Following its Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests in 2019, the European Commission has finally opened a questionnaire-based consultation on policies needed to reduce deforestation and forest degradation associated with EU consumption of forest-risk commodities. Going its own way, the United Kingdom also launched a consultation on the measures it is examining. Yet where the EU includes consideration of a broad approach to tackling imported deforestation, the UK approach seems already to be shrinking.
The EU consultation will inform an EU impact assessment of eventual demand-side measures to reduce deforestation. Its questions point to the potentially ambitious options that the EU is considering.
Options range from mandatory to voluntary. Mandatory ones include prohibiting the placing of non-compliant products on the EU market; a country carding system and illegal operators’ list similar to that for Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; due diligence, i.e., requiring operators to investigate their supply chains; non-financial reporting; and mandatory labelling. Voluntary measures include: voluntary due diligence; the use of existing certification schemes; and voluntary labelling. The consultation also asks open-ended questions, leaving respondents to propose their own vision of possible solutions.
At this early stage, then, grounds for hope remain that the EU may take real action.
While the UK beat the EU to the punch by opening its consultation first, the scope of its proposed regulation leaves much to be desired.
Compared to the EU’s extensive scope, the UK consultation is limited. Timber aside, the proposal would cover only those forest-risk commodities that have been produced illegally, based on environmental laws in the country of origin.
Limiting the scope deforestation that is considered illegal in producer countries is clearly inadequate for countries where national standards are weak or non-existent, or which – like Brazil’s current regime—are already pursuing environmental deregulation. In addition, the UK proposal does not include human rights. At a time when harm to environmental rights defenders is rising, the UK legal proposal risks allowing abusive labour practices, land-grabbing and deforestation to continue unchecked, and to be ‘laundered’ through the UK into the EU.
Other issues of concern include that the proposed legislation would apply only to “a relatively small number of large-sized companies”. This would exclude many of the agri-food companies most responsible for imported deforestation. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines suggest that such legislation should apply to all businesses, regardless of the size – and this is indeed what campaigners in the EU and the UK are calling for. The legislation proposed also does not feature a review mechanism, meaning it cannot be adjusted as needed.
Polls indicate that 87 per cent of EU consumers support laws to end imported forest destruction. The next steps will be more telling regarding the political resolve to fight the human rights violations and environmental harm embedded in the products we consume. Judging by these initial, steps, however, the UK’s political will is already flagging.
Register and complete the EU questionnaire here.
Complete the UK consultation here.
Sign the #Together4Forests petition here.