Colombian Supermarkets Linked to Illegal Deforestation and Armed Conflict in the Amazon
Washington, D.C. — A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals how beef sold in Colombian supermarkets is fueling illegal deforestation in protected Amazon forests and contributing to financing armed groups.
The groundbreaking investigation traces beef originating from illegally deforested areas to supermarket chains such as Grupo Éxito and Colsubsidio, where it is sold to consumers. Through innovative data analysis and extensive field investigations, EIA uncovered a system marred by corruption, extortion, cattle laundering, and illegal forest clearing in the Colombian Amazon.
EIA investigators documented a complex web of actors that includes ranchers, brokers, slaughterhouses, cattle markets, armed groups, and supermarket chains in Colombia’s major cities. One rancher linked to Grupo Éxito’s supply chain admitted to having deforested hundreds of hectares in 2019 inside Chiribiquete National Park and to planning to clear-cut more in the future. Another stated how easy it is to establish farms without legal documentation: “You can pack the land with cattle even if it is untitled.” Investigators also found evidence of cattle being laundered through false permits that obscure their origin.
Susanne Breitkopf, EIA Deputy Director of Forest Campaigns, said: “Our investigation shows that it’s not enough for companies to rely on statements from their suppliers. They need to implement their own due diligence systems and trace their meat back to the origin of the cows.”
Weak government institutions enable land grabbing, iIllegal deforestation, and cattle laundering. The de facto rulers in the region are armed groups competing over coca fields and drug smuggling corridors. Ranchers interviewed confirmed making annual payments to armed groups at a rate of 10,000 Colombian pesos per cow, in exchange for “protection.”
EIA also analyzed tens of thousands of files from the Colombian Agriculture and Livestock Institute (ICA) and was able to document an exponential increase in cattle populations in protected areas over the last 4 years.
The report recommends that the Colombian government establish mandatory traceability and transparency in the cattle sector and urges private sector companies to live up to their public commitments by carrying out due diligence to ensure their supply chains are free from deforestation and human rights violations.
“More than ten years of private commitments by companies around the world have proven that voluntary approaches are not going to solve the deforestation crisis,” said Breitkopf. “Mandatory supply chain traceability and transparency in the cattle sector needs to become the norm, in Colombia and everywhere.”