Climate Activists Attempt to Block Brazilian Meat Giant JBS’s IPO in the US
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Environmental groups are urging the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to halt Brazilian meat giant JBS’s planned US IPO, citing its failure to adhere to climate and corporate governance pledges. The activists call it the “biggest climate risk IPO listing in history”, posing questions about the environmental issues of the world’s largest meat company.
The coalition of environmental groups includes Rainforest Action Network, Mighty Earth and World Animal Protection. The letter to the SEC states that there is little transparency about JBS’s 2040 net-zero plans – the company recently withdrew labelling claims about this target after an ad review board found it “aspirational”.
This isn’t the first time JBS is eyeing an IPO in the US – its previous attempts were thwarted by a corruption scandal in 2017, and then the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, climate activists are hoping to add to that list, halting a move that seeks to give up to 90% of the shareholder voting power to the founding Batista family.
“Concentrating 90% of voting power in the hands of the Batista brothers, Joesley and Wesley – both acknowledged criminals – restricts the ability of outside investors to push JBS to end deforestation or deal with its outsized emissions,” said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz, calling it the “single most important IPO for the climate in history”.
JBS’s well-documented controversies
JBS has a long history of greenwashing and human rights abuse. The brand acquired Spanish cultivated meat producer BioTech Foods in 2021 and is developing a large-scale cultured meat production plant, but it increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 51% between 2016 and 2021. Its total emissions were 68 times higher than what it claimed. JBS has also been found to be among the biggest drivers of deforestation in the Amazon, with its slaughterhouses in the region more than doubling between 2009 and 2020.
Earlier this year, it was involved in a child labour controversy. Allegations were made against a Wisconsin cleaning company that said it employed more than two dozen minors to clean dangerous meatpacking plants for JBS across the US. And in March, JBS was named as the worst offender in World Animal Protection’s list ranking the meat industry’s climate impact.
Sustainable food advocacy group the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called JBS’s integrity into question with a detailed exposé ahead of COP26, and found multiple breaches in just six months after its publication. This included settling with the US Department of Justice over a price-fixing scheme in beef markets, obtaining approval to settle over poultry price fixing, agreeing to settle over pork price-fixing charges, and being fined over a fatality at one of its facilities.
In a statement, Rainforest Action Network lists the practices JBS has been accused of over the last 15 years: “Illegality; deforestation; invasion and land grabbing of Indigenous and traditional territories; land conflicts and violence against rights defenders, slavery and labour abuses in its supply chain; lack of traceability; corruption; and greenwashing.”
Calls for investigation
JBS, which owns over 70 brands and operates in more than 190 countries, said its proposed IPO will “enhance corporate governance and transparency through adherence to SEC standards”, and added that it looks forward to engaging with NGOs.
“There are profound implications for the planet if JBS, the world’s worst Amazon deforester, is given the go-ahead to seek billions of dollars from Wall Street to continue tearing down rainforests, polluting on a vast scale, and driving land-grabbing,” said Hurowitz.
“That’s why we’re urging the SEC to fully investigate the claims made in the IPO prospectus, and to pause the IPO until the investigation into our existing whistleblower complaint is resolved.” Mighty Earth’s complaint targets JBS’s Sustainability-Linked Bonds and was submitted in January.
The SEC told World Animal Protection that its concerns about JBS “will be given careful consideration in view of the Commission’s overall enforcement responsibilities under the US federal securities laws”.
“To fulfil its role of basic due diligence, we request that the SEC conduct a thorough investigation into the pattern of alarming and unacceptable corporate conduct by JBS before granting it an IPO on the NYSE,” said Merel van der Mark, a spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network.
JBS, which owns Dutch plant-based meat maker Vivera and shuttered its US vegan business Planterra Foods last October, isn’t the only Big Meat corporation hoping to greenwash its consumers by offering alternative meat products. Last week, Tyson Foods launched a controversial ‘climate-friendly’ beef burger that allegedly reduces its GHG emissions by 10% – but its net-zero plans have already been questioned for a while.