On 12 July 2022, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament (ENVI) voted in favour of the Commission’s proposed Regulation on deforestation-free products. They were voting on a version from June 2022 that the Council of Environment Ministers had added to, including references to key international texts, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and calling on companies to give greater consideration to international human rights standards.
ENVI enlarged the protection of Indigenous Peoples rights by including the obligation for companies placing and exporting goods from the EU market to check compliance with laws and standards related to Indigenous Peoples, tenure rights of local communities, and the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
The MEPs also introduced text to increase access to justice and remedies for harmed peoples. The amendments call for fair, equitable, and timely access to a court or other independent and impartial public body, providing adequate and effective remedies. This is particularly important as the Council had entirely removed the Article that would allow for access to justice.
Although the Commission’s proposed Regulation will help clean up EU supply chains, products which have caused deforestation could still be sold elsewhere. Acknowledging this issue, ENVI 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 will now 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 report also introduces new encouraging elements: companies placing products on the EU market are required to provide “adequate assistance and fair remuneration” to smallholders so that their commodities and products can comply with the Regulation. The Commission is also expected to provide technical and financial support.
Despite the improvements, there is still more to be done, as ENVI left in a Commission-introduced loophole to allow for simplified due diligence (meaning companies importing from low-risk countries would only need to provide geolocation data). Even here though, there was movement in the right direction as ENVI introduced a provision to ensure the Commission analyses changing patterns of trade and investigates any substantiated claim introduced by an interested party.
The Plenary of the European Parliament will vote on this report mid-September. The Parliament, Member States and the Commission will then start “trilogues” to agree on the EU’s final Regulation.