On March 11 this year, Liberian civil society organisations working on land and forest governance took part in a one day forum organised by Sustainable Development Institutre (SDI) Liberia and Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), to gather their perspectives on the proposed EU Regulation. A number of common themes emerged.
One shortcoming they pinpointed, was that rubber is excluded from the agricultural products covered by the Regulation. Although EU Members do not import rubber on a large scale, its production is one of the commodities that causes deforestation in Liberia. CSOs pointed out that this could increase - along with the dispossession of community land - if investors see the rubber sector as a means of bypassing the Regulation.
Another failing that the CSOs noted, concerned the draft Regulation’s mechanisms for forest communities to seek redress to grievances around deforestation. There is no mechanism for communities impacted by deforestation to seek a remedy which may include compensation. Affected communities are required to submit “substantiated concerns” to legitimate authorities on non-compliance by companies to initiate action from authorities. This will place additional responsibility on communities who are already at a disadvantage in being able to engage and challenge powerful companies.
“The proposed regulation should be revised so that companies who violate forest communities’ rights are held criminally liable for it once it has been independently verified.” says Jonathan of SDI Liberia.
The draft Regulation’s reliance on local rather than international human rights laws and standards was also identified as a potential weakness: without adhering to international laws and standards, enforcement will be a greater challenge.
While in principle, companies are required to ensure that they comply with the relevant legislation in place in the country of production, the regulation does not elaborate on measures that need to be put in place for monitoring and verifying how they will do so. This is a particular problem in countries where governance systems and laws are weak.
The draft Regulation’s section on strategic engagements with producing countries is a step in the right direction. This kind of engagement can help address some of the fundamental issues driving deforestation. The proposed regulation, however, is not clear how partnerships and cooperation with the producing countries will be established and maintained.
The EU and Member States should also consider including measures linked to the VPA’s accountability and transparency mechanism in the Regulation.