Companies facing growing shareholder pressure to act on deforestation

Photo edited by Lou Gold shows cattle being driven along a road near rio branco, Brazil
Publication date

Investors are increasingly pushing some of the world’s biggest companies to commit to reducing their impact on the global forests, according to a new analysis of shareholder resolutions, published today [Monday 31 July] by Global Canopy Programme. [1]

More than half (52%) of shareholder proposals to address ‘deforestation risks’ in the companies’ supply chains led to some form of commitment from the company, according to an analysis of resolutions put forward by members of the Ceres Investor Network between 2011 and 2017. [2] 

The resolutions, all filed in the United States, targeted high profile companies such as Kraft, DuPont and Mondelez, which are exposed to deforestation risks through their reliance on the production of soya, palm oil, and timber or the raising of cattle. 

More than two thirds of the companies targeted are ranked by Global Canopy’s Forest 500 project as being among the 250 most influential companies with the power to end tropical deforestation. [3]

Tom Bregman, Senior Sustainable Finance Associate at the Global Canopy Programme said:

“It is really encouraging to see that investors are engaging with companies on the deforestation risks in their supply chains. Every day, tropical forests are being cleared to make way for commodity crops, impacting the climate, and the security of food and water supplies. 

“Investor engagement can be the first step in improving policies – and practice, helping to reduce the threat to tropical forests from agricultural commodities.”

The analysis found shareholder proposals are becoming increasingly ambitious and targeted, asking companies to address deforestation risks in all priority supply chains – including palm oil, soya, pulp and paper, timber and cattle products, which are the main drivers of tropical deforestation globally. Many detail the kinds of ecosystems to be protected and requesting time-specific implementation plans.

Most of the shareholder proposals analysed resulted in commitments from the company to address the issue and were withdrawn before being put to a vote at the annual general meeting.

Of the proposals which went to a vote, 52% were followed by a company commitment to address the forest issue raised.  For example, Archer Daniels Midlands (ADM) introduced a ‘no deforestation’ policy for soybeans and palm oil with stronger, time-bound commitments, following a shareholder resolution in 2015. [4]

More than 70% of the companies assessed by Forest 500 in 2016 had a commodity-specific policy for addressing the risks related to at least one commodity in their supply chain. [5]

Contact:

Helen Burley, email: h.burley@globalcanopy.org tel: + 44 (0)7703 731923

Notes:
[1] Investor concern for forests – can shareholders prompt companies to take action? – published by Global Canopy Programme, 31 July 2017. See http://globalcanopy.org/publications/investor-concern-for-forests
[2] Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk, a network of more than 130 US-based institutional investors collectively managing more than US$ 17 trillion in assets, see: https://www.ceres.org/networks/ceres-investor-network
[3] Global Canopy Programme’s Forest 500 project identifies the 250 companies with the greatest influence to remove deforestation embedded within the global supply chains dealing in palm oil, soya, cattle and timber products, including pulp. As of 2016, 57% of these companies had weak forest policies or no policy at all. Progress in soya and cattle supply chains is particularly slow. Less than 30% of companies producing or procuring these commodities have a relevant sustainability policy. For more information, see www.forest500.org

[4] ADM. 2015. Our Commitment to No-Deforestation, available from: https://www.adm.com/sustainability/sustainability-progress-tracker/policies

[5] See http://forest500.org/rankings/companies?question=commodity-specific-commitment#responsive-filters   

 

Photo: Agricultural expansion is driving deforestation in Brazil, photo by Manuel Poppe, edited by Lou Gold, creative commons licence