"Hopes of ending the ongoing destruction that EU consumption has unleashed in forests around the world, have edged closer today. Yet to become a reality, the rights of people who depend on forests for their livelihoods - and who are the best proven defenders of them - need greater protection,” said Nicole Polsterer, Sustainable Consumption and Production Campaigner, at Fern, the forest and rights NGO.
Member States added references to some key international texts, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and called on companies to give greater consideration to international human rights standards.
However, Fern is concerned that this will be honoured more on paper than in practice. This has been the case with the EU Timber Regulation, where Member State Competent Authorities have failed to check for violations of international law.
“In recent months, calls have intensified from Indigenous Peoples and others on the frontlines of deforestation around the world, for the EU's proposed anti-deforestation regulation to require businesses to abide by international human rights laws and standards. Today Member States have partly heeded these calls.
In order to ensure that the highest level of human rights protection applies, we call on the European Parliament to make it absolutely clear that international law and standards on community tenure rights must be respected and principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent are applied before goods can be sold on the EU market,” added Polsterer.
Fern is also concerned by the fact that the Council has removed the already very weak provisions on access to justice that were present in the Commission’s proposal. This signals a lack of appetite for seeking remedies for communities whose rights have been violated by infringements of the Regulation.
A recent poll found that almost nine out of 10 Europeans support strengthening the deforestation-free law to protect Indigenous Peoples' rights.
The European Parliament is set to vote on its opinion on the Regulation in mid-September. The Parliament and the Council will then need to negotiate their common position, during “trilogues” that will also include the European Commission.
Additional measures to tackle the root causes of deforestation
Although the proposed regulation will help clean up EU supply chains, products could still be sold elsewhere. To reduce this risk, the EU needs to build agreements with forested countries to tackle the root causes of deforestation, such as poor forest governance and unclear land tenure.
Such agreements would also help producer countries to comply with the Regulation. While the Commission’s proposal recognises the need for agreements with producer countries, it doesn’t provide detailed plans for them. The Council has asked the Commission to develop a comprehensive EU strategic framework on partnerships and to coordinate with countries.
“Mitigating the EU’s forest footprint will not be enough to reduce deforestation in the tropics. In addition, the EU must offer partnership agreements with forested countries to support them to implement the regulation and tackle the root causes of deforestation. We welcome the Council’s request that the Commission comes up with clear plans on how it intends to develop such partnerships and call on the European Parliament to build on this call,” Polsterer said.
Recognising the achievements of measures to tackle the import of illegal timber
When devising agreements to tackle deforestation, Fern calls on the EU to build on the innovative tools it pioneered more than a decade ago, using the inclusive and deliberative approach that’s at the core the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation, and the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) signed between the EU and many timber producing countries.
The Council has failed to adequately recognise FLEGT’s role in building the tools to improve forest governance. It remains unclear whether the EU will use this tools to help implement the Regulation on deforestation free products.
“Civil society organisations in VPA countries have warned that changing existing trade agreements unilaterally will undermine decades of efforts to strengthen forest governance and clean up their forest sectors. Losing the promise of a green lane for FLEGT-licensed timber entering the EU market would undermine a major incentive to keep all national stakeholders around the table.
In order to mitigate this, the norms and processes established thanks to FLEGT and its VPAs must be recognised and built upon, especially when developing partnerships for tackling the root causes of deforestation. Similarly, there should be specific provisions on EU support for VPA countries’ timber to meet the new EU requirements,” said Marie-Ange Kalenga, Fern’s Forests, Governance and Development Policy Advisor.
Simplified due diligence
The Council backs the Commission’s proposal for simplified due diligence, under which companies would be exempt from requirements if they can prove the commodities were produced in countries or regions identified as being at “low risk” of deforestation.
“Simplified due diligence opens the way for goods produced on illegally deforested land, or which are the result of human rights violations, to be laundered through low-risk regions. For this Regulation to succeed, strict requirements should be the norm, and no exemptions should be granted,” Polsterer concluded.