2016: From Financiers to the Forest Floor

posted by Ginger Cassady

It was a momentous year for RAN’s Forest Program.

In 2016, RAN followed through in our commitment to challenge abuses of corporate power and to follow the money from the boardrooms of some of the world’s most powerful banks to the destructive mega-projects they fund on the forest floor. We stood in solidarity with the estimated 3.5 million workers on palm oil plantations and called the world’s attention to the continued labor abuses too many workers suffer under Conflict Palm Oil’s exploitative practices.

We were unrelenting in calling out corporate greenwashing and hounding the laggards of the Snack Food 20 group of companies to take responsibility for the deforestation and human rights violations in their supply chains. And we doubled down in our efforts to advance protections for one of the world’s most important and threatened forest landscapes, the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia.

Our achievements in 2016 would not be possible without thousands of supporters like you. Thanks to your contributions to the tireless campaigning, millions of targeted email messages, thousands of acts of social media pressure and the countless cumulative actions of people all over the world, we’ve pushed some of the biggest multinational corporations to take responsibility for the unacceptable social and environmental impacts of their daily business practices.

We’ve successfully pushed some of the most powerful players in the palm oil and pulp and paper industries to cut their ties to human rights abuses, exploitative labor practices like child labor and poverty wages, species extinction, rainforest and peatland destruction and the devastating climate impacts this destruction leads to.

We’ve got a lot to celebrate, while we also know we have our work cut out for us in 2017. Some of the major milestones RAN’s forest program achieved this year include:

  • Getting forest destruction Out of Fashion! With your help, we pressured Abercrombie & Fitch and their sub-brand Hollister this year, demanding the fashion chain cut ties with wood-based fabrics linked to deforestation and human rights abuses. We’ve brought some of the biggest names in fashion to the negotiating table and are helping them develop strong policies that will ensure their clothing never comes at the cost of Indonesia’s rainforests or forest communities.

  • Raising the profile of the Leuser Ecosystem. After Lindsey Allen, RAN’s Executive Director, met with actor/environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio at the COP 21 Paris climate talks and highlighted the imminent threats to the invaluable Leuser Ecosystem, DiCaprio visited the Leuser in person. DiCaprio then included a feature on the priceless Leuser and RAN’s work in his film, Before the Flood, which released this Fall and quickly became the most-watched documentary film in history.

  • Escalating our campaign on PepsiCo. This year, wherever PepsiCo executives went, we made sure they were faced with their Conflict Palm Oil problem. From dropping a 100 foot banner off the iconic Pepsi sign on the East River in New York City, to the incessant birddogs, campus recruitment disruptions, billboards, advertisements and actions in their hometown of Purchase, NY, we made sure that PepsiCo couldn’t ignore us.

  • Calling out the labor abuses rife within the palm oil industry. RAN brought the urgent issue of widespread labor abuses on palm oil plantations to the forefront through the release of one of the first investigative reports on palm oil labor, an innovative animated short film, The Human Cost of Conflict Palm Oil, and high profile media stories. We lodged a formal complaint with the palm oil certifying body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), against one of the worst actors in the industry, Indofoods. As a result, we have forced major global players to finally acknowledge the labor abuses rife in the palm oil industry.

  • Following the money. This year saw the launch of a new campaign at RAN through our Forest and Finance work. We are committed to holding some of the world’s largest financial institutions accountable for their role in financing large-scale environmental destruction. They can’t cut down forests if we cut off their money and we’ve put banks and the forest-destroying companies on notice: we will not allow business as usual to continue if it means investing in the destruction of our planet.

Looking ahead to 2017, we stand more committed than ever to hold the radical as reasonable. We know our work will be needed more than ever, and we are strengthened by our strong network of allies and supporters like you. This is people power, and together we will continue to build what is needed for a just future.