JBS in big trouble again: New York Attorney General sues JBS for misleading net zero claims

Sydney Jones

Press Secretary

[email protected]

Carole Mitchell

Sr. Director Communications

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By Kevin Galbraith

The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, has filed a bombshell lawsuit against two U.S. divisions of the Brazil-based meat giant JBS. Brought together with the state’s Environmental Protection Bureau, the suit alleges that JBS systematically and over a prolonged period misled consumers and the public about its greenhouse gas emissions and its role in climate change—classic “greenwashing”—and illegally profited as a result.

The New York suit details, chapter and verse, exactly how JBS worked assiduously to mislead the public about these critical issues. From the company’s perspective, it all centered around its pledge to be “Net Zero by 2040.” The suit alleges that JBS “has had no viable plan” to meet that pledge, and explains how an industry monitor, the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau, last year concluded that JBS’s “Net Zero by 2040” pledge was unsubstantiated and misleading and warned the company to halt its campaign to deceive the public. Undeterred, JBS “continued to make the same or similar claims to consumers, all the while emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and continuing supply chain practices with outsized climate impacts, further contributing to climate change harms,” according to the Attorney General’s complaint. The complaint recites how the company frequently and shamelessly repeated its bogus pledge, all the while ramping up its greenhouse gas emissions and doing vanishingly little to remedy its long-established ties to illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

As a strictly legal matter, the suit alleges that JBS has “profited from its fraudulent and illegal business activities across New York State,” in violation of a variety of consumer-protection statutes that prohibit “persistent illegal or fraudulent conduct,” and that it should be required to disgorge its ill-gotten profits, halt any further violations of these statutes and—at long last—honestly report its conduct in these areas.

Taken in isolation, the Attorney General’s suit poses a significant legal threat to the company. After all, this is the same office that recently obtained a $454-million judgment against former President Trump and his family and businesses. Quite plainly, Attorney General James is not a figure to be trifled with.

And viewed more broadly, this suit represents the latest in a sustained volley of legal and political threats JBS faces. Among other notable developments, we filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In that filing, we explained how JBS misled U.S. investors when it sold over $3 billion of its so-called “Sustainability-Linked bonds” while publicly claiming it was on track to be “Net Zero by 2040.” We have since supplemented that filing to alert the SEC of more recent developments, including the National Advertising Division’s findings and the company’s CEO making patently false claims about the company’s involvement in deforestation of the Amazon and other Brazilian forest regions.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2023, JBS announced its plan to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s announcement, years in the making, was met with forceful opposition by environmental advocacy groups around the world, including by Mighty Earth. A coalition of groups issued a joint warning around the proposed public listing. And in a rare show of bipartisanship, a group of 15 U.S. senators issued a joint letter to the SEC urging the agency to reject the company’s planned listing in light of its climate-change deceptions, illegal deforestation, bribery, price-fixing and assorted and sundry other illegal conduct.

The company has now delayed its hoped-for IPO twice, and we hope and expect that the SEC’s sharp scrutiny of JBS’s draft registration statement, along with the growing chorus of opposition to its planned share offering, will ultimately prevent the company from availing itself of direct access to U.S. stock-market investors.

At the end of the day, it is only through a multifaceted campaign—utilizing legal, political and media efforts—that a company such as JBS can be held to account for its brazen illegal conduct. The New York Attorney General’s lawsuit announces the arrival of a fresh and powerful voice, ready to take on this multinational climate menace.

Kevin Galbraith is a securities attorney based in New York City, principal of The Galbraith Law Firm. The firm’s practice includes representing whistleblowers who bravely shine a light on the illegal conduct of public companies, and he represents Mighty Earth in a variety of matters including its legal efforts against JBS.

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