Consumer Goods Forum Attempts to “Take Root” of their Role Driving the Deforestation Crisis While Ignoring Actual Root Causes of Land Rights Violations and Violence Towards Human Rights Defenders

By Gemma Tillack

The largest and most influential collective of brands and retailers that consume vast amounts of forest-risk commodities recently published their post-2020 plans to address deforestation in their palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, and beef supply chains. The report titled “Taking Root Embarking on a Forest Positive journey” outlines the individual and collective actions the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) will take to eliminate deforestation and create what they call a “Forest Positive Future”. 

The report cites a commitment to work towards a future founded on forest protection, respect for communities and human rights, and sustainable business practices but the vision and action plans developed fail to address fundamental root causes of the crisis, including the CGF’s failure to ensure that their suppliers respect Indigenous peoples’ and communities’ rights to oppose forestry or agricultural practices on their lands; their failure to end the rising use of violence, criminalization, and intimidation towards Human Right Defenders, and land and environmental defenders speaking out about the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains; and their failure to commit to delivering remedy for harm caused to communities.     

Civil Society Organizations have been calling on the CGF and its members to set new market practices and drive transformational impact for over a decade. In 2020, Rainforest Action Network published our Keep Forests Standing report that highlighted the expansion of industrial forestry and agriculture as a driver of both deforestation AND violence towards Indigenous Peoples and communities. The campaign detailed a set of actions needed to Keep Forests Standing and end human rights violations –– recognizing that an end to deforestation can only be secured if the rights of frontline communities are respected. Over the past year, the CGF has refused to center the importance of supporting Indigenous and local communities in their fight to gain legal rights to their land, and ensure their ability to protect and manage their forests, in their vision and roadmaps. Individual CGF members have also been criticized for the lack of action needed to achieve ‘No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation’ practices throughout their forest-risk commodity supply chains. 

Time is running out for the climate, forests, and the communities defending them. The Consumer Goods Forum must revise its approach and action plans to achieve a Forest Positive Vision that supports Indigenous Peoples’ and communities’ right to decide how to manage their lands and livelihoods. Meaningful consultation must be undertaken with affected Indigenous Peoples and communities, Human Rights Defenders, land and environmental defenders, and local organizations that understand the root causes of deforestation and human rights violations in their supply chains. Outdated and false solutions like funding fortress conservation or so-called sustainable forest management (which is really industrial-scale forestry) and the use of REDD forest-offset mechanisms must be abandoned. They should be replaced with radical transparency, robust cross-commodity supply chain transformation, and landscape approaches that are established using bottom-up approaches with securing land rights, tenure, and livelihoods as a core pillar of the Protection-Production-Inclusion models implemented. Securing land rights will help to safeguard the vast majority of the world’s last Intact Forest Landscapes and biodiversity from extinction because it’s proven that strong and organized local and Indigenous communities are the most effective forest defenders in the world.

Radical transparency is integral to regaining the trust of consumers and civil society. The CGF and its members must establish transparent monitoring systems that show the forests and customary rights holders and communities that are or may be impacted by their supply chains, and suppliers, and the interventions they are taking to Keep Forests Standing and uphold human rights. Forest monitoring systems must show the locations where raw materials are produced and the entire lands managed by their suppliers. “Deforestation-free” claims must be backed with third-party verified evidence of corporate group compliance, not second-party untransparent monitoring systems or reporting based on self-reported data from suppliers. 

The CGF is taking a first step by establishing minimum requirements for deforestation monitoring systems and protocols for responding to forest clearance. As a matter of urgency, these systems must enforce an end to deforestation after a collective cut-off date of January 1, 2020, or sooner where commodity-specific cut-off dates exist (such as December 2015 for palm and 1994 for pulp and paper). They also need to be supplemented by disclosure on the extent of forests and communities that remain at risk from future commodity expansion through the publication of their forest footprints. To date, only Nestlé has published its preliminary forest footprint for Aceh. Nestlé must expand its efforts to identify customary rightsholders impacted in Aceh and forests and communities at risk across its global supply chains. Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo, Ferrero, Mondeléz, Mars, Kao and Nissin Foods must follow suit and disclose their forest footprint, starting with pulp and paper and palm oil supply chains in Indonesia.   

Robust supply chain transformation is critical but to date, the vision and commodity-specific action plans WILL NOT deliver real, widespread change. The commodity-specific roadmaps have been finalized without fully integrating feedback submitted by RAN and other civil society stakeholders, including the Key Performance Indicators that will be used to measure and report on progress. The CGF continues to refer to its vision and action plans to be the result of a collaborative effort –– but this is far from the truth. The commodity roadmaps for palm oil, pulp and paper, and soy and sourcing guidelines all need strengthening by fully incorporating recommendations submitted by civil society. This includes reducing consumption of high-risk commodities to only what can be sourced from producer groups and traders that have been independently verified as complying with ‘No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation’ standards at the group level. The CGF must also set common guidelines for undertaking independent verification of compliance throughout their supply chains. Simply relying on certification to back the claims made to consumers is an outdated approach and will not be tolerated –– especially the PEFC, FSC and RSPO certifications, which are not credible due to their shortcomings in standards, auditing and complaints systems.

The CGF Forest Positive Coalition must avoid greenwashing human rights violations and companies using violence to repress Indigenous People and affected communities in Indonesia. The Consumer Goods Forum must immediately expel Asia Pulp and Paper from the Forest Positive Coalition as its membership is providing the forestry giant with the opportunity to greenwash its practices despites evidence of its egregious violation of human rights in its operations in Indonesia. The pulp and paper giant continues to violate human rights, inflict violence against affected communities, and has failed to disclose the full extent of land under the control of its Corporate Group. Asia Pulp and Paper was recently exposed for lacking policies and procedures aligned with best practices for fulfilling respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and community to give or withhold Free, Prior and Informed Consent to development on its lands and its failure to resolve long-standing conflicts resulting from the establishment of pulp plantations without the consent of communities. Recent accounts also show the use of violence against Human Rights Defenders. On April 2nd, security forces destroyed the food crops of the Indigenous Peoples in the Batin Sakai Beringin customary territory –– a source of food needs for residents during the pandemic –– made demarcation of areas by force, carried out intimidation, and even violence. The CGF’s acceptance of Asia Pulp and Paper as a member of the Forest Positive Coalition shows gross negligence and the lack  of effective due diligence procedures to avoid its newest initiative being seen as just another form of greenwashing for forestry and agribusiness giants that are responsible for human rights violations in Indonesia. The CGF must demonstrate a zero tolerance approach to violence against Human Rights Defenders by immediately revoking Asia, Pulp and Paper’s membership. CGF members must take the actions called for by affected communities and suspend any business with APP and associates, until an independent third party investigation can confirm evidence of APP’s commitment to resolve social conflicts in accordance with indigenous peoples’ rights and responsible conflict resolution, and until APP demonstrates that it has started to adopt more socially and environmentally responsible business practices.