Soy is an important raw material for M&S. We sell products like soya milk and use fresh soya beans in our salads and soya lecithin in chocolate. However, like all major retailers, the majority of the soya used in our supply chain is for livestock feed. As part of Plan A, our eco and ethical programme, we’ve committed to exclude deforestation from our soy supply chain to protect high carbon and species rich ecosystems like the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Gran Chaco, and remain determined to achieve this goal.
We have taken many steps over the last decade to ensure our suppliers only use soy in line with this commitment. We are long standing members of the Amazon Soy Moratorium Customer Group, that ensures our soy is not linked to deforestation in the region. We have supported the implementation of the Brazilian Forest Code which specifies standards that ensure legal compliance and supplemented that by buying credits that support producers certified to the Roundtable on Responsible Soy – the gold standard.
We have invested in two three-year projects to build the capacity of producers in Paraguay and communities in Peru to protect forests in their respective regions, and we work with the industry through our participation in the Retail Soy Group and Co-Chairmanship of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Soy Working Group, harnessing business voice and energy towards our shared deforestation and sustainable production goals.
We believe Brazil has done much to protect its forests. Yet as recently as a month ago we were being told by WWF and Greenpeace that producers in Brazil were unconvinced of market demand for deforestation-free soy.
It was clear that brands and retailers needed to do more.
Sometimes it’s all about timing. In the weeks running up to these conversations with WWF and Greenpeace, the landscape changed.
Firstly, a long list of Brazilian civil society organisations released the Cerrado Manifesto that highlighted how critically vulnerable the ecosystem was becoming due to cattle grazing and soy development, and that the Forest Code was not offering enough protection in the region. In many ways Brazil has been a victim of its own success. By protecting the Amazon, it has displaced new soy production to the neighbouring Cerrado.
We were also provided with strong evidence that large areas of land were available for conversion to soy production, land that is perfectly fit for agriculture but not in areas of precious forest or species-rich eco systems. Not only that, it is now possible to map and manage land changes in the Cerrado, something it is much more difficult to do in the area compared to dense tropical forest like the Amazon.
Additionally the Coalition for Forests and Agriculture was formed with a mandate to find solutions to the many obstacles in the way of progress.
The team at the Consumer Goods Forum saw an opportunity to shift the agenda in a more positive direction, to unequivocally state our collective business desire for production that does not destroy native vegetation.
So with help from colleagues in Unilever, Tesco and Ahold-Delhaize, I reached out to major European, International and Brazilian users of soy and cattle to seek support for the Cerrado Manifesto.
The result is that, today, we have published a statement of support – signed by 23 global companies, including M&S, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart – for the objectives of the Cerrado Manifesto and a commitment to work with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil’s Cerrado.
Our clear ask is partnership. We want to work with the Brazilian government, civil society, and producers to develop sustainable and deforestation-free production, not only in the Cerrado, but in other areas like the Gran Chaco. We want to show that economic growth and agricultural development need not be incompatible with conservation of the natural landscapes we depend on for climate mitigation, water stability and species protection. We will work with international investors, climate funds, multi-national institutions to show Brazil and other countries that protecting forests does not make people poorer.
Considerable challenges remain: technical, political, logistical and economic, but unless we work together, with determination and tenacity, on a shared goal of green growth, these will never be overcome.
We look forward to being part of this process and helping our sector towards sustainable growth, and deforestation free soy.