Fourteen of the world’s largest agribusinesses have released a new climate plan which falls far short of eliminating their role in human rights abuses and deforestation.
The 'Agricultural Sector Roadmap to 1.5C' seeks to reduce emissions by eliminating deforestation across these companies’ palm oil, soy, and cattle supply chains, yet the plan:
- Fails to mention human rights or Indigenous Peoples even once, despite their well-documented role in preserving climate critical forests and the deep association between deforestation and human rights abuses;
- Fails to set ambitious deforestation targets; and
- Cherry-picks a patchwork of covered ecosystems.
With food and land-use systems accounting for around a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and being implicated in serious human rights abuses, the urgency of transforming the sector is clear. Commodity-driven deforestation must end by 2025 at the latest to keep the world on track for 1.5C. Agricultural expansion is a key driver of land rights conflict, human rights abuses and up to90-99% of tropical deforestation.
Global Witness investigations have consistently exposed leading signatories of the roadmap for their role in deforestation and failing to remove human rights abuses from their supply chains, and warned that those who finance them share responsibility for their impacts.
Indigenous communities and other land and environmental defenders are on the frontlines of land grabs and human rights abuses perpetrated by big agribusinesses – defending their rights, as well as playing a key climate role by keeping forests standing. Our recent report Decade of Defiance found that in 2021 alone, indigenous peoples represented a disproportionate 40% of the identified defenders killed globally.
In 2020, we analysed a sample of 330 Indonesian palm oil mills supplying to ADM and Bunge – two signatories of the roadmap – and found that nearly 40% were linked to human rights abuses and/or causing serious environmental degradation. Our investigation found that both companies were failing to ensure compliance with national laws and international standards, as well as their own policies. Their responses to our findings can be found in the report.
We also identified human rights violations in ADM and Bunge’s soy supply chains in Brazil. In November 2021, our investigation Seeds of Conflict exposed how they contributed to human rights abuses against communities resisting the expropriation of their lands in the Brazilian Cerrado savannah. The report revealed they were purchasing soy from agricultural producers involved in a land dispute with traditional communities who repeatedly reported violence, intimidations and threats by security agents hired by the producers.
When Global Witness reported this case to ADM and Bunge, both accepted their suppliers’ arguments without assessing the underlying validity of the community’s land rights claim. ADM opened a case on their grievance log, but never consulted representatives of the affected communities. It is not clear what action, if any, Bunge has taken, as it has not yet found time to speak to Global Witness in the year since the report was published. Worse, Bunge does not have a public grievance log for its soy business where communities can lodge complaints.
The voluntary roadmap designed by these traders is unlikely to stop similar cases in the future. It entirely omits the need for transparent grievance mechanisms and parties have not yet decided what constitutes relevant land ‘conversion’ in the context of soy production in areas such as the Cerrado, despite the fact the region is a critical carbon sink and already estimated to account for 90% of soya-driven deforestation in Brazil.
More recently, in September 2022, Global Witness published the investigation Amazon Palm, which details a long-standing violent conflict between two Brazilian palm oil giants – Brasil Biofuels (BBF) and Agropalma – and Indigenous, traditional and campesino communities in the Amazon state of Pará. Our investigation exposed serious alleged human rights abuses linked to the palm oil companies, such as the use of the judiciary to try and criminalise the actions of community members, torture and physical abuse, as well as fraudulent land acquisition that resulted in the communities being completely surrounded by palm oil operations. The recent assassinationof a community member also reiterates our investigation findings warning of escalating violence related to elections in Brazil.
Despite these serious controversies, BBF were named as suppliers on ADM and Bunge’s publicly available mill lists for 2020 , while Agropalma features in their most recent lists. According to Cargill’s published list of suppliers, it purchased palm oil from both companies. When contacted by Global Witness about the cases, ADM failed to respond. Bunge replied stating all its business operations with suppliers were “legal and in compliance with Brazilian legislation and company procedures”. Cargill, also a signatory to the roadmap, said it was aware of the conflict and had included it in its grievance log but claimed dropping the supplier would not resolve the problems involved.
This new roadmap could have dismantled the toxic trilogy of big agribusiness, human rights abuses, and deforestation to achieve genuine climate progress. Instead, the decision to exclude human rights protections allows traders to continue turning a blind eye to their role in these abuses.
By failing to set immediate cut off dates for purchasing commodities such as soy grown on converted land, or cattle raised outside the Amazon, roadmap signatories fail to clarify how much deforestation they will accept in their supply chains before deadlines kick in as late as 2025. Nor does the roadmap set out consistent procedures for impartial and independent audits to monitor progress against commitments made.
As COP27 comes to a close, governments must resist the temptation to fall for yet another voluntary scheme. These traders must be held legally accountable for their failures on deforestation and human rights.
 Stratas list of supplying mills, July 2020 - December 2020 and BLC Global Mill List, 2020.