Deforestation has an impact on regional rainfall, according to new research published in the journal Nature. It found that clearing tropical rainforests meant that nearby farmers were less able to depend on consistent rain. Researchers from Leeds University examined satellite and meteorological records from 2003-2017. They found that when considering large regions of 40,000 sq km, rainfall decreased by 0.25 percentage points for every single percentage point of forest loss. The findings come when others have been concerned that the Amazon region will soon reach a tipping point where it will no longer be able to generate its own rainfall and will eventually dry out. Up to 50% of the Amazon’s rainfall comes from water recycling from the trees.
This of course comes as no surprise to many people living in tropical forested areas – there have been many instances of anecdotal stories of tree cover reductions leading to local rainfall loss. The impact of the new Nature study could be to encourage the big agriculture companies and buyers with key supply chains in tropical regions will act to keep forests standing.
Brazil wine sector modern slavery
Three of the big companies in the Brazilian wine sector have become embroiled in a modern slavery scandal. More than 200 workers were recently rescued from what were described as slave-like conditions. The workers had been lured to Brazil’s main wine growing region with promises of competitive rates of pay, with free accommodation and food. They had been recruited from areas of high unemployment and poor prospects. Instead, they were provided with squalid accommodation, with wages withheld or paid late, subjected to exhausting work conditions and physical violence, inadequate food and effective imprisonment.
The workers had been recruited by a common contractor to whom the wineries had outsourced labour provision. The government ministry responsible for tackling workplace conditions and instances of modern slavery had been abolished by the government of the now voted out president, Jair Bolsonaro.
PepsiCo’s paper bags
Amid the ongoing debate on food packaging and possible alternatives to plastics that maintain freshness and shelf life, PepsiCo has announced a trial of paper-based outer packaging for its Walker branded multipack crisps in the UK. This is part of the company’s strategy for virgin fossil fuel free packaging by 2030 in Europe. The paper based outer packaging is completely recyclable in domestic recycling which is, PepsiCo says, a first for savoury snacks flexible packaging in the UK.
EU pension reporting rigour
The latest tightening of EU rules regarding social and environmental regulations looks set to be pensions. Currently pension funds subject to EU regulation do not require to integrate sustainability factors into the investment decisions. This may change to an explicit duty for funds to account for sustainability risks in their investment decisions and the potential long-term impact of their investment strategy and decisions on sustainability factors.
The proposed change is part of a wider review of pension fund regulation that will also include requirements for new diversity and inclusion factors in pension scheme management bodies. The package of measures is out for stakeholder feedback until the end of May.
US measures to crack down on child labour
In the US, the Biden administration has announced measures to crack down on child labour, which has seen a sharp increase in violations in recent months and years. US officials noted that since 2018, the Labor Department had seen nearly a 70% increase in child labour violations, including cases of illegal employment of migrant minors in hazardous industries. In the last fiscal year, 835 companies were found to have violated child labour laws in the US.
US officials have told reporters that the administration has created an interagency task force on child labour, and is investigating the employment of children at companies including Hearthside Food Solutions and suppliers to Hyundai. The Biden administration will also be pushing for heavier penalties for companies that do violate laws – current monetary penalties are not viewed as high enough to be an effective deterrent.
Two palm oil giants quite HCSA
Golden Agri-Resources and Malaysia’s IOI Group have pulled out of the High Carbon Stock Approach, bringing the total of palm-oil giants who have quit the no-deforestation initiative to four in the past three years. GAR and IOI join Wilmar International and Sime Darby Plantation, which both left in 2020 – citing governance issues and pandemic-induced budget constraints, respectively. GAR has referred to an “unnecessary” overlap between the HCSA and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The HCSA was established in 2014 to distinguish forest areas that can be developed by companies, from those that should be left standing due to their high carbon stock.
Environmental groups have said that by leaving the HCSA, these companies are avoiding obligations on transparent reporting on sustainability commitments. Grant Rosoman of Greenpeace, which co-chairs the HCSA, has said that “for now”, he isn’t concerned about the future of the organisation. However, he noted that companies quitting voluntary schemes do undermine the use of voluntary measures as evidence towards meeting legal and regulatory requirements, such as the EU’s recently enacted deforestation law.
Lufthansa ad banned in UK for greenwashing
An advertising campaign by Lufthansa has been banned by the UK advertising watchdog, for using misleading claims about the airline’s environmental impact. The campaign featured a front-on depiction of a plane, with the earth as its underside, behind the tagline “Connecting the world. Protecting its future.” Whilst Lufthansa stated that the line wouldn’t be seen as an “absolute promise” on environmental impact, and remained “open to interpretation”, the UK Advertising Standards Authority said that consumers would view the ad as a claim that the airline had already taken significant mitigating steps to reduce its environmental impact.
Lufthansa aims to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. It is the latest notable brand to be flagged by the ASA, after a promise in 2021 to crack down on misleading green claims by firms. Others brands who have been called out include Ryanair, HSBC and Unilever’s Persil detergent.