Our key takeaway: The 2023 Nature Benchmark is out and it is clear that more needs to be done by companies in the food and agricultural sector to understand, and then address, their dependencies and impacts on nature. Companies “do not yet really understand how they affect and rely on nature” and have failed to recognise the importance of halting deforestation in efforts to tackle climate change. They have also failed to see that recognising local communities’ environmental rights as human rights benefits rightsholders, companies and the ecosystems that underpin their products, services and operations. The WBA issues a call to action: “To achieve a nature-positive future that leaves no-one behind, we need to see accelerated action and significant progress in the next iteration of the Nature Benchmark.”
The World Benchmarking Alliance published the 2023 Nature Benchmark (October 2023), which assessed 350 companies in the food and agricultural sector against their actions to restore and protect nature which finds that companies are failing to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature:
- “Halting deforestation: a missed opportunity for climate, people and biodiversity”: The benchmark discusses how very few companies have committed to halting deforestation, and implemented a timebound target to achieve this: “[O]nly 13% of companies have a commitment to zero ecosystem conversion, and only 6% have a timebound target to eliminate deforestation.” The report also recognises the centrality of addressing nature loss in efforts to tackle climate change: “[T]o reach net zero by 2050, we must end commodity-driven deforestation by 2025.” More specifically, halting deforestation is fundamental to addressing human rights, environmental and climate change issues: “By eliminating deforestation, conversion, and associated human rights abuses from their supply chains, food system companies can make significant progress on climate change, biodiversity, and social issues.”
- “Environmental rights are not yet being recognised as human rights”: The benchmark discusses how less than 2% of companies committed to respecting local communities' environmental rights. In addition, “only 12% of companies pledge to respect the right to access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, which is crucial to people’s well-being and dignity.” The benchmark recommends that companies “should recognise environmental rights as essential human rights and embed them in their identification processes” and “lean into the momentum” of the 2022 UN General Assembly’s Resolution that recognised a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
- “Board accountability: more leadership needed at the top”: The benchmark highlights how companies lack the relevant nature and climate expertise at Board-level and this weakens the oversight necessary to meet sustainability targets: “[W]hile 63% of food companies assign sustainability oversight to their boards, only 1% of companies have Boards that can demonstrate they have the relevant expertise on topics like biodiversity or climate.” It also noted that “only 28% of food companies consistently report on how they are meeting the targets they set – a figure that lags behind other industries by nearly half.” The benchmark recommends that companies “prioritise developing a sustainability strategy that covers nature, supported by concrete high-level responsibility and accountability for delivering the strategy.”