Green groups call out new nature disclosure framework as another exercise in corporate greenwashing

Palm oil plantation. Members of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) hold rights allegations for high-risk deforestation commodities like oil palm.
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A coalition of rights groups and environmental non-profits named the Forests & Finance Coalition have called out the “corporate greenwashing” of a new high-profile market-led initiative to address the biodiversity crisis.

On 18 September, a forum of big-name businesses launched the final draft of a key nature-focused corporate disclosure framework. The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) is a set of recommendations and for a company to self-report on its environmental impacts. This initiative claims to:

provide decision-useful information to capital providers and other stakeholders

In essence, financiers can review what a TNFD member has disclosed under the framework. This can then inform their decision to fund a company or its projects.

In this first article of a two-part series on the TNFD, we’ll examine how non-profits have highlighted the blatant corporate capture of the initiative, which undermines its purported biodiversity aims.

Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure

The TNFD has its roots in the January 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland. A who’s who of private sector premiers attend the annual forum. During the meeting, attendees conceived the idea for the framework. Given this, it’s perhaps also unsurprising that corporations and their non-profit and international institutional collaborators have strongly shaped the TNFD’s recommendations from its inception.

Utilising funding from the multilateral Global Environment Facility (GEF), a coalition of partners including Global Canopy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) formally announced the scheme in July 2020.

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As the Canary has previously documented, the WWF has a history of cosying up to large corporations. Likewise, the UN has exhibited a tendency to pander to the private sector. The TNFD does not break from this tradition.

Significantly, senior executives and representatives from 40 companies across a broad range of sectors – from finance, to fossil fuels and food – comprise the core taskforce. These include, for instance, financial heavyweights like BlackRock, BNP Paribas, and HSBC. Agribusiness goliaths such as Bayer and Bunge, alongside Nestlé and AB InBev, also sit on the taskforce. As a result, these company executives have largely designed the new guidelines.

The fox guarding the henhouse

Of course, environmental groups have pointed out that the TNFD is another shameless example of the fox guarding the henhouse. On the publication of the final framework, Global Forest Coalition campaign coordinator Kwami Kpondzo noted that:

Many people are shocked to learn that the TNFD taskforce – TNFD’s decision-making body – is solely made up of global corporations.

Naturally, these companies themselves have chequered histories of environmental and human rights harms. From child labour in the supply chains of Nestlé subsidiary Nespresso, to Bayer’s sale of highly hazardous ecocidal pesticides, these companies are awash in allegations of abuse.

And that’s the crux of the matter: the very corporations ransacking the natural world for profit have spearheaded the TNFD framework.

Sidelining communities

Moreover, Oda Almas of the Forest Peoples Programme pointed out a particular issue the self-reporting structure of the TNFD presents:

It is hard to recall any major case of human rights abuse or environmental destruction that has been exposed by company self-reporting.

In other words, the TNFD’s premise is that companies can be trusted to report their own harms against nature. Instead however, Almas argued that it is usually:

the communities negatively affected who have to sound the alarm bells and expose corporate wrong-doing.

Naturally, as Kpondzo expressed, the TNFD has “sidelined” these frontline communities and defenders. The core taskforce, for instance, doesn’t include a single member from these communities. What’s more, the TNFD doesn’t even require companies to report on allegations of human rights abuse.

Risks to business

Ultimately, the rights groups argued that the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure’s (TNFD) framework will fall short of protecting people and biodiversity from exploitative business. However, and despite consistent challenges by these groups, the initiative has pushed ahead to publish its guidelines.

What’s more, the United Nations Environment Programme has hinted at a likely core aim of the framework. In the UNEP’s announcement of the TNFD launch in 2021, it stated:

More than half of the world’s economic output – US$44tn of economic value generation – is moderately or highly dependent on nature. The recorded extinction of 83% of wild mammals and 50% of plants therefore represents significant risk to corporate and financial stability

The TNFD’s final framework also seems to echo this sentiment. In its executive summary, the new guidelines remarked that:

There is growing evidence that this poses risks for businesses, capital providers, financial systems and economies, and that these risks are increasing in severity and frequency.

In other words, the TNFD’s invariable goal is to reduce ‘risks’ to the profit margins of its private sector endorsers.

The framework for future regulations?

Moreover, Forests & Finance has voiced its concern that the TNFD intends for governments to adopt the flawed framework as public policy. For example, in early planning documents the WWF posited that:

Strong government engagement is vital to help translate the TNFD framework and recommendations into public policy development.

The Rainforest Action Network has argued that allowing corporations to set the template for future government regulation sets a “dangerous precendent”.

As it stands, the TNFD enables corporations to co-opt concrete regulatory action on the biodiversity crisis. Enshrining a weak self-regulatory corporate-led framework into national legislation could let corporations off the hook for rights violations. Worse still, it would do so while conveniently greenwashing their public image for potential investors.

Next, in part two of this article series, the Canary will delve further into the scale of TNFD members’ rights violations and impacts on nature.

Feature image via Achmad Rabin Taim/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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