Justices and Injustices in the Soy Value Chain

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain)

Soybean expansion has been a major driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss in South America and, increasingly, in other parts of the world. As a commodity, soybean epitomizes the challenge of governing telecoupled food and land systems, with the soybean trade between South America and Europe as the clearest example for decades. Over time, new economic policies, dietary shifts, and the multiple industrial uses of soybean protein have resulted both in increased soybean demands and new interconnections becoming significant in environmental governance at the global level. Soybeans now surpass crude oil and iron ore as Latin America’s largest export to China. Additionally, spill-over systems also configure governance challenges. For instance, rising demands for pork meat among Chinese consumers increases pork production in Europe. Increasing European demand for pork feed, in turn, causes land-use changes in soybean production frontiers in Latin America. Soybean cultivation, transportation and commercialization often trigger conflicts, with collective claims for environmental justice denouncing impacts on access to resources, and exposure to environmental and health risks. Yet the implications of these soybean flows in terms of environmental justice have not received the same amount of attention than issues around subsoil resource extraction.

Against this background, this PhD research will:

  • Apply an environmental and social justice framework to examine the soybean value chain (EU-Latin America; Latin America-China)
  • Identify how soy chain actors perceive the (in)justices of soy cultivation, trade and consumption, and which actions they propose to address identified injustices (EU-Argentina; Argentina-China).
  • Reflect on how such injustices have affected market practices, social movements and landscapes in producing and end-consumer countries, and identify points of leverage to improve the sustainability of the value chain.

In doing so, this research will document and understand the flow of actors, biomass and financial flows of soybean trade between South America-China and South America and the EU between 1995-2015. The research will shed light on stakeholders’ perspectives on the (in)justices in the soy value chain between these three regions, and will identify leverage points to foster more just soy value chains.


Finn Mempel

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, ICTA – Institut de Ciènca i Tecnologia Ambientals
UAB Campus, 08193 Bellaterra (Cerdanoyla del Vallès), Spain

“My research project aims to integrate the telecoupling approach with the growing body of literature on environmental and social justice.”

Finn Mempel

Publications …

Mempel, F. & E. Corbera (2021). Framing the frontier – Tracing issues related to soybean expansion in transnational public spheres. Global Environmental Change 69:102308. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102308

Corbera, E., M. Busck-Lumholt, F. Mempel & B. Rodriguez-Labajos (2019). Environmental justice in telecoupling research. In C. Friis & J. Østergaard Nielsen (eds), Telecoupling – Exploring Land-Use Change in a Globalised World. Palgrave Studies in Natural Resource Management. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 213–232.