3Keel coordinates industry deforestation due diligence response

5th October 2020

Today 3Keel sent a letter to the British Government signed by 22 major companies across the UK food system including Unilever and Tesco. Although we don’t normally get involved in political measures, our role as the representative of the Retail Soy Group – and the opportunity the Environment Bill provides to create a level playing field for deforestation free commodities – drove us to convene and coordinate this letter following client requests for support.

In August 2020 the UK Government initiated a consultation on its proposal to incorporate due diligence requirements for businesses. This is a very important step in addressing deforestation as it would introduce a legal requirement for companies to make sure their materials, ingredients, and products have not benefited from the destruction of these critical ecosystems.

In a nutshell, due diligence means that a business has undertaken appropriate steps to the best of their ability to follow a requirement. These steps often include documented risk assessments and evidence files demonstrating the matter is being addressed. This is such an important lever to pull in efforts to eradicate deforestation because some of the supply chains that these commodities move through are incredibly opaque.

Even a well understood commodity, like palm oil, cannot be easily traced back to the plantations and farms where they are produced. Other commodities, which aren’t even visible in the final retail product like soy, have seen some UK companies struggle to determine the country of origin information from their suppliers. Whilst we’d like to think that major UK companies should be able to address this through supplier requirements in the absence of legislation, our experience working with them for years show this is not enough. This is why creating a full supply chain requirement for disclosure is so important.

However, whilst immensely welcome to have this leadership from the Government, there are some concerns regarding whether the current proposition is enough. Unfortunately, the official consultation process is limited and some of the feedback that can be provided through the intended channels may be subject to misinterpretation. For example, whilst everyone may agree that having a minimum standard of legal production verification is important, as 95% of deforestation in some areas is illegal we know that this in itself will not full stop the loss of these ecosystems.

Following the request from our clients, 3Keel developed an approach to assemble the broad support needed for a unified food industry statement:

  1. Draft a letter – Having listened to the concerns of leading businesses and drawing from our own experiences in assessing deforestation free supply chains, we wrote the first iteration of the response letter.
  2. Consult and refine – It was encouraging that everyone we shared the draft with was supportive of the primary elements being proposed for inclusion. This demonstrated that the concerns were widely agreed and a single letter was justified. Beyond the private sector, we also engaged NGOs and IDH on the draft for their thoughts, which were all supportive.
  3. Promote adoption – Leveraging a range of networks of leading businesses representing every party of the UK food production and delivery system, we sought a wide range of signatories.
  4. Engaged with Government – Every signatory has an interest in having this proposal be a workable and effective option. Simply providing a letter through the consultation process or dropping it into the media is not necessarily the most effective way to drive change. As such, we convened a meeting with Defra, BEIS, selected retailer representatives, and IDH to present the industry challenge; discuss and explain the sector challenges; and socialise the specific asks that are included in the letter.
  5. Make visible – Following the significant success of the letter to the Brazilian government in May 2020, we worked with GSCC to help amplify the content of the letter in mainstream media.

It’s not often that businesses come together to ask for regulation. Our experience of the last decade demonstrates that deforestation is too big of a challenge for any individual company to address. Establishing a level playing field that moves the whole system forward is welcome and necessary.

We all appreciate the UK initiative to lead on this issue, and even the proposal as it currently stands is a welcome step forward. The Government just needs to work with the food sector to make sure it is workable and effectively contributes to ending all forms of deforestation. 22 companies – from livestock producers to restaurants and retail – seem to agree.

Download: Industry letter

Commodity supply chain lead

Will Schreiber