A new report by WWF assesses the quantity and provenance of the Netherlands’ import and use of eight deforestation and conversion risk commodities: soy, palm oil, maize, coconut, cocoa, coffee, beef & leather, and timber. It estimates the area of land required to supply these imports, the risk of deforestation and conversion, and social issues associated with that land footprint, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. It provides recommendations for governments, businesses, the financial sector and citizens.

Eighty percent of global deforestation results from agriculture which produces the commodities we consumers take for granted and increasingly demand. Furthermore, the conversion of natural ecosystems often results in local and indigenous peoples losing their customary land, and along with it, part of their traditional livelihoods and cultural reference.

Trading deforestation

The Netherlands is a significant global actor in the trade of many of these commodities. For example, it imports 23% of the cocoa produced globally. The Netherlands exports a high proportion of these imported commodities to other countries, often after additional processing (for example of cocoa into chocolate). For example, 85% of soy imports are exported to other countries, and over half of all imported palm oil, cocoa, coffee, coconut, timber and beef and leather are exported.

Exports of products from the Netherlands require an estimated 57% of the total land footprint (9.9 million hectares) emphasizing the Netherlands’ critical role in international trade, and the country’s global responsibility for ensuring that commodities are free from deforestation and conversion and social harm.

High risk footprint

Forty-three percent of the imported land footprint – 7.5 million hectares – is from countries that have a high or very high risk of deforestation, poor rule of law and a poor record of labor rights. A high proportion of the land footprints of imported palm oil (86%), cocoa (80%), coffee (69%) soy (48%) and timber (30%) is produced by countries assessed to have a high or very high risk. Large areas of land in high-risk countries are also required to supply the Netherlands with commodities such as maize and coconuts, which have received less attention for their environmental impacts.

Legal framework needed

The European Commission is developing legislation making it mandatory for companies to conduct due diligence on deforestation and degradation associated with the commodities they place on the European market.

As it stands now, this regulation will have a profound effect on companies operating in the Netherlands – obliging them to be truly vigilant and transparent about the environmental harms embedded within their global supply chains. It is crucial that the EU legislation is strong and effective, covering the conversion of all natural ecosystems and all relevant commodities and their products.

A robust legal framework is an important starting point to motivate businesses to reconsider their impact on deforestation and conversion. Yet, they should not stop at meeting the bare minimum legal requirements of this regulation and use this opportunity to eliminate deforestation and conversion and human rights abuses from their supply chain and that of their suppliers. The purpose of this report is to highlight the critical role that the Netherlands plays in importing and trading agricultural and forest commodities that are associated with deforestation and conversion.