Earlier this year, Global Witness investigated the controversial hedge fund tycoon Crispin Odey, one of the UK’s most high-profile financiers. This formed part of our ongoing campaign to stop the flow of money from financial centres, including the UK, to companies involved in the destruction of climate-critical forests.
In May, we revealed how Mayfair-based Odey Asset Management had invested more than $170m in SLC Agrícola, one of Brazil’s most harmful agribusinesses. In recent years, the soy producer has cleared more than 30,000 hectares of the Cerrado, a savannah/woodland region and biodiversity hotspot estimated to contain 5% of the world’s species, including jaguars, cougars, giant otters… plus 90 million species of insect. The company has received fines from Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, worth millions of pounds.
However, it seems SLC Agrícola is now changing its tune.
An end to the cycle of deforestation?
In an interview with Brazilian newspaper Folha De Sao Paulo, SLC’s Director of Sustainability, Álvaro Dilli, said: “As of 2020, the cycle of opening areas will end.”
Pushed on whether this was a commitment to zero deforestation in the Cerrado by the end of the year, he said: “That’s it.”
Global Witness’ investigation was the latest in a long line of community and NGO efforts to raise the alarm about SLC Agrícola’s practices. We especially drew on the work of Chain Reaction Research. Beyond our investigation, we are also aware that over the years, some local communities have raised questions about what they see as concerning land practices by the company and called for land to be returned.
Of course, it’s impossible to know the final straw that caused the company to change its mind, but in his interview Mr Dilli was questioned about external pressure and later referred to the work of NGOs. We continue to hope that by calling out the role investors and banks play in deforestation, we can help add to the pressure for change.
However, as ever, the devil is in the detail. While announcing an end to deforestation in the Cerrado, the company has also openly admitted that it still intends to clear more than 5,000 hectares of forest before the end of the year.
If SLC was truly committed to sustainability, it would not only stop future forest destruction but also do more to repair or redress previous harms to the environment and communities affected by its activities.
Responses from SLC Agrícola
A spokesman for SLC Agrícola said: “Throughout its history, the company operates [sic] in compliance with applicable laws and with due authorizations.
“SLC Agrícola confirms the opening of 5,200 hectares to new agricultural areas in Cerrado's biome in 2020, following all the local regulation.
“The properties are located in areas with Cerrado vegetation, and not forests.”
He continued: “The company has always followed the necessary parameters so as not to impact external agents.
“SLC Agrícola also supports and participates in fauna and flora protection projects in the regions where its farms are located.”
As for Odey Asset Management, Mr Odey’s firm once more did not respond to repeated requests from Global Witness for comment (though he did ring up the Financial Times when it ran our story, comparing the environmental penalties to a ‘parking fine’).
In September 2020, Odey Asset Management still held more than 9% of SLC’s total stock, making it one of the biggest investors in the company. One can only conclude that, as the hedge fund somewhat optimistically told the Guardian, it still considers SLC a “good corporate citizen”.
SLC Agrícola must now hold to its commitments – the NGO community will be watching – and the broader financial community must avoid pouring fuel on the fire of tropical deforestation. Governments need to act now to restrain all actors contributing to the destruction of the world’s remaining rainforests and the climate crisis.
Preview image credit: Jose Caldas/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images