UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya
Creating an umbrella for sustainable sourcing goals across the soy sector
The UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya brings together a wide range of companies and associations that want to source soy sustainably. The Roundtable relied on the Accountability Framework to establish an overarching sourcing goal that all of its members can work towards. It also encouraged members to follow the Framework when setting their individual policies and time-bound plans.
Framework use case
Initiative: UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya
Commodity: Soybeans including meal, oil, and whole beans
The UK Roundtable represents 94% of the UK retail market share of soy.
Facilitate effective collaboration among a diverse group of UK businesses that want to source soy sustainably and send producers a strong market signal.
Used the Framework to set no-deforestation and no-conversion goals for the entire soy supply chain and promote collaboration with the soy sector across Europe.
An inexpensive source of protein, soybeans are used for livestock feed, processed into oil and products like tofu and soy sauce, and consumed directly. To meet the intense demand for this crop, soy production has increased 1500% since the 1950s, becoming the second biggest agricultural driver of deforestation.
Together, Brazil, Argentina, and the United States produce about 80% of the world’s soy. South America’s Cerrado and Gran Chaco landscapes — the continent’s largest savannah and dry forest, respectively — are particularly threatened by the commodity’s expansion. A variety of efforts have been made to stem deforestation in tropical soy-producing regions. These include legislation such as Brazil’s Forest Code, industry- and NGO-led collaborations such as the Amazon Soy Moratorium, the Cerrado Manifesto, and the Consumer Goods Forum’s “zero-net deforestation” commitment, and pledges by individual companies. Despite some success, the conversion of these biodiverse tropical ecosystems continues.
In the United Kingdom, the consumption of soybeans, soy-based products, and meat from animals raised on soymeal has grown steadily. In 2018, a group of UK companies and industry groups joined forces to work towards the shared goal of a secure, resilient, and sustainable soy supply. Together, they decided to create a pre-competitive initiative to boost their collective impact within and beyond their individual supply chains. They also aimed to accelerate positive change throughout the sector through collective goals and their individual implementation, monitoring, and reporting systems.
With UK government funding through the Partnerships for Forests programme, the UK-based consultancy and AFi coalition member Efeca established the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya. It comprises soy traders, manufacturers, feed producers, food service companies, the nine major national UK supermarket retailers, and the largest meat and dairy suppliers in the country. The Roundtable is supported by the wider UK Sustainable Soya Initiative through which Efeca engages with other soy-importing countries and with producers in key sourcing countries.
To achieve the Roundtable’s aims, Efeca needed to develop consistent guidance and promote effective collaboration for the Roundtable’s diverse group of members, each one operating in its own particular context. The dairy industry, for example, is less integrated than the poultry industry and less able to make rapid changes in its supply chain. The Roundtable was also needed to speed up the normally slow-moving multi-stakeholder process, helping participants build trust and consensus on key objectives and ways of working. Finally, Efeca needed an approach that could be applied throughout the entire UK supply chain and replicated across Europe through collaboration with other national initiatives.
Soy production is the second biggest agricultural driver of deforestation.
Soy production has increased by 1500% since the 1950s
When the Roundtable was first convened in March 2018, its founding members created a steering group with representatives from all types of member businesses. At monthly face-to-face meetings, the steering group tackled the first order of business: setting a clear and consistent soy sourcing goal. The group debated a variety of options but struggled to finalise a commitment. “Roundtable members were concerned about signing up to a goal only to find that the goal’s wording might not be clear enough or align with other soya users’ definitions,” says Rose McCulloch, Efeca senior consultant.
Although the Accountability Framework was still in the consultation phase at the time, the steering group reviewed a draft version of the Framework. This proved pivotal, in particular, the definitions of terms such as “natural forest” and “ecosystem conversion.” Knowing that the Framework was the consensus-based product of a coalition of environmental and social NGOs and that it was being consulted with a range of civil society and industry experts gave Roundtable members confidence and allowed their goal-setting discussions to move forward quickly. “It meant that we didn’t have to hash out all of the definitions right then and there, and could focus instead on key principles, because we knew that the Framework was coming,” says McCulloch. “It was that powerful.”
