The European Parliament’s plenary vote, 13 September 2022, on the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products upheld the views of Europeans who have persistently shown strong support for enforceable rules to stop consumerism that drives forest destruction. Agricultural expansion for production of forest-risk commodities is often linked to human rights violations and land-grabs, so it is especially welcome that the Parliament text took a strong stance on human rights norms with regard to land rights.
Where previous drafts fell short, this version makes the respect of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ right to free, prior and informed consent a condition to import products into the EU. Due diligence requirements are especially robust in terms of the information that must be collected about claims to land and the presence of local and Indigenous communities.
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) broadened the possibility for aggrieved parties to seek remedies, adding text that enhances equitable and timely access to a court or other impartial public body; they stopped short, however, of introducing the right for harmed people to sue companies directly and access funds.
The text sets stringent requirements for traceability of products. MEPs have paid particular attention to supporting smallholders: they called on companies to pay them fair remuneration, and to assist smallholder suppliers to comply with the rules. They encourage partnerships and cooperative initiatives to be attentive to smallholders’ needs as they transition to sustainable farming and forestry methods. We hope that such concerns do not vanish in the final draft.
Issues that had weakened previous versions of the regulation (FW 277) are tightened here. For instance, the European Parliament is steadfast that certification schemes cannot be used as a shortcut around due diligence. If MEPs have their way, financial institutions will also carry out due diligence and not provide funds to operations that would lead to deforestation or human rights violations. Despite considerable industry lobbying, the Parliament also proposed to include leather (a product with a massive deforestation footprint) within the Regulation’s scope.
As the portfolio moves to tripartite negotiations with the European Commission and Council, many people, in Europe and beyond, are looking towards MEPs to defend these advances, and help craft a final version that, with adequate enforcement and in cooperation with third countries, could prove significant in the fight against deforestation and human rights abuses. The final version is expected in late 2022 or early 2023.