The Swedish government is trying to undermine the EU’s landmark deforestation law so that it can continue exploiting the Sámi people's land, says Lina Burnelius - International Coordinator for Protect the Forests Sweden and Elle Merete Omma - Head of EU Unit for the Saami Council.
Almost a year ago, the European Commission proposed a law requiring companies to prove their supply chains aren’t fuelling global deforestation.
This was a historic moment in the European Union’s attempt to end its outsized role in destroying the world’s forests through its imports of beef and soy from Brazil, palm oil from Indonesia, cocoa and coffee from Ghana and Ivory Coast – and other commodities whose production wreaks havoc in forests around the globe.
Yet there was a vital missing jigsaw piece in the initial Commission proposal: the absence of robust measures to respect the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, which are frequently violated when forests are cleared.
In September, the EU Parliament chose to rectify this when MEPs overwhelmingly voted to include measures in the regulation to ensure that companies verify that goods are produced in accordance with international human rights laws, and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
In doing so, MEPs were merely reflecting the will of EU citizens who polls show are in favour of the law by huge margins.
This is also the case in Sweden, where three-quarters of those surveyed support a strong and ambitious anti-deforestation law.
Sweden is however actively attempting to undermine this essential human rights component of the law. In a note Sweden sent to the presidency of the EU Council, obtained by Greenpeace Sweden through a freedom of information request, Sweden is lobbying against indigenous peoples right to ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’.
In other words, the Swedish government has now shown its true colors on the European arena: to continuously undermine the Sámi people’s rights instead of holding its forest and mining sectors accountable for their unsustainable practices and human rights violations.
These practices, as the Swedish ecologist Guillaume Chapron recently wrote in the journal Science, are the result of “political inbreeding between some authorities and forest industries… On biodiversity issues, the Swedish state apparatus largely appears to have been captured by extractive industry lobbies.” Chapron cautioned that: “European member states, institutions, and experts” should exercise the “highest levels of skepticism and scrutiny” over Sweden’s biodiversity conservation policies.
Some international bodies are already wise to Sweden’s behaviour: two years ago, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination pointed out that Sweden was failing to comply with its international obligations.
Many Swedes were outraged when Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro orchestrated a campaign targeting the rights of his country’s Indigenous Peoples, and accelerating the destruction of the Amazon by weakening environmental protections.
But now we must turn our gaze closer to home, and stop the Swedish government from trying to fatally undermine the EU’s effort to stop global deforestation.
We call on EU policy-makers to come together for forests, by upholding the rights of those who protect them the most. After all, evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples with secure land rights vastly outperform both governments and private landholders in preventing forest loss and conserving biodiversity.