KANSAS CITY — Attracting negative attention because of environmental issues like deforestation or human rights issues like child labor could have consequences for any company, espeically one promoting its sustainability practices. The two issues have been raised in connections with commodities like soybeans in Brazil, palm oil in Asia and cocoa in Africa.

Suppliers of the three commodities, seeking to secure customers, have established programs to improve sustainability practices. The programs focus heavily on monitoring progress and educating farmers.

Soy in the Cerrado

Mention sustainability issues in South America, and the Amazon Rainforest might come to mind immediately, and soybeans are grown in that area. Yet the Cerrado savanna, which lies mostly in Brazil, has issues as well. The Cerrado is home to 5% of the planet’s animals and plants, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Since the 1950s, the expansion of soy and beef production has driven the loss of about half of native vegetation, according to the WWF.

“In regions outside of the Amazon biome where conversion to soy might still occur, a system in which farms are digitally geo-referenced helps us monitor the areas for environmental compliance and swiftly identify issues,” said Michelle French, manager of corporate responsibility for Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. “We have over 95% traceability to farms in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Pará and the region of Matopiba, which has a historically higher risk of deforestation to soy within the Cerrado.”Sustainably sourcing soy relies on ADM’s ability to identify the farm of origin and having personal relationships with the growers, she said.

“We focus on validating social and environmental criteria to ensure farms comply with local legislation and ADM policies,” Ms. French said.

Soybeans are grown in areas of the Amazon Rainforest and the Cerrado.

Bunge Ltd., St. Louis, in May published its eighth non-deforestation progress report, which showed increases in monitoring and traceability for soybeans in areas most at risk in South America, including Brazil’s Cerrado biome and areas in Paraguay and Argentina.

Bunge in 2019 monitored more than 8,300 farms across over 14 million hectares (34.5 million acres), which was a 12% increase in monitored farmland from the previous season.

“As a global company operating in sensitive ecosystems around the world, Bunge is aware of our role as a leader in our industry and recognizes the importance of developing responsible supply chains that promote sustainable agriculture and support the social and economic
well-being of growers and communities,” Rob Coviello, senior vice president of sustainability and government affairs at Bunge, said in May.

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, a business of DuPont, Wilmington, Del., sources soybeans as close to its manufacturing facilities as possible, said Cintia Nishiyama, global product marketing manager for DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences.

“To service our Brazilian plant, we buy soybeans locally in the Brazilian market,” she said. “Specifically, for soy purchased from suppliers that are situated in areas in the vicinity of the Amazon biome, we only buy from vendors that have signed a contractual agreement prohibiting the purchase of soybeans grown on lands deforested after July 2006 in the Amazon biome — in line with the Soy Moratorium.”

Minneapolis-based Cargill has mapped 100% of its Brazilian supply chain with geo-referenced single points, a technique that allows Cargill to more precisely identify locations of suppliers, said John Hartmann, global sustainability lead for Cargill’s edible oils business.

“We have calculated our estimated share of soy purchased in Brazil grown on deforestation- and conversion-free land at 95.68%,” he said.

Cargill operates a Sustainably Sourced and Supplied 3S) certification program that offers customers a certified deforestation-free product.

“Since launching in 2010, our 3S program has sourced soy from farms that are certified to meet exceptionally high standards for agricultural practices, labor and environmental impact,” Mr. Hartmann said. “About 200 farmers in Brazil participate in the program today, which is independently verified and is focused on continuous improvement each year.”

Save the orangutans

Fewer than 80,000 orangutans remain, and their habitats in Indonesia are under threat of deforestation, according to the WWF, which added palm oil made with conventional production methods can lead to unchecked agricultural expansion that threatens forests and wildlife.

Traceability factors in sustainable production and achieving certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Cargill by the end of 2019 had achieved 93% traceability to mills and 48% to plantations, Mr. Hartmann said.

“Traceability allows us to track the provenance of products and follow their journey from field to factory to fork,” he said. “As a supplier, it gives us an in-depth understanding of our supply chain, informing the work we do with third-party mills, refiners and smallholders to further strengthen our sustainability efforts. For brands, it provides confidence in the integrity of the ingredients they buy and enables them to tell compelling origin stories that resonate with consumers.”

Much of the world's palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.

All of Cargill’s plantations and mills are managed according to RSPO criteria. Over 16,500 of Cargill’s 21,000 managed smallholder suppliers are RSPO certified.

A global sustainable palm oil policy outlines DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences’ expectations and commitments toward zero deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems as well as human rights, said Aurora Giribuola, global product marketing manager.

“Traceability is essential to deliver on our responsible sourcing commitments,” she said. “That is why we have partnered with Proforest (a not-for-profit group) to track and assess traceability information from our suppliers, helping us achieve 100% Traceability to Mill (TTM) by 2025 and progress toward Traceability to Plantation (TTP).”

ADM’s traceability scores for palm oil and palm kernel oil mills consistently have been over 95%, Ms. French said.

“Currently, ADM is working with eight direct palm oil suppliers, with just under 1,300 mills,” she said. “We are constantly engaging them on responsible sourcing implementation, striving to have their traceability scores verified by a third party.”

Keeping children in school

Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana are major cocoa-producing countries.

A 2019 report from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimated about 20% of school-aged children in Cameroon do not attend school. One reason why is cocoa farmers cannot pay for labor and have children at home work rather than attend school, according to Olam Cocoa, part of Singapore-based Olam International. To address the situation, the company is partnering with the Fair Labor Association and local farming cooperatives to digitally register its nearly 7,000 farmer suppliers in Cameroon to introduce traceability and reporting systems, educate communities about child labor, and set up child labor monitoring and remediation systems.

Cargill, when outlining sustainability progress in June, reported its child labor monitoring and remediation systems deployed in the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon have reached 58,000 farmers to 29% of the
farms in the direct supply chain.

Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland, has set goals in a project called “Forever Chocolate.” The company by 2025 seeks to eradicate child labor from its supply chain, lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty, become more carbon and forest positive, and have 100% sustainable ingredients in all Barry Callebaut products.