At the height of this summers’ Amazon fires, The CEO of retail giant Carrefour Brazil, Noël Prioux, sent letters to its main suppliers – Bunge, JBS, Marfrig, Minerva, and Cargill – asking them to provide details of the concrete and immediate actions they have taken to protect the Amazon and other ecosystems from deforestation.
The letters, which were obtained by sustainability risk analysis firm Chain Reaction Research (CRR) and were recently made public, reveal the increasing scrutiny faced by food suppliers and manufacturers.
Prioux asked the six global suppliers for information on their zero-deforestation policies; mapping strategies are for their global supply chains and whether they could demonstrate, through this mapping, that they were not linked to recent fire events that made headlines around the world.
The French retail giant, which is one of the major supermarket chains in Brazil, also wanted to know whether they had provided Carrefour with the geo-monitoring information for the products it purchases, and how they intend to create global market mechanisms to combat deforestation connected to beef and soy.
The CEO sent the letter at the height of the Amazon fires and after CRR published a report that found 11 products sold on Carrefour shelves in Brazil came from slaughterhouses in the Amazon region with high deforestation risks.
It purchased these high-risk products from JBS, Marfrig, and Mercúrio, all of which signed agreements with the Brazilian governments to refrain purchasing from recently deforested farms.
Brazil’s largest meatpacker, and the world’s largest meat company, JBS was in the spotlight recently after an investigation by Brazilian NGO O Eco Association which claims JBS no longer shares the data needed to determine whether it is purchasing cattle from protected or illegally deforested areas.
Carrefour is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum and, through this membership, has made zero-deforestation commitments for both fresh and frozen products. (Other members include Mars, Walmart and Danone).
The retailer is actively working with the Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture, a pan-stakeholder collaboration which helps companies put into place Deforestation and Conversion Free (DCF) commitments for beef and soy supply chains in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, and Gran Chaco in Argentina and Paraguay.
The supermarket gave the retailers until the 25 September to respond but did not share the suppliers’ responses with CRR.
Top down pressure
This kind of 'top down' pressure important may become increasingly important in markets such as Latin America where many consumers cannot afford to buy products that are ethically certified and have a premium price tag.
A spokesperson for Washington DC-headquartered CRR said that retailers can be important in helping influence the behavior of suppliers, pushing them to develop stronger sustainability commitments and reduce their exposure to deforestation.
Although the push for change in this case is coming from a French company, pressure could begin to emerge domestically, the spokesperson added.
“As public awareness of deforestation and other sustainability issues grows over time, Brazilian-owned supermarkets may face pressure that is similar to what companies such as Carrefour is currently seeing,” he told FoodNavigator-LATAM.
According to non-profit Zero Deforestation Cattle, between 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200% reaching 60 million head of cattle.