WWF-UK and the RSPB launched a government, business and public-facing report, Risky Business, based on research undertaken by 3Keel. The research quantified the overseas land footprint linked to the UK’s imports of seven key commodities: beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy, and timber.
Our findings show that the UK has an overseas land footprint of 13.6 million hectares for these commodities, a land area equivalent to more than half the area of the UK. A large proportion (44%) of this footprint is in countries with high social and deforestation risks.
The analysis highlighted how dependent the UK is on imports from countries that have high levels of deforestation, and where there is a risk of poor labour practices. For example:
The UK imported an average of half a million tonnes of soy per year (directly or indirectly), 77% of which came from three high deforestation risk countries: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay)
86% of the cocoa and chocolate products we imported in 2015 originated in Côte d’Ivoire, a country that lost over 2 million hectares of forest cover from 2011-14, and where forced and child labour are unfortunately common.
Some countries that ranked as high risk are important to the UK for a number of different commodities. These include Indonesia (palm oil, cocoa, rubber); China (timber products, pulp and paper, rubber); and Brazil (beef and leather, timber, soy, cocoa).
Some of the other findings were specific to particular commodities:
Even though we produce over 80% of the beef we consume, the overall land footprint for beef and leather was the highest of all the commodities we assessed. Put simply, cattle need a lot of land in some production systems, such as those commonly found in Namibia or Brazil
There has been a rapid growth in the UK’s annual timber imports – from an average 8 million to more than 14.5 million between 2011 and 2015. Much of this increase is due to rapid growth of fuelwood imports, principally from the US.
Overall, the analysis provides evidence for the UK government, NGOs and businesses to work together to reduce the risk of deforestation and social exploitation from the UK’s commodity supply chains. There are already many examples of how this can work, such as public and private commitments, and the use of sustainability standards to comply with regulations and internal policies.