies stepped up their promises to prevent deforestation and introduced new commitments for a specific commodity, it added.
They include Nike, Germany's Schwarz Gruppe, the owner of discount retailers Lidl and Kaufland, and fast-food company Restaurant Brands International.
It also noted six companies introduced new "overarching" commitments to achieve zero net deforestation, zero deforestation, or zero forest conversion in their supply chains, including Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.