On 5 October 2020 the UK government closed its first round of consultation on a proposed law designed to prevent forests and other important natural areas from being illegally converted into agricultural land (FW 258). This proposal would make it illegal for larger businesses to use forest-risk commodities that have not been produced in accordance with relevant local laws in producer countries, and they would need to show that they have taken proportionate action to ensure this is the case. Results from a series of consultations, however, make it clear that people in the UK and partner countries want a more far-reaching law.
NGOs came together to discuss the proposal in a series of webinars and highlighted its major drawbacks. Environmental and human rights groups recommend that a new UK law should go beyond legality and certification; that it should apply to all companies, no matter what size; and that it should include an obligation to carry out due diligence, not only with regard to environmental harm but also human rights.
Groups in heavily forested countries also raised concerns about how European imports impact on natural resources and human rights. In their submission, Brazilian civil society stressed that even though Brazil’s Forest Code already allows for up to 80 per cent devastation within private properties, the government and the agricultural lobby are increasing pressure to permit still more legal deforestation. EcoCare in Ghana pointed out that, although Ghana’s forestry laws prohibit planting cocoa in protected areas, its cocoa laws do not. This conflict in legal interpretation is open to exploitation − which the proposed UK due-diligence regulation does nothing to address. The Cameroonian Forest and Communities Platform highlight that proposed legislation should pay attention to the rights of environmental activists and land tenure rights, as well as the rights of minority social groups (women and Indigenous communities).
More statements are available, and NGOs expect to see these concerns on the scope of proposed legislation reflected in proposals before a further round of consultation on secondary legislation is opened.