The goal of this Ethical Sugar report is to draw attention to the continuation of poor business practices among Bonsucro certified mills in São Paulo – the supposed industry leaders in sustainable sugarcane production – and to suggest how certification might better contribute to their remediation.
Bonsucro was established to assure businesses and consumers that the sugar and ethanol they were buying was being produced in accordance with minimum social and environmental standards. To achieve this, independent certifying bodies would audit sugarcane mills against a comprehensive sustainability standard agreed by Bonsucro’s multi-stakeholder membership. These members now include brand-name companies like Bacardi, BP, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Shell and Unilever, as well as non-governmental organisations such as Solidaridad, WWF and ourselves – Ethical Sugar.
Bonsucro certification has been most extensive in Brazil, where 43 sugarcane mills have been certified since its launch in 2011 including 31 in São Paulo state; the centre of the sugarcane industry in Brazil. What we find in this report is that during this time at least 18 mills have been investigated by public authorities for violating labour and environmental law and effectively found guilty. Certification has been no guarantee of absolute legal compliance.
We believe that Bonsucro does have a role to play in reducing and removing poor business practices. For this reason, we suggest that Bonsucro should integrate public bodies more fully into its certification process. We also suggest that Bonsucro develop a clear strategy for dealing with legal prosecutions and convictions against certified members. To us it seems untenable for the organisation to certify sugarcane products as sustainable when they come from mills tainted by serious legal wrongdoing.
Buyers of sugar and ethanol in Brazil must also do more with their suppliers directly. Bonsucro does not yet have the commercial leverage to drive change throughout the industry; the brand-name multinationals do.
The Bonsucro Secretariat have responded to our findings, both during the drafting of the report (see their points in the Conclusion) and afterwards in this official statement.
The reports are available in both English and Portuguese.