/ ©: Adriano Gambarini WWF Brazil

Responsible Soy

A combination of public pressure and behind-the-scenes engagement got UK supermarkets to improve their soy sourcing policies.
Successful campaigning often depends on getting the right mix of carrot and stick.

WWF-UK’s recent soy campaign is a case in point. The challenge: to create noise about a little-understood issue, and put concerted pressure on the nation’s biggest retailers – while at the same time helping them to get to grips with a complex subject.

“We called up the seven big supermarkets a few months in advance to tell them we were launching a campaign and we’d like to meet with them – to get them up to date on the issues, and to listen to their concerns,” says Liz Callegari, Campaigns Manager at WWFUK.

“When a business hears they’re going to be the target of a campaign, they’re usually keen to meet.”

Save the Cerrado

The campaign focused on Brazil’s Cerrado.

This huge expanse of savannah and woodland is home to five per cent of all life on Earth, and locks up vast amounts of carbon. Yet in the last few decades, half the Cerrado has been lost to agriculture – and soy is one of the main culprits. Around 80 per cent of soy is fed to animals, and the vast majority of what the UK uses comes from South America. Demand for soy is soaring, increasing the pressure on vital ecosystems like the Cerrado.

The “Save the Cerrado” campaign brought the issue to public attention like never before. A hand-shadow film illustrating the importance of the Cerrado and its wildlife clocked up more than 155,000 views online and was picked up in many countries. A report, a press trip to the Cerrado and a business webinar also helped bring the issue into focus.

WWF aims to reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of soy production by supporting the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a certification scheme that ensures soy production meets strict criteria designed to benefit people and nature. RTRS guidelines for responsible soy production include requirements that farmers respect the rights of local communities, treat workers fairly, and do not expand on native forest or other land that is valuable for conservation.

Shortly before the first RTRS certified soy entered the marketplace in June 2011, campaigners, at WWF’s urging, sent nearly 30,000 emails to the UK’s seven leading supermarkets, asking them to commit to using 100 per cent RTRS soy by 2015.

“We warned them they’d be getting emails, and we were upfront about our demands,” says Liz. “It was up to them to decide what they were going to do about it.”

Driving demand

The campaign achieved its first big success the day after it launched, when Waitrose announced its commitment to 100 per cent RTRS soy by 2015.

While this commitment was the most eyecatching, all the supermarkets have made progress. For some, that meant taking the first step of joining the RTRS and starting the process of examining their soy supply chains.

Others have made encouraging time-bound commitments to sourcing responsible soy – and we expect RTRS will play a major role in these commitments. WWF believes the RTRS offers the most credible and robust standard currently available for responsible soy production, and the only one with the potential to transform the industry on a global scale.

WWF-UK is keeping the public informed – and the supermarkets on their toes – by publishing updates on its website. “It’s vital these commitments lead to concrete action,” says Liz. “We’ll be watching and following up, and offering guidance and support when needed to make sure they do.”

The first RTRS soy came on the market in June 2011. Close to one year later, in May 2012, nearly 150,000 hectares of soy plantations have been certified – equivalent to an area about half the size of Belgium.

Commitments from major retailers are vital for increasing the area cultivated by responsible farmers – and therefore the amount of land set aside for conservation.

WWF would like to see the entire soy industry become responsible – not only a niche market – and it is vital that pioneering retailers like Waitrose lead the way.

“Producers aren’t going to pursue RTRS certification until they know people want to buy it,” says Quentin Clark, who is responsible for sustainable sourcing at Waitrose. “Making this commitment is a great opportunity for businesses like Waitrose to show leadership by creating demand for RTRS soy and helping change the practices in the soy industry for the better.”

More examples of how transforming markets can make a difference can be found here. 


Better Production for a Living Planet

 / ©: WWF
The text on this page is an excerpt from the WWF Publication Better Production for a Living Planet (2012).


  • Forest clearing;
  • Loss of biodiversity, pollution;
  • Disregard for community and indigenous rights, and displacement of smallholder subsistence crops;
  • Capital intensive and large scale.

  • The plant provides three main products: soy oil (for human consumption and biofuel), soybeans for human consumption and soy meal for animal feed;
  • RTRS certification can work as the mainstream solution to drive responsibility in the soy sector globally;
  • RTRS ensures safe working conditions;
  • RTRS standards support good agricultural practices.

One hundred per cent RTRS soy by 2015 is a challenging commitment, but we and our customers need to be confident that Waitrose is part of the solution, not the problem. By aligning ourselves with WWF on this issue, we know we are.

Quentin Clark, Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing, Waitrose

 / ©: Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil
Center-pivot irrigation in a soy monoculture, Rondonópolis, Brazil.
© Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil

WWF Targets

2020: 25% of global soy production is Roundtable for Responsible Soy (RTRS) certified


0.41% of global soy production is RTRS certified (based on data available as of January 2014).

  •  / ©: RTRS
    The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is an international multi-stakeholder initiative founded in 2006 that promotes the use and growth of responsible production of soy. responsiblesoy.org

Priority Countries

  • Production
    Brazil, USA, India, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay

    China (largest importer globally), EU (Netherlands – largest
    importer in the EU), USA

    Present Focal Regions
    Amazon, Cerrado, Chaco region of Paraguay, Atlantic Forest
    (Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina), Argentina


  • Demand Drivers
    Income, population, consumption

    Future focus for success

    RTRS will further expand certification in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and India, and begin responsible production in Bolivia, and Uruguay. RTRS will focus on increasing both supply and demand for certified soy in China and the USA.

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