Update: Global Witness published a follow up piece focused on increased investment in Minerva and our response to their denials in this piece on the 21st June 2023. Read it here

Several major European and US financiers, including HSBC, BlackRock, Santander and the Netherlands’s biggest pension fund have helped bankroll what has been named the “world’s worst deforestation crisis” in Paraguay, holding or increasing shares in - or providing financial services to - meatpacking giants accused of deforestation and land-grabbing in South America’s second largest forest, the Gran Chaco.

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Herd of cattle grazing, Gran Chaco, Paraguay. Photo by DeAgostini / Getty Images

In 2020, the meat-packing giants Minerva and Frigorifico Concepción were accused of buying cattle raised by two ranchers responsible for illegal land grabbing and forest clearance, all within the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples in the Gran Chaco. This illegal deforestation was found to have been occurring since 2018. New evidence also suggests Minerva was sourcing from at least one of the unethical ranchers throughout 2021 - though Minerva denies this.

Despite the companies’ links to known deforesters in the Chaco, a new Global Witness investigation has found that many leading financiers continue to bankroll Minerva, with some backing it financially by holding or even increasing their shares in the company. Others provided Minerva or Frigorifico Concepción with financial services such as underwriting bond issuances worth millions of dollars.

This report builds on the investigative work of the UK-based organisation Earthsight. To read the original research which inspired this investigation, please find the original series of investigations on the Chaco here.

Key findings

The new investigation reveals that between December 2020 and December 2022:

  • Netherlands: APG, the Netherland’s largest pension manager, almost doubled its investment in Minerva, increasing it shareholdings in the company from $7million to $13.7million
  • France: BNP Paribas substantially increased its investments, from $740,000 to $1million
  • Spain: the largest growth in shareholdings came from Spanish bank Santander, whose investment shot up a staggering 1,000%, from $70,000 to $770,000

As of December 2022, two US-based major asset managers, Vanguard, and BlackRock, still held significant shares in Minerva, totalling $13.3 million. This represents a substantial increase since illegal deforestation was first identified in Minerva’s Paraguayan supply chain 2019.

Between September 2019 and December 2022:

  • BlackRock’s investment shot up more than five-fold; from $840,000 to $4.78million
  • Vanguard’s investment almost doubled, from $4.54million to $8.56million.

Other banks including HSBC, JP Morgan and Santander collectively earnt over a million dollars underwriting bonds and assisting share sales for Minerva. Other financial institutions have underwritten Frigorifico Concepción’s bond sales, including Bank of America, which underwrote a $285 million deal for the company in 2021.

All the financial institutions exposed – with the sole exception of Vanguard - are signatories of either the Net Zero Asset Manager Initiative or the Net Zero Banking Alliance. BNP Paribas and Santander are members of both. Both initiatives commit the banks or asset managers to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with all members advised to set a target to eliminate deforestation from their portfolios.  

Despite this, these financial institutions are still backing companies engaged in the deforestation crisis in Paraguay, which lost a quarter of its net forest cover between 2000 and 2020, according to Global Forest Watch. The country now has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing an estimated 5.2 million hectares between 2001-2021 - an area almost twice the size of Belgium. With around 50,000 Indigenous peoples living in the Chaco, this destruction puts the future of the forest and the people who depend on it at risk.

We are calling on lawmakers to introduce new legislation that would legally require financiers to carry out effective due diligence to ensure their portfolios are free from deforestation and any associated human rights violations.

“Indigenous Peoples are on the front line of climate change. They pay the price when commodities are produced illegally on their lands. It’s time that governments ensure that major financial players turn off the money pipeline to companies sourcing commodities from deforested land and Indigenous areas,” said Charlie Hammans, Civil Society Adviser at Global Witness.

All the meatpackers and ranchers mentioned in the report were approached for comment regarding their links to deforestation in the Chaco, except for Caucasian SA who could not be contacted as they have no online presence or contact details. Both Frigorifico Concepcion and Minerva responded. 

Frigorifico Concepción provided us an audit document that demonstrated that Yaguarete Pora had not been a direct supplier to the company. 

Minerva Foods replied to Global Witness’ allegation that Yaguarete Pora claimed to supply Athena Foods: "Regarding the Yagarate Pora rancher, we inform that the aforementioned provider is not registered in the Minerva Foods database, and there were never purchases of the referred rancher."

They did not challenge Global Witness’ allegation that Caucasian SA had supplied Minerva Foods and claimed: Minerva Foods carried out studies in PNCAT area to reinforce its position regarding traceability compliance... "In relation to both Est. San Miguel ranch and Est. Augusta ranch, which belongs to Caucasian S.A., we inform that neither ranch’s maps overlap into PNCAT lands or environmental protection areas. Therefore, the ranches are in compliance with Minerva Foods cattle purchase criteria. Both ranches’ perimeter is registered in SNC’s database (“Servicio Nacional de Catastro [sic]”)."

All the financial institutions mentioned in the report were also approached for comment. BNP Paribas and BlackRock responded.

BlackRock engaged on the substance of the report but stated that the reply was not for publication.

Please see the report to read the responses in detail.

This page was updated on 24/04/2023 to correct an error in the text. Minerva Foods and BlackRock were previously listed as not having provided comment. This was incorrect.