EU Law on deforestation: Key land rights risk being ignored in DG Environment’s proposal

8 avril 2021

EU Law on deforestation: Key land rights risk being ignored in DG Environment’s proposal

The European Commission will soon unveil its proposal for a regulation to minimise the risk of deforestation in products placed on the EU market, an initiative led by Directorate General (DG) Environment.  A central issue is whether the proposal will set a criterion for respecting human rights.  

In a webinar recently hosted by Fern and the European Parliament Working Group on Responsible Business Conduct, Hugo-Maria Schally, Head of Unit at DG Environment, stated that it is sufficient for human rights obligations to be included in DG Justice’s Sustainable Corporate Governance (SCG) initiative, currently being developed in parallel, leaving DG Environment’s proposal to focus only on deforestation. But this would offer incomplete protection for land rights.

The SCG proposal will take a procedural approach, aiming to improve EU company law and corporate governance through a cross-sectoral (‘horizontal’) due diligence framework for managing environmental, social and ‘good governance’ risks without imposing any requirements on products and services. It will not set criteria for goods placed and services provided on the EU market.  How precise and enforceable its references to human rights will be is, as yet, unknown.

DG Environment cannot omit human rights from the substantive criteria of the deforestation regulation, in the vague hope that a procedural approach will adequately cover the crucial issue. Evidence shows that agriculture-driven deforestation goes hand in hand with land conflicts, forced evacuations and land grabs.  

A new United Nations report released on 25 March finds that Indigenous Peoples are, by far, the best guardians of the forests. In order to tackle deforestation, the UN report calls on governments to “resolve competing land claims and stop illegal encroachment and attacks on Indigenous and tribal leaders.” 

Deforestation is a social and human rights issue. To be effective, the EU regulation on deforestation must therefore include the human rights that are the most affected by forest conversion for agriculture, namely customary land tenure rights.  

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