In the early 2000s, deforestation accelerated in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and global environmental groups began to raise the alarm. Greenpeace, one of the most vocal groups, published a report that placed the blame partly on the soy industry, which had grown rapidly in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. In response, industry representatives joined with nongovernmental organizations, financial institutions, supermarkets, and others in the soy supply chain to form the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS). Following the model of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which worked to transform the environmentally destructive palm oil industry in Southeast Asia, the RTRS wanted to implement a supply chain certification system to help identify whether harvests came from land deforested without regard for environmental impact and nudge soy farmers into a new era of sustainable production. The roundtable participants successfully developed a standard for responsible practices, and enrolled a number of large farm enterprises. But low demand for certified soy and the high cost of becoming certified slowed progress, especially among smaller producers. As of 2017, less than 1% of soy produced in Brazil was RTRS certified, and uncertified landholders continued to convert important natural ecosystems into soy farms. Although the RTRS succeeded in bringing together key players in the soy industry to talk about sustainability for the first time, it was clear that complementary efforts were necessary to shift the soy industry as a whole toward environmentally friendly production.
Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in São Paulo, Cuiabá, and Brasilia, Brazil in March and April 2017. The British Academy-Department for International Development Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) Program funded the development of this case study. Case published August 2017.