Justices and Injustices in the Soy Value Chain

PhD fellow: Finn Mempel

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

About me

I am from Germany, where I completed his undergraduate studies in Environmental and Resource Management, after doing my thesis work on collectively managed water supply systems in Colombia. I was then part of an international Master’s Program in Ecohydrology, which took me to Portugal and Brazil and during which I specialized in developing remote sensing applications for aquatic environments. I have worked in a climate research institute and a service-provider for geospatial analysis in the past and have further started to work as a freelance journalist. My interest lies mainly in the field of political ecology.

In COUPLED I see the opportunity to use my interdisciplinary background and interests to work on some of the most challenging, urgent and contested issues facing sustainability science today. My research project aims to integrate the telecoupling approach with the growing body of literature on environmental and social justice. Perceptions of justice across different actors will be contextualized and flows and feedbacks will be analyzed in terms of their effects on distribution, recognition and participation. A major challenge will be to reimagine the matters, subjects and arenas of justice claims in the context of global value chains and telecoupled land-systems.

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


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 tree regions, and will identify leverage points to foster more just soy value chains.

Principal Supervisor: Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology)


Finn Mempel

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