Brazil’s space agency says it has tracked almost 80,000 fires so far this year, and around half of those have been in the Amazon region. But what’s deeply worrying is the fact the number of fires is up by 50% compared to last year and it is expected to have a massive effect environmental impact.
The increase in deforestation has occurred since President Jair Bolsonaro took office on the 1st of January this year, with the far-right leader pledging to favor agrobusiness and waive land protection rights introduced by previous Brazilian governments.
Primarily the move favors two of the largest industries in the country – soy and beef farming – creating vast land clearance for industrial scale cattle grazing and crops.
Farmers have taken the president’s word to heart and have set about torching previously protected lands, emboldened by the relaxation of once strict regulations that brought huge fines and imprisonment for anyone breaking them.
For businesses operating in Brazil, including cosmetic and personal care manufacturers and ingredients suppliers, the implications could be significant, with the scepter of trade wars, difficulties in implementing sustainability initiatives and the threat to raw material supplies all likely.
The threat to trade deals and tariffs
A few weeks before the world became aware of the fires in Brazil, a huge trade agreement was signed between the Mercosur countries and the European Union.
This multi-billion dollar trade deal is set to promote greater trade between the Mercosur countries and Europe, and in particular would benefit ingredients and fine chemical providers by lowering tariffs.
But although no trade measures have been implemented, President Bolsonaro seems unwilling to take any specific measures aimed at ensuring the continued protection of designated lands, which many observers believe could point to trade sanctions if no other settlement can be reached.
Impacting supply of Brazilian natural ingredients
Over the years many of the leading Brazilian natural ingredient and raw material suppliers to the beauty and personal care industry have gone to great lengths to set up initiatives that support the sustainable and ethical sourcing of plant-based materials in both the Amazon region and throughout the country.
Although it is difficult to tell at this stage which of these crops will be impacted by the fires, it does seem to be a reality that many communities who have chosen to respect their lands and the environment will unfortunately be impacted by larger scale agrobusinesses intent on razing forests to the ground.
While trying to do the right thing for the environment and provide ethically-sourced raw materials for the beauty industry, these communities could be impacted by both the loss of their land and trade tariffs.
Impact on sustainable business initiatives
An estimated 200 businesses operating in Brazil, many of them multinationals, have agreed to initiatives that commit to science-backed targets to reduce carbon emissions and with carbon emissions sky rocketing due to the fires, those targets will be rendered impossible to meet.
Likewise, more than 400 businesses have agreed to set targets that limit deforestation in the country.
Big multinational beauty players such as L’Oreal and P&G have significant business footprints in the country, which will almost certainly impact their global sustainability goals.