The European Parliament has heeded calls by Indigenous Peoples, NGOs and European Union (EU) citizens by voting for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to be upheld in the EU’s landmark Regulation on deforestation-free products.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted to include measures to ensure that companies respect international human rights norms and standards. Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent will now be a prerequisite for importing products into the EU. On the downside, MEPs failed to agree on setting up a compensation mechanism for affected peoples to seek redress.
Nicole Polsterer, Sustainable Consumption and Production campaigner, said:
“The European Parliament has taken a crucial step in making the EU’s anti-deforestation law the game-changer that people in the EU and around the world hoped for. MEPs have listened to Indigenous Peoples’ call to protect their land rights, and companies will be legally required to respect them.”
In November last year, the European Commission proposed a law aimed at preventing the import of commodities and products linked to deforestation. This was seen as a watershed moment by Fern and others, although the draft contained some significant loopholes, including a lack of protection for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, widely recognised as the best guardians of forests.
“For this Regulation to lower deforestation rates, the EU must strengthen co-operation with the governments of countries where the goods which drive deforestation are produced,” added Polsterer.
- Today’s vote in the plenary of the European Parliament is the final step before tripartite negotiations between the European Commission, Council and European Parliament. This process will lead to a final version of the EU’s Regulation on deforestation-free products, likely by the end of 2022 or early 2023.
- Last week, the latest in a series of polls revealed Europeans’ overwhelming support for a law to stop businesses from selling products that destroy the world’s rainforests. In a poll of nine EU countries conducted by Globescan, 78 per cent of Europeans believed that products that drive deforestation should be banned. This support rose to 81 per cent when those surveyed were informed that the European Parliament has proposed such a law. Meanwhile in 2020, more than a million people demanded a strong EU law to protect the world’s forests.
- Agricultural expansion drives almost 90 per cent of global deforestation. The EU’s complicity in it is well-documented. The EU is the second biggest importer of agricultural goods which drive deforestation – much of it illegal. EU imports of these ‘forest-risk’ commodities also fuel human rights abuses, from child labour to land grabs.
Snap-analysis of European Parliament vote
- The European Parliament has set tough requirements for tracing products to their source. Coupled with strong enforcement measures, this Regulation can help end deforestation. The due diligence requirements around the collection of information about claims to land and the presence of Indigenous peoples and other local communities is particularly strong.
- The proposed Regulation fails to provide a civil liability mechanism and the possibility of redress and damages. On the positive side, the MEPs introduced text to increase access to justice. The amendments call for fair, equitable, and timely access to a court or other independent and impartial public body, providing adequate and effective remedies. The MEPs did not introduce an additional right to sue companies directly, meaning companies will remain liable only administratively and not under criminal or civil law.
- The European Parliament recognised the role financial institutions play in enabling agricultural expansion into forests and other native vegetation.
- The European Parliament has not given-in to industry lobbying and included leather, the highest deforestation product per value imported into the EU, from the scope of the Regulation.
- The European Parliament maintains that certification cannot be used by companies as a substitute for undertaking due diligence, which is positive.
- More cooperation with producer country governments and their productive sectors is needed to halt deforestation. This runs the risk of creating a bifurcated market for deforestation and non-deforestation products. The Commission’s proposed Regulation will help clean up EU supply chains, but products which have caused deforestation could still be sold elsewhere. Acknowledging this issue, the Parliament proposed the adoption of a “Team Europe” partnership approach in which the Commission and Member States would work together to deal with the root causes of deforestation in producer countries. The Parliamentarians placed particular emphasis on the need for good governance, and for the protection of the rights and livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, including Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and other customary tenure rights holders and smallholders. It would be up to the Commission to develop roadmaps with countries identified as at high-risk of deforestation, so as to support continuous improvement towards agreed goals.
- The Parliament also requested that vulnerable stakeholders receive adequate assistance and fair remuneration so that their commodities and products can comply with the rules, in particular the geolocation requirement. They requested that partnerships and cooperation mechanisms pay particular attention to enabling smallholders to transition to sustainable farming and forestry practices and to comply with the Regulation’s requirements.