Timberland needs to step up

by Mike Gaworecki

July 23, 2009

Yesterday I posted about an amazing victory for the Amazon, that being Nike’s precedent-setting new policy to ensure that its demand for raw materials to make shoes isn’t contributing to deforestation and global warming. I also wrote about the fact that the other companies we’ve been urging to establish such protections have not taken meaningful steps to do so, and specifically mentioned Timberland and the automated response they’re sending to everyone who emails them about their lack of a policy to protect the Amazon.

Although Timberland is responding to the emails they’re getting from concerned consumers and activists, and in that response they mention an interest in engaging with Greenpeace, Nike and Timberland are in drastically different places. It’s actually been rather disappointing to see Nike, a true sustainability leader, move forward with a policy to protect the Amazon, while Timberland, a company that is more than happy to tout its environmental record, has failed to make similar commitments. Timberland buys leather for its shoes from one of the nastiest slaughterhouses in Brazil, Bertin. Yet Timberland has refused to do anything beyond recommending to Bertin that they follow the law and stop illegally deforesting the Amazon and using slave labor.

The bottom line is, we need to stop deforestation altogether, not just what’s currently considered "illegal." And to stop Amazon deforestation, we need to stop the expansion of cattle. Cattle expansion is not only destroying pristine rainforest that is critical to the health of the planet, but the emissions from the deforestation are contributing to global warming and therefore wreaking havoc on our climate.

Fire season has started in Brazil. Acres upon acres of Amazon are going up in flames right now (as much as an acre every 8 seconds, according to our report), while Timberland sits on its proverbial hands and just makes recommendations about the illegal actions of its suppliers. Brazil’s federal government is suing Bertin to the tune of $1 billion. The IFC canceled a $90 million contract with Bertin. The slaughterhouse giant Marfrig has committed not to support cattle expansion into the Amazon. Yet Timberland can’t decide if the shoes you’re wearing should or should not have come from cattle raised on acres and acres of land that has been cleared in the Amazon?

Timberland is parsing words about what’s legal or illegal while knowing that anything that happens in the middle of the rainforest as big as the Amazon is difficult to track or enforce. There is no good system of knowing what is legal or illegal on the ground in the middle of the rainforest.

But that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about what’s legal and illegal, it’s about what’s right and wrong. Is it wrong to set acres of the Amazon rainforest on fire to raise cattle for your Timberlands? Is it right for Timberland to pressure its suppliers until they agree not to unnecessarily destroy the Amazon — which releases many tons of greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the world’s fourth largest emitter?

Timberland says they want to engage, but the company has made no meaningful progress or overtures.

So, Timerbland, we’re looking at you. Where you at?

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