The main drivers of deforestation worldwide are no longer subsistence-level farmers trying to put food on their tables. The deforestation is now mostly driven by large transnational corporations, converting massive tracts of land for industrial agriculture. Government development schemes promoting the clearing of vast tracts of land as part of efforts to help millions of poor farmers put food on their own tables marked the past deforestation. Now, people from rural communities are increasingly relocating to cities, pushed by globalization, and forest and land are more and more managed by transnational industrial groups. The governments, to grab new development opportunities, sponsor large-scale infrastructure projects like roads, dams and power plants, as highlighted by a number of CIFOR studies.
A large portion of forests today are being cleared by the world’s biggest corporations, which control a larger and larger share of the market. Nearly half of all global production, according to a WWF study, comes from just 100 companies.
"We know that commercial drivers of deforestation are now more important than some decades back. In part, that is simply because over this period national and international trade have become more important in all our lives, including in the lives of poor smallholders at the agricultural frontier," said Sven Wunder, a principal CIFOR scientist. "This trend is increasingly driven by profit rather than poverty and by regional or international markets rather than local needs," he said.
According to some analysts, this development offers a rare opportunity for conservation. Big corporations such as McDonalds, Mattel Inc, Nestlé, Monsanto, and others are sensitive to campaigns by environmentalists that could harm their brand name.
At the same time, these groups developed highly sophisticated communications strategies, often ending up into "green washing" — misrepresenting the environmental qualities of their products, a common strategy used by those under fire.
According to other however, the picture is less positive. Big corporation can rely on technologies which allow them to profitably exploit virtually all the forest, no matter how much remote they are. They also can easily influence the policy making in many developing countries and in many cases corporate budget exceeds those of entire states. By using corruption or political pressure, they can easily plain waste concession areas, avoid fines and even legalize illegal practices.
Furthermore, as Western consumer markets decline, big offenders may eventually become harder to influence. The emerging markets react in different way to the environmental issue. Consumers are mostly concentrated in the growing urban middle class, much more worried by the serious pollution in the megalopolis they live in, than by the deforestation in remote rural areas. Transnational corporations know this and use it more and more in its communication strategy. This is there reason why it is difficult for the environmental organizations to influence the (bad) forest practices by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a paper giant selling mostly in China, South-east Asia and Middle East, areas where deforestation in Indonesia is not perceived among the major issues.