Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources

This paper explores the potential of using public procurement policy to promote the uptake of sustainable food products in order to reduce imports of agricultural products associated with deforestation.


Workers sort cocoa fruits near the Mendoa Chocolates plant in the state of Bahia near Ilheus, Brazil, on 29 May 2015. Photo: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg via Getty Images.Workers sort cocoa fruits near the Mendoa Chocolates plant in the state of Bahia near Ilheus, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images.


  • Procurement policy has been used effectively to exclude illegal and unsustainable timber from consumer-country markets.
  • As the public sector is a major purchaser of food and catering services for schools, nurseries, hospitals, care homes, canteens, prisons and the military, public procurement policies in this area clearly have the potential to promote the uptake of sustainable products not associated with deforestation.
  • Many public authorities, particularly at local and regional level, already have a procurement policy for food; in principle, criteria for sustainable production could be incorporated relatively easily.
  • Some products – particularly palm oil, cocoa, coffee and tea – are better suited than others to this approach; for all these products, voluntary certification initiatives currently under way could provide identification mechanisms on which procurement policies could rest.
  • Other commodities may not be as suited to procurement policy, and it may be more effective to use other regulations; this applies particularly to soy, for which biofuel regulations are likely to have a bigger impact.
  • In cases in which private-sector initiatives are under way to achieve 100 per cent sustainable imports (such a target has been set for palm oil in several countries), procurement policy may be unnecessary. In other cases, the adoption of a new procurement policy could serve as the spur to a private-sector initiative.