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Big business launches new data alliance on deforestation

Big food producers and buyers worth US$2.9 trillion will now be able to monitor deforestation with the same immediacy as tracking commodity prices or stock markets. Now there's nowhere for their suppliers to hide.

Companies with a combined value of US$2.9 trillion have formed a data alliance to help them push deforestation out of their supply chains.

A deal brokered by the World Resources Institute (WRI) at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday saw 20 of the world’s biggest corporations such as retail giants Carrefour and Walmart and snacks firms Mondelez International and Mars agree to deploy a monitoring framework to increase the transparency and traceability of the raw materials they use, such as palm oil, soy and cocoa. 

The tool is an additional feature of WRI’s Global Forest Watch Commodities platform that enables companies to monitor the health of their supply chains by mapping tree cover loss, deforestation and forest fires on the concessions of their suppliers.

Using the technology, firms can now plot the locations of the production mills and farms they source from, and get alerts of deforestation or fires that occur in those areas.

By keeping a closer eye on supply chains, companies will find it easier to avoid the legal and reputational risks that can come from sourcing commodities from protected forest areas.

The companies and organisations that have signed the deal also include Bunge, Cargill, Conservation International, Daemeter, IOI Group, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, FMO–Dutch Development Bank, National Wildlife Federation, Rainforest Alliance, Proforest and The Nature Conservancy. 

The idea is for corporates to integrate forest monitoring into their core business strategy in the same way that they track commodity prices or stock markets.

Big corporates are under increasing pressure from consumers and investors alike to show that the materials they use are not linked to illegal forest clearing, which has been connected to species loss, soil erosion and climate change. Agriculture accounts for more than 70 percent of tropical deforestation.

Now is the time to use the power of IT to meet [deforestation] goals, while also generating sustainable business opportunities. That could really change the world.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute

Mars, Unilever, Cargill and Mondelēz are already using Global Forest Watch Commodities to assess deforestation risks in their palm oil, soy and cocoa supply chains across an area of land the size of Mexico.

In a statement, Walmart said that it was committed to achieving zero net deforestation by 2020 in palm, beef, soy and pulp/paper, and WRI’s tool would be used to help meet this goal.

Cargill shared that the company has partnered with WRI over the last year to establish a baseline for tree cover loss in the food and agricultural giant’s supply chains, and would be using the tool to chart its progress.

The president and chief executive officer of World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer, said there was the necessary political will to combat deforestation, and now was the time to follow through on those commitments.

“Now is the time to use the power of information technology to meet those goals, while also generating sustainable business opportunities. That could really change the world,” he said.

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