JPMorgan Chase expands deforestation policies under shareholder pressure

Investment group Green Century used a shareholder proposal strategy to request that JPMorgan Chase issue a public report, outlining how it could improve efforts to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity across its banking portfolios.

deforestation palm oil indonesia deposit photos
Land cleared to make way for an oil palm plantation in Indonesia. Image: richcarey, CC BY-SA 2.0

Financial giant JPMorgan Chase has agreed to expand its policies addressing deforestation after pressure from shareholders, led by the investment group Green Century Capital Management.

Green Century strategically invests in companies to push for change from within. Per SEC rules, investors who have held more than $2,000 of a company for at least one year can submit a short proposal requesting that the company take a specific action. If the recommendations are deemed reasonable according to SEC regulations, the company must add the proposal to the agenda for voting at their annual shareholders’ meeting.

Green Century’s used this shareholder proposal strategy to request that JPMorgan Chase “issue a public report, within a reasonable time, outlining if and how it could improve efforts to reduce negative impacts and enhance positive impacts on natural ecosystems and biodiversity across its banking and investment portfolios.”

In response, JPMorgan Chase stated its intention to require all growers or refiners related to the palm oil sector who are its clients to confirm that they are compliant with the principle of “No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation” (NDPE).

“They’ve confirmed that they will not do business with [palm oil] growers or refiners who do not confirm that they have an NDPE policy,” Annalisa Tarizzo, a shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management, told Mongabay.

JPMorgan Chase is also expanding its current timber policy to include not only timber projects but also pulp and paper companies, requiring each to have “appropriate supply chain certifications.”

They’ve confirmed that they will not do business with [palm oil] growers or refiners who do not confirm that they have an NDPE policy.

Annalisa Tarizzo, shareholder advocate, Green Century Capital Management

Finally, JPMorgan Chase will be considering how it can strengthen its due diligence process in relation to deforestation risk from its clients in the mining and infrastructure sectors.

“These are real changes in their policies that we feel [are] going to protect the environment and going to make it more difficult for irresponsible agricultural and forestry companies to access capital,” Tarizzo said.

These commitments will be formalized by Sept. 30, 2021, so the details of how these policies will be implemented and monitored are not yet available.

“In terms of accountability, they are doing due diligence [through] their own internal assessment processes,” Tarizzo said. “We are going to continue talking with them about these issues and ensuring that they are implementing the policies that they told us that they would implement.”

“We’re committed to doing our part to address climate change and that includes working with clients and other stakeholders to help strengthen industry best practices intended to protect forests and biodiversity,” Marisa Buchanan, JPMorgan Chase’s global head of sustainability, said in a statement. “Through our constructive dialogue with Green Century, we’re taking some important steps and plan to continue exploring ways to enhance our efforts over time.”

Palm oil, timber and paper products, along with beef and soy, are major drivers of deforestation worldwide. Investors are increasingly putting pressure on companies to address deforestation in these supply chains.

In response to the 2019 fires in the Amazon, investors representing $17.7 trillion in assets wrote a letter urging “business leadership to reverse the worrying deforestation trends we are witnessing” and to uphold commitments “to end commodity-driven deforestation by 2020.” However, a majority of companies did not meet these self-imposed deadlines.

“We are seeing an increase in investors who are concerned about ESG [environmental, social and governance] policies,” said Green Century shareholder advocate Jessye Waxman. “I wouldn’t say it’s an overwhelming amount, but I am hopeful … I hope it represents a trend.”

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