Trend: Roundup of Sustainability News in 2020



As everyone can agree, 2020 has been a dramatic year. From bushfires in Australia to the USA elections in November by way of the ongoing pandemic, it’s been a strange and alarming year.

Many of the events of this year have had effects on the way we do business, the way we consume and import products. They will change the way supply chains operate. Together we can ensure that those changes are positive and bring benefits for people and planet.

COVID-19 Pandemic – The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020

This is an undeniably era-defining event that affects many aspects of our lives. The way we work, meet friends, travel, where we live, our attitudes to health and mortality – they have all been affected by the pandemic and by the measures that government have taken to try to mitigate its effects.

One of the iconic images from the early days of the lockdown was of empty shelves. Twenty-first century consumers are used to being able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. Strawberries in December in Germany? No problem. Sixteen different types of biscuits? Sure.

However, at the start of the lockdown in much of the world, panic buying combined with supply issues to leave consumers facing empty shelves for the first time in years. This jarring sight woke people up to the reality of the long and complex supply chains that ensure they are able to do their weekly shopping. It’s a sight that may become more common if we don’t learn to use the earth’s resources responsibly.

Over the last few years, we have seen a growing desire from consumers to know where their goods came from and how they were produced. It is hopeful that, post-pandemic, we may see a continuation of this desire for local, ethically sourced products from some consumers. If this is the case, businesses will need to respond accordingly.

A Lack of Respect for Wilderness and Habitats Will Lead to More Infectious Diseases

The destruction of wildlife habitats leads to pandemics such as coronavirus. It has been agreed by leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International that humanity’s destruction of nature is likely to lead to even more deadly disease outbreaks in future.

After widespread outrage over issues such as the destruction of orangutan habitats in order to farm palm oil, this clear link between wildlife destruction and deadly diseases will surely lead to more pressure on producers to wildlife habitats.

Read our March Trend article about the rise in climate activism and green politics

The World Burns – Australia and California

The Australian bushfires that started towards the end of 2019 and burned through the first few months of 2020 were devastating. In January, the WWF estimated that, “Up to 19 million hectares were burnt … 1.25 billion animals had been killed.”

These bushfires were particularly bad due to a number of factors, including extreme heat, prolonged drought and strong winds. While a natural phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole was responsible for a hot, dry spell across Australia, there is a consensus from scientists that climate change has been a major factor in the severity and scale of these fires.

As we enter a critical time to make progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) it is crucial that Australia succeeds in curbing its emissions. While Australia signed the Paris climate accord, it is currently not on track to meet its goals. Unfortunately, this is true for many signatories.

Australia was not the only country that struggled with fires, Brazil and the US also felt the heat this year. Record fires have burned in the Amazon and Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, damaging some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

In 2020, the US saw some of the worst fires on record. When the scale of the fire expanded from 1 million acres to 1.3 million acres it earned itself a new moniker, going from a megafire to a gigafire.

Among the many tragic effects of the wildfires, there has been serious damage to agriculture and viniculture. In California, which produces over a third of the US's vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, many farmers are facing devastating losses. Farmland, vineyards and wine cellars have all been damaged by the fires.

Experts and elected officials are in agreement that the fires were caused by climate change. The Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, plainly stated, "These are climate [change] fires."

Find out about amfori’s Sustainable Wine Programme.

Uyghurs Forced Labour in China

There have been serious allegations of state imposed forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. A number of media outlets, governments and civil society organisations have reported on the alleged enforced labour of Uyghurs and Kazak people.

amfori is encouraging our members to be particularly vigilant regarding this issue. In March 2020, we launched a State Imposed Forced Labour taskforce in order to focus on the particular challenges that arise when dealing with state imposed forced labour. We have since published a position paper and a practical guidance note for businesses. Please read these documents carefully and direct any questions to

Improvements in Uzbekistan Cotton Industry

On a more positive note, in February, the International Labour Organization announced that there had been significant progress made by Uzbekistan in addressing forced and child labour issues during the cotton harvest.

Towards the End of a Turbulent Year

As we move into the final months of 2020, it is worth touching on the election of the 46th President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, who will replace Donald Trump in January 2021. While we can’t say for sure what changes his presidency will bring, it is certain that he will preside over challenging times in terms of health and the economy.

In an announcement that has been welcomed by leaders worldwide, Biden has indicated that he will bring the US back into the Paris climate accord. What actions might result from this and whether the US can reduce its emissions and consumption sufficiently to limit warming to 1.5C remains to be seen.

As the clock turns from 2020 to 2021, the UK will leave the European Union. After years of uncertainty, it will finally be time to see what happens after they cut ties with their largest trading partner. While future trading arrangements are still quite uncertain, it is best to be as prepared as possible.

Read guidelines and advice for preparing for Brexit.

Sustainable Development Goals Decade of Action

We are one year into the Decade of Action, the ten years of ambitious change that is needed if we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Although there have been some positive signs, unfortunately, we are still not progressing fast enough or at the right scale to be able to achieve the SDGs. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has damaged some of the progress that has been made.

In 2021, we will continue working towards the SDGs and striving to create a world where trade delivers social, environmental and economic benefits for everyone. We hope that you will join us.