Henry Eastick Written by Henry Eastick

Tackling deforestation: new proposals mark a positive step for the global sugar industry

At the end of August, the UK government presented its ‘world-leading’ plans to protect rainforests and clean up supply chains. The proposals, which take aim at imported commodities such as cocoa, meat and sugar, have had a wider impact across the continent, with pressure mounting on the European Union (EU) to announce similar legislation. In this blog, we explain the current situation in the UK and Europe and explore how the proposals could impact the sugar industry.

UK’s ‘world-leading’ deforestation proposals

In August, the UK government announced its plans to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for businesses to “use products unless they comply with local laws to protect natural areas.” This means that businesses will have to show that their products and supply lines are free from illegal deforestation. You can find more information about the UK’s proposals here.

Should the plans come into action, businesses will have to become more transparent about their supply chains. While supply chain transparency is not a new issue, previously it centred on other policies such as human rights and anti-slavery. These new proposals, therefore, mark a significant turning point in developing sustainable business operations in the UK, as greater emphasis is placed on deforestation, in addition to the existing focus on other social policies.

Since the announcement on 25 August, the new deforestation law has been subject to a six-week consultation phase to ensure it meets business needs, as well as the government’s environmental aspirations. The consultation is now closed, and the UK government will soon publish a report detailing the feedback it has received. Significantly, the proposals demonstrate the UK’s ambitions for a crucial issue, and they are also putting pressure on other nations and governing bodies to pledge the same commitment.

The new proposals aim to protect natural areas and encourage sustainable business operations. 

Pressure mounting on the EU

The EU has been seeking to combat the deforestation issue for some time. In fact, much of its activity stems from a 2013 report, which found that the EU consumes 10% of the world’s commodities with embodied deforestation. As a result, the EU presented a plan to address deforestation in July 2019, with a particular focus on forest destruction.

While much work has been done behind the scenes, it is only since the UK announced its ‘world-leading’ plans that we have seen the EU take more public steps. This can be seen through the formation of a multi-stakeholder global co-operation platform at the start of October. The platform combines the power and expertise of countries both within and outside of the EU, NGOs in forest protection and organisations from other consumer markets, and countries experiencing deforestation. The platform aims to build alliances and drive mutual commitments that significantly reduce deforestation.

Furthermore, pressures have also been mounting on the EU from external sources. The European Association of Sugar Manufacturers (CEFS), for example, has called on the EU to propose rules preventing the sale of products associated with deforestation or forest degradation – similar to those proposed in the UK. These pressures could encourage the platform to start making legislative strides on the deforestation issue.

How could this affect sugar supply chains?

The proposals in the UK, and the noises from the EU, mark a positive step forward for the sugar industry. European sugar manufacturers are committed to ensuring that supply chains are as sustainable as possible, and the proposals will certainly help to achieve this goal.

However, the proposals could detrimentally impact one of the global sugar market’s major players. Brazil is the largest sugar-producing nation in the world – and therefore plays a critical role in balancing global sugar supply and demand – but its government passed laws permitting sugar cane cultivation in the Amazon rainforest in 2019.

Although rainforests are not particularly suited to large-scale sugar cane cultivation, research indicates that legalising sugar cane cultivation in the Amazon could appreciate land prices, encouraging further expansion into the rainforest by cattle ranchers and land speculators, which could indirectly accelerate deforestation. Although this classifies as legal deforestation, under the spirit of the new proposals, European sugar manufacturers may start looking to import cane sugar from other regions to avoid contributing to deforestation in any form.

The next question concerns how the proposals could be regulated. Findings show that the most effective measures would be mandatory certification standards on all imports to eliminate the import of any forest-risk commodities (FRC). Some reports even indicate that this type of initiative could reduce comparative deforestation by up to 76%. Of course, certification would incur additional costs to check and certify standards, but the outcome would mean more transparent and sustainable sugar supply chains. However, it is worth noting that we are currently some way off this next step.

What does this mean for the global sugar industry?

For now, the proposals are in preliminary stages. Despite being in their infancy, though, they represent significant progress for the global sugar industry and should be welcomed by manufacturers throughout Europe. At Ragus, we have always ensured that we source our primary production materials from responsible partners that do not contribute to illegal deforestation. But this is not about us.

Ragus routinely meets growers in person to audit its supply chains. 

The proposals can help the global sugar industry become more transparent and sustainable, and for that, we should be grateful. We should all be aiming to improve in everything we do because we can only become more sustainable through collective efforts. By working together, we can minimise deforestation and make today and tomorrow’s world a better place for everyone.

Ragus continuously evaluates its supply chains to ensure its partners and all the actors within share its commitment to sustainable and transparent business operations. To find out more information about our corporate philosophy, visit our responsibility page. To learn more about our portfolio of high-quality pure sugar products, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or sales@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.