CASE STUDY WWF
Assessing the deforestation impact of Switzerland’s commodity imports overseas
Switzerland uses an area of overseas land equivalent to half its own land area each year for its imports of just eight commodities, our Risky Business analysis of imported deforestation shows
LEAD STEVE JENNINGS
WF Switzerland recently published results of a new 3Keel analysis of the footprint of Switzerland’s imports, which reveal that the country’s demand for just eight key commodities required an overseas land area three times the size of Switzerland itself between 2015 and 2019 – often in countries with high risks of deforestation.
The research, conducted by 3Keel’s Sustainable Commodities team looks at the environmental and social impacts of Switzerland’s imports of eight key commodities; cocoa, coconut, coffee, palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, sugarcane and timber.
Each year, the area of overseas land needed to meet Switzerland’s demand for these imports is equivalent to nearly twice the total forest area in Switzerland. Almost one quarter (22%) of this footprint is in countries evaluated as ‘very high’ or ‘high’ risk for deforestation and human rights abuses. Risk is evaluated using data on deforestation from Global Forest Watch and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, as well as national human rights indicators from the World Bank and International Trade Union Confederation. The risk is particularly acute for the tropical commodities – cocoa, coffee, palm oil and soy – where between half and three quarters of the land used for production is in ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk countries including Brazil, Indonesia and Cote D’Ivoire, and none of the volumes are from low risk countries.
Although the largest land footprint of Switzerland’s imports is associated with timber, pulp and paper (over 1.5 million hectares per year on average), the Swiss demand for coffee and cocoa is particularly notable. The footprint of the country’s imports of coffee amount to 2% of the global area of production, and the figure is 3% for cocoa. This is high compared to Switzerland’s share of global population (0.1%) and GDP (0.6%). Demand is driven both by domestic consumption – per capita consumption of chocolate is the highest in Europe and per capita consumption of coffee is also amongst the highest in Europe – and onward re-export. Switzerland is known globally for its chocolate and over half of the cocoa imported to Switzerland is re-exported, mainly as chocolate. Similarly, around half of the coffee imported to Switzerland is re-exported, usually after roasting; 82% of coffee is imported unroasted and 90% of coffee exports are as roasted beans.
The report – Imported Deforestation: Understanding Switzerland’s Overseas Footprint for Forest-Risk Commodities – was published at the end of 2020. It provides crucial evidence for governments, businesses and financial institutions to understand the scale of deforestation and human rights abuses linked to Swiss commodity imports. The report outlines recommendations for action by different stakeholders to address the environmental and human problems in the supply chains of these commodity imports.
This analysis is the most recent in a series of analyses by the 3Keel Sustainable Commodities team, usually under the title of ‘Risky Business’. Research has previously been produced for WWF UK, WWF Belgium, WWF France, and WWF Denmark and the analysis has also been applied to assessing corporate supply chains.
Main photo by Yanapi Senaud on Unsplash