A cattle farm in the Amazon - from the Greenpeace International report 'Slaughtering the Amazon'. Image: Daniel Beltrá

A 2 billian Reais lawsuit (that’s $900 million USD) was launched yesterday against 14 slaughterhouses in the Brazilian state of Acre. These slaughterhouses are being sued by the public prosecutor for buying cattle from farms who have been fined by the Brazilian Environmental Police for illegal deforestation, and from farmers who are accused of using slave labour. One of the slaughterhouses being sued is JBS – the largest exporter of meat products in the world.

JBS is also one of the slaughterhouses that signed an agreement in 2009 to commit itself to no longer buying meat from farms involved in deforestation, embargoed areas and slave labour. Having a lawsuit brought against it for doing exactly what it had committed not to do indicates that JBS and the wider cattle industry have not managed to progress much further in their commitments than making the initial promise. They have produced more nice words than concrete action to clean up their supply chains.

It was back in October of 2009 that the three largest slaughterhouses operating in the Amazon – which includes JBS – signed on to a public commitment to no longer buy from farms involved in new deforestation, slave labour, or cattle rearing that breached embargoed or protected areas. The commitment came after the release of the Greenpeace report ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ which revealed the cattle industry as the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. International brands like Nike, Adidas and Timberland then demanded action from these slaughterhouses to ensure their products were not coming from deforestation and slave labour and the slaughterhouses finally committed.

Now the slaughterhouses need to act again - and publicly respond to the serious accusations they are facing. Until they provide verifiable and independent audits that prove they are keeping their commitments to deforestation and slave labour free products – then buying meat and leather from the Amazon region remains a risk for the international brands that are their customers.