How Leather Seats in Luxury SUVs Fuel Amazon Deforestation

JBS did not agree with the criteria prosecutors used and agreed to improve its monitoring system, ban suppliers identified through research and donate $900,000 to the state in response to the scrutiny.

To get a sense of the volume of farms operating in vulnerable areas across the Brazilian Amazon, The Times covered government maps of Amazon protected lands, deforested areas and farm boundaries with farm locations publicly listed by JBS as supplying slaughterhouses in 2020. The analysis showed, among JBS suppliers, that farms covering an estimated 2,500 square miles are significantly overlapping with indigenous land, a protected area or an area removed after 2008, when laws regulating deforestation were instituted in Brazil.

The methodology and results were examined and validated by a team of independent researchers and academics studying land use in the Brazilian Amazon.

International trade data showed that the companies that owned the leather-equipped tanneries then shipped the leather to factories in Mexico operated by Lear, a major seat maker that supplies car assembly plants across the United States. Lear said in 2018 that it was then sourcing about 70 percent of its rawhide hides from Brazil. Trade data showed that Brazilian leather is also going to other countries including Italy, Vietnam and China for use in the automobile, fashion and furniture industries.

JBS has acknowledged that nearly three-quarters of the farms identified in The Times analysis have overlapped with land the government classifies as illegal deforested, indigenous land or a protected area. But she said all farms were bound by anti-deforestation rules when she bought JBS from them.

JBS said that in those cases where there was an overlap, farms were allowed to work in protected areas or had been deforested, their boundaries changed, or they followed rules to fix their environmental violations. Livestock is allowed in some protected areas in Brazil if they follow sustainable practices.

In a statement, JBS said it has maintained a monitoring system for more than a decade that checks suppliers for compliance with its environmental policy. “More than 14,000 suppliers have been banned for not complying with this policy,” she said. However, the company said, “The big challenge for JBS, and the beef supply chain in general, is to monitor the suppliers of its suppliers, because the company has no information about them.”

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