Surfrider Foundation Europe, ClientEarth and Zero Waste France have put nine food and retail giants on notice for inadequately addressing the risks related to the plastic pollution they produce.
By sending these letters, the group are asking Nestlé France, Danone, McDonald’s France, Carrefour, Groupe Casino, Les Mousquetaires, Auchan, Lactalis and Picard to respond to concerns and fulfil their legal obligations under French law. The companies now have 3 months to give an appropriate response – or they could face legal action.
Why are these companies being targeted?
Plastic is present throughout the activities and value chain of ‘Big Food’ companies via their subsidiaries, suppliers, distributors and customers:
- In finished products and packaging: this represents the largest and most visible part of plastic pollution. But it doesn’t stop there.
- In industrial processes: trays, plastic granules used as raw material, biomedia to filter liquids.
- For the transport of goods: plastic film for the transport of pallets and crates.
- For the promotion of products: freebies, samples, laminated papers.
- In the manufacture of raw materials: farming tarpaulins to cover soils or protect hay bales.
This represents a huge amount of obvious and hidden plastics used to produce and promote consumer goods. And this is only increasing – FMCG companies are constantly looking to new markets, and plans for new and harmful plastics facilities are springing up in response.
Global plastic waste production nearly doubled between 2000 and 2019 and could triple by 2060 according to the OECD. As well as being a core part of the fossil fuel industry (it’s made from oil and gas), plastic has huge health impacts for humans, and poses existential issues to marine and onshore wildlife. To protect people and nature, there is a need to reduce plastic use at all levels of society, and businesses have a major role to play in this.
Given the serious and irreversible damage caused by plastic on our environment and our health, companies must act to limit these impacts. The nine companies we targeted, due to their size and their influence on the markets, are considered as "role models" in their sectors. As leaders, they must set an example and commit to a significant reduction in their plastic use.
Besides, some of the nine companies targeted are named among the 10 companies that produce the most plastic waste in the world.
To date, none of the companies that have been put on notice have adopted adequate measures to address the harm related to their use of plastics. They must start ‘deplastifying’ their activities now – to preserve people and planet.
What are companies legally obliged to do?
The French Duty of Vigilance law is a groundbreaking new law that was adopted in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy - the collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh in 2013 which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. The discovery of labels from famous clothing brands in the rubble moved public opinion. Until the law was adopted, companies were not held responsible for what happens in their value chain.
Under this law, large companies with more than 5,000 employees in France, or 10,000 employees in France and their foreign subsidiaries, must publish an annual vigilance plan identifying the environmental and social risks stemming from their activities and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors. These plans must include mitigation and prevention measures adapted to the severity of these risks, as well as a report on the implementation of these measures.
Logically, given the scale of the plastics crisis, ClientEarth believe this law should oblige companies to provide satisfactory responses on the subject.
But these nine companies that have been put on notice have not.
- Some have published plans with incomplete and unsatisfactory measures on plastic.
- Some did not consider it important to mention plastic in their plans.
- Some have not actually published a vigilance plan at all.
The French Duty of Vigilance law gives them the opportunity to call on companies to remedy the inadequacy of their actions. If they do not correct these failures, ClientEarth will take legal action within three months to hold companies accountable.
What are they asking for specifically?
Each company should:
- Produce a complete assessment of its use of plastic, encompassing all its activities throughout the value chain
- On the basis of this assessment, put together a ‘deplastification’ plan with quantified and dated objectives and act on it.
Among the companies that have been notified, none has published such information.
Surfrider Foundation Europe, ClientEarth and Zero Waste France are demanding that these companies take a proactive approach in tackling the issue of plastic pollution head on – as they legally must. Too often, only recycling is put forward by companies as a solution against plastic pollution. Knowing that globally only 9% of plastic waste was recycled in 2019 according to the OECD, it cannot be the only solution to the excessive production and consumption of plastic. Recycling does not eliminate all the environmental risks associated with the use of plastic, not to mention the health and human rights risks that recycling does not address. They are asking companies to make commitments to reduce their plastic consumption at the source.