Given the diversity of businesses involved in the Roundtable, it was important that the overall goal remain broad enough to allow members to create plans that were appropriate to their organisations and supply chain positions. By July 2018, the Roundtable’s signatories committed to sourcing soy that is legal and cultivated in a way that protects against the conversion of forests and valuable native vegetation, a pledge that is in keeping with the Framework’s Core Principle 1 and cites its definitions of the various terms.
In its role as a convener of these companies, Efeca also encouraged Roundtable members to use the Framework’s guidance when writing their individual commitments and policies. This included setting cutoff dates after which conversion would not be allowed, and developing time-bound plans with specific targets, in keeping with Core Principle 3. To assist members in this process, Efeca invited the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) team to give presentations on relevant sections of the Framework.
Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and a member of the Roundtable, developed its Transformational Plan for Sustainable Soy and aims to work with suppliers to help move the industry towards deforestation and conversion-free soybean meal in animal feed. The company aims to achieve 100% physically certified sustainable soy meal by 2025. Laura Falk, Sainsbury’s group sustainable sourcing manager, says that the Roundtable and the AFi definitions “helped to bring industry together in the same room and move forward, confident that we were taking an approach consistent with other global actors and markets.”
Roundtable members also committed to achieving meaningful and demonstrable progress by the end of 2020. To monitor improvements, Efeca created a Matrix of Progress, which is an annual questionnaire for all members to provide updates on their policies, risk assessment processes, and time-bound plans. The Roundtable annual report published in November 2020 showed that 19 members (70%) had established a sourcing policy, 2 others had created policies that were pending signoff before the report’s publication, and 4 members were still without a policy (see Figure 1). In the two years since the Roundtable began meeting regularly, the volume of certified sustainable soy used in the UK has more than doubled, increasing to 32% of total imports.
Among those members that did not yet have a plan in place, all were buying responsible soy credits, such as book-and-claim certificates, to cover part or in some cases all of the soy used within their businesses. While these certificates do not have a physical link to the soy in a buyer’s supply chain, they help to support producers of responsible soy and signal market demand for this product during the time it takes companies to transition to a supply chain comprising physical flows of sustainable soy. Going forward, Efeca intends to use the Framework to assist Roundtable members in making this transition effectively and efficiently.
The greatest benefit of the Framework thus far has been to provide a consistent and practical approach to facilitating sector-wide progress across a diverse group of companies. According to McCulloch, “Our founding Roundtable members were an informed group. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to act; the challenge was how.” They needed a “how” that could be applied across the entire soy supply chain. “Our members have joined at different starting points — from companies with a policy that they were struggling to implement, to those that were unsure of how much soya was in their supply chain.”
Despite these varied profiles, the Framework provided common principles with which all members could align and advance towards a shared goal. By signalling their willingness to act now, Roundtable members have been driving change and opportunities for collaboration both inside and outside of the UK. For instance, the UK produces only about 50% of the pork that it consumes, so to source only pork from pigs raised on sustainable soy feed, UK companies must engage with producers in other countries to implement comparably high standards of responsibility. To foster this consistency, the UK Roundtable has been collaborating with sustainable soy initiatives in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. This aligns with Core Principle 10, which calls for collaboration to address key social and environmental challenges across sectors, landscapes, and jurisdictions.
Together, these national initiatives issued a joint statement in support of conversion-free soy, as a way of reinforcing a strong and clear market signal that reassures producers within each country’s borders that the same standard will hold across Europe.
The statement cites the Accountability Framework’s definitions and acknowledges that sustainable production and trade also needs to respect human rights, in keeping with Core Principle 2 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Roundtable members understand that consistency and joint action are vital to realising the goal of sustainable soy production and sourcing. “It requires coordination and collaboration along supply chains, and across the industry, government, and civil society, both locally and globally,” says Sam Lee-Gammage, sustainability coordinator for UK supermarket Waitrose. The Framework has facilitated this process, according to Bas Geerts, head of sustainability for Cefetra, one of the four largest traders of soy to the UK. “By having an agreed set of definitions and principles,” says Geerts, “we are able to more easily collaborate, align, and communicate with a broad range of stakeholders.”