Smallholders and civil society must be an integral part of EU support for Vietnam’s due diligence implementation

12 December 2023

Smallholders and civil society must be an integral part of EU support for Vietnam’s due diligence implementation

Increasing civil society and smallholder capacity and participation is essential to the success of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and implementation of the EU Deforestation Regulation.

A recent study commissioned by the EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) suggests several areas where cooperation between EU and Vietnam is needed to ensure political coherence and to support conformity with new due diligence requirements for access to EU markets. Its findings are of specific relevance to the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and implementation of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). Together with the EU DAG’s recent statement, it is apparent that the inadequate participation of Vietnamese civil society constitutes a stumbling block for implementation of EU due diligence and sustainability provisions.

The study's specific recommendations focus on the trade in specific commodities (electronics, coffee, textiles and timber) between the EU and Vietnam. Generally however, the study notes that the “EU should promote systematic consultations of civil society in the context of DAGs to provide evidence-based policy recommendations and inform policymakers. Direct technical and financial support should be provided to [Civil Society Organisations] CSOs, including trade unions, for them to be able to do so.”

The study draws attention to specific challenges confronting smallholders. It advocates for increased capacity-building for CSOs, local small producer communities and local authorities, so that they can fully understand and comply with new EUDR requirements. It is important to mention that the EU and Germany have announced financial support for capacity building through its jointly funded Team Europe Initiative programme, Sustainable Agriculture for Forest Ecosystems, which will provide support to smallholders to comply with the EUDR. This first step is welcome, but needs to be accompanied by other cooperation. Multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at information sharing, and functioning “grievance mechanisms accessible to NGOs and CSOs, such as trade unions (or in their absence of other forms of workers’ representatives)”, are necessary to foster appropriate working conditions and lessen environmental impact.

These points echo issues that smallholders and civil society have been raising since the adoption of the EUDR. Some small producers and family farmers view the new EUDR with hope, as an opportunity for a genuine shift towards sustainability. If implemented equitably, these people feel that the new rules could elevate their needs and concerns, which are too often submerged by larger industrial interests (FW 288).

Importantly, an assessment of smallholders’ needs and challenges in complying with the EUDR must be carried out immediately, as implementation is getting underway.

A comprehensive strategic framework that explains how EUDR partnerships will work with other partnerships is also needed, as is support for in-country multistakeholder dialogues on the EUDR.

Finally, for the trade and sustainability chapter of the EVFTA and the due diligence requirements of the EUDR to function effectively, civil society and smallholders must be able to contribute freely. The strongly worded EU DAG statement notes that “[u]nions, media, civil society organisations, and the judiciary, need to be free to monitor, expose and enforce the respect of all rights, including labour rights.”

Here, the EU DAG sounds an alarm raised by the Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains (FIDH), insisting that the “intimidation and harassment of civil society actors monitoring the commitments undertaken by the Parties must be addressed assertively by the EU”.

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Categories: News, Forest Watch, EU Regulation on deforestation-free products, Vietnam

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