Interview – Daniel Brindis, Senior Campaigner for Forest at Greenpeace USA

Leather International speaks with Daniel Brindis, senior campaigner for forests at Greenpeace USA, regarding how cattle monitoring systems are on the right track, but there’s still work that needs to be done.

Leather International – 2009 seemed to be a pivotal year, when JBS started rolling out its robust sustainability monitoring system to analyse 70,000 cattle suppliers and their capacity to comply with rules regarding deforestation, slave labour, and indigenous and conservation land abuse. This is also the year your Slaughtering the Amazon report came out. Can you explain the correlation, how involved you were in laying the groundwork for their monitoring system, and what measurable improvements you’ve seen in JBS’ operations as a result?

Daniel Brindis – Before our report, the meatpackers only had a system that monitored purchases and tax payments. It wasn’t until after our report that we met with them and developed the minimum criteria for the monitoring system [see opposite page for a breakdown of these criteria]. From that point on, each meatpacker developed its own system individually, through different companies and now the different systems are evaluated with audits using the same criteria.

Leather International – What was the timing or impetus to write the Slaughtering the Amazon report in the first place? What kind of data were you faced with to make it a priority to publish considering Brazilian deforestation has been accelerating for decades?

Daniel Brindis – We had published content on the cattle sector in the past in various bulletins about deforestation, but had not yet done an overarching report with an eye towards the international market. Investigation that Slaughtering the Amazon is based on coincided with the Brazilian Government and multilateral banks announcing $41 billion in new credit for the cattle sector. This presented some urgency to the situation; had we not intervened, we imagined that the subsequent expansion of cattle would be done in a reckless manner that threatened the forest, especially considering that the expansion was focused on the Amazon Biome. 2009 was also a year when we were shedding light on Brazil’s role as the fourth-largest emitter of GHG emissions, with deforestation and forest degradation being the primary source.

Leather International – JBS cuts ties with non-compliant suppliers, so will this create, or has this already created, a stronger black market for illicit raw materials?

Daniel Brindis – The term "black market" is a misnomer because JBS cutting ties doesn’t make the noncompliant suppliers illegal. The Cattle Agreement creates a situation in which compliance increases market access, and suppliers who comply have more potential customers than those that do not.

Leather International – Can you explain how you can effectively monitor or get reliable and quantifiable data to see progress that is mutually beneficial for JBS, the Brazilian Government and organisations like Greenpeace?

Daniel Brindis – Success of this agreement can be measured by looking at satellite data of deforestation crossed with chains of custody data. It is important to note that Greenpeace isn’t assuming the role of monitoring; this is a role that should belong to JBS and other meatpackers who are responsible for the actions of their suppliers and the Brazilian Government.

Leather International – What kinds of timelines are set out to ensure the Cattle Agreement is strictly adhered to?

Daniel Brindis – By the end of 2014, all three meatpackers should have geo-referenced maps of all supplier farms. These maps will help inform the meatpackers whether or not their suppliers are involved in any deforestation. The implementation of the CAR, the Rural Environmental Registry for private landowners in Brazil, will help provide the meatpackers better data. Unfortunately, this programme is well behind and, in the best case scenario, won’t be rolled out until 2016.

Under the cattle agreement, meatpackers are required to not source from farms involved in deforestation, invasions into indigenous lands, or slave labour practices.

The monitoring system is a work in progress that will be more robust over time when more data is available for the meatpackers. We are accompanying the process to help ensure that the monitoring system is trustworthy, comprehensive and able to limit the purchases of cattle from farms involved in deforestation or illegal practices.

Leather International – You mentioned that the success of independent audits depends on how much access auditors are given. Can you expand on that? Is there a way to measure this?

Daniel Brindis – The meatpackers have pledged to grant complete access to auditors, and so far we haven’t heard otherwise. Deforestation from suppliers is hard to hide and observable by satellite. If we continue to see problems amongst active suppliers, while the audit and monitoring claimed that the problem didn’t exist, then we will know that there may be an issue regarding access to information.

Highlights from Greenpeaces’ ‘Minimum criteria for industrial scale cattle operations in the Brazilian Amazon biome’ report

The following criteria apply to all agribusiness companies operating within the Brazilian Amazon biome. These criteria must be met as pre-conditions to any purchase or commercial contract and in all relevant operations of the companies:

  • Zero deforestation in the supply chain: No new deforestation for cattle ranching accepted after 2009, within a period of six months after the signing of the commitment to adopt these criteria, companies commit to proving, in a manner that can be monitored, verified and reported, that no rural property which directly supplies cattle for slaughtering (fattening farms) and is engaged in deforestation in the Amazon Biome after the reference date of this agreement, is on its supplier list. Rural properties in the Amazon biome where deforestation is proven to be taking place after the reference date of this agreement will be excluded from the company’s list of suppliers and will only be accepted again after they have proved environmental damages have been repaired, have signed the Terms of Adjustment of Conduct (TAC), any applicable fines have been paid and can provide evidence of complying with current environmental legislation into force, including complying with the one related to land tenure.
  • Rejection of invasion of indigenous lands and protected areas: Companies and their products must be free from involvement in the invasion of indigenous lands and protected areas under federal, state or municipal law. Farms accused by the Public Prosecution Office (MPF) or FUNAI (the National Agency dealing with Indigenous Issues) of invading Indigenous lands, will be removed from the companies’ list of suppliers.
  • Rejection of slavery work: Companies must sign and comply strictly with the National Pact against Slave Labour. Farms engaged in slavery will be excluded from the companies’ list of suppliers, at the moment in which the company becomes aware of the facts, for a two-year period and will only be accepted again after providing evidence of complying with current legislation established by the Ministry of Labour (MTE) and by the MPF.
  • Rejection of land grabbing and land conflicts: The company will remove from its list of suppliers (direct and indirect), those producers accused of land grabbing by the MPF, or those convicted of involvement in land conflicts based on the accusations of the Public Prosecution. Those farms will only be accepted again after they have signed the TAC or if the accusation has been dropped.
  • A monitorable, verifiable and reportable tracking system: Cattle and by-products shall only be supplied by farms or groups who have formally committed to adopting a trustworthy tracking system which, apart from meeting current demands – such as those established by the SISBOV system currently in place, also includes clear environmental criteria aimed at putting an end to deforestation.
  • Implementation of the supply chain commitments: Companies must inform their suppliers of all above requirements and must make clear that those that are not in accordance with these criteria will not be accepted as suppliers. A commission shall be constituted for monitoring and following-up the protocol hereafter signed with the aim o f analysing, studying and correcting the path of the sector towards the goal of zero deforestation. With these aims, the commission will meet every month with representatives of the cattle sector, NGOs, clients, financial system and government.