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As the EU moves towards due diligence in supply chains, can we ensure communities are heard?

9 July 2020

As the EU moves towards due diligence in supply chains, can we ensure communities are heard?

Many European citizens and institutions now recognise Europe’s role in global deforestation and associated human rights abuses. This year alone, EU governments, private sector bodies, NGOs and the trade union movement have demanded that supply chains be cleaned up to remove the link between EU demand for products such as beef, soy, cocoa, sugar and rubber and deforestation and devastating human rights abuses in producing countries. 

Several EU institutions have already responded to the push for companies to employ due diligence in their supply chains. DG Justice (FW 255) has committed to making corporate environment and human rights due diligence mandatory. Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan indicated that action targeting specific sectors, such as the cocoa sector, should accompany due diligence measures (FW 256). DG Environment reacted to the Commission’s communication to protect and restore forests by launching an impact assessment of regulatory options, including a due diligence approach. In the European Parliament (EP), MEP Delara Burkhardt published a draft legislative own-initiative report, 15 June 2020, with recommendations for a due diligence approach to supply chains. Discussions around the practicalities of deforestation- and human rights abuse-free supply chains also continue within the private sector and international bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

In late June, Fern and the EP’s Responsible Business Conduct Working Group convened a digital conference advancing these discussions. More than 180 participants listened as experts explored technical and political challenges and potential solutions. They expressed support both for European horizontal regulation across sectors, complemented by vertical legislation targeting specific sectors.

One important question came up repeatedly: what about the smallholders? Indeed, in the momentum to end the EU’s imported destruction, it is vital that we do all we can to avoid unintended discriminatory consequences. When marginalised voices are excluded from the design and implementation of the laws that affect them, it is likely that their needs and interests will not be met, despite good intentions − a lesson being highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Easy to say, but difficult to achieve, requiring both urgency and sustained political will, as experience with FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements has shown. Ensuring that the voices of those most marginalised in our global society resonate when shaping the rules and policies that govern international supply chains, requires us to be alert to the political structures and constraints in which we operate. It requires that we recognise where exclusion happens and work actively to resist it. 

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Categories: News, Sustainable Supply Chains, EU Action Plan

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