Sweden’s AP7 and Norway’s KLP pension fund have joined food retailers in a bid to persuade Brazilian legislators to reject a proposed law they say threatens the Amazon rainforest.

In an open letter addressed to the deputies and senators of the National Congress of Brazil – initiated and coordinated by the Retail Soy Group – retailers including Lidl, Ahold Delhaize and Marks & Spencer object to the new legislative proposal PL 510/2021, which would give formal ownership to those illegally occupying land in the Amazon region.

Kiran Aziz, senior analyst, responsible investments, at KLP, confirmed KLP had put its name to the letter, and said the Norwegian municipal pensions firm was “deeply concerned” about the draft legislation.

“Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities,” he told IPE.

As an investor with investments in Brazil, he said KLP was following the situation very closely.

“Therefore, we have engaged with companies which undertake significant trade in agricultural products from Brazil, because we want rapid dialogues and concrete actions in order not to contribute to devastating environmental damage,” Aziz said.

Flora Gaber, project manager, sustainable investments at AP7, said the Swedish pension fund had also signed the letter.

“We are concerned by any legislative measures that would weaken the protection and stability of the Amazon rainforest, considering its value to global biodiversity and the climate system,” she told IPE.

The new bill, according to the signatories, is a repeat of last year’s failed attempt to enact similar legislation.

Both KLP and AP7 signed a similar letter last year objecting to that proposal.

In the new letter, the companies wrote: “These measures are counter to the narrative and rhetoric we have seen internationally from Brazil as recently as 22 April 2021 at the summit with US President Joe Biden.”

Although proponents of the previous bill argued that establishing formal land ownership would allow enforcement of laws, a spokesman for the Retail Soy Group told IPE the amnesty on ownership that the bill provided sent a dangerous signal that there was leniency in the law.

A previous amnesty had led to a surge in land grabs, he said, adding that beneficiaries of the current draft law were not likely to be indigenous people.

The Retail Soy Group is a network of retailers with an interest in the availability of sustainable supplies of soy – which is primarily present in the goods they sell via food fed to farm animals.

The letter’s signatories said they were willing to work with Brazilian partners to enable the development of sustainable land management and agriculture in a way that supported economic development “whilst upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.”

But the firms threatened to boycott Brazilian agricultural commodities if the bill or other measures that undermined ecological protection in the region became law.

Last week, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, INRAE, released findings of a study showing that over the past 10 years, the Brazilian Amazon had released more carbon than it absorbed.

Forest degradation, caused by both human activity and climate change, were the main culprits, according to the institute.

Looking for IPE’s latest magazine? Read the digital edition here.