UK: Debating due diligence in the current crisis

12 May 2020

UK: Debating due diligence in the current crisis

The Global Resource Initiative (GRI) Taskforce’s recently published Final Recommendations Report strongly advises that the UK adopt legislation making it mandatory for companies and financiers to conduct due diligence in their supply and investment chains. It also underscores the need to develop bilateral partnerships with producer countries. When the GRI’s findings are debated in the British Parliament – possibly this month – NGOs hope that they are considered seriously

There would be no reason not to: the GRI was created to help the UK deliver on climate and biodiversity obligations and Sustainable Development Goals, and “to establish the UK as a leader on supply chain sustainability” in the lead-up to the UK’s 2021 G7 presidency. It represents heavy-hitters from finance, business and civil society. In consultation with more than 200 experts and NGOs, including Fern, the GRI Taskforce explored how to transform supply chains by examining seven main commodities that drive forest destruction and conversion of natural habitat: beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soya and timber. 

Increasingly the GRI’s recommendations for mandatory due diligence echo the momentum for such rules in the EU, both among policymakers (FW 250, FW 252) and the general population. Although the UK is no longer a Member State, all parties gain in market influence when they act together. Fern has long campaigned for a Due Diligence Regulation and actively supports another report finding: the need to develop bilateral partnerships with producer countries to ensure human rights are respected and climate and biodiversity goals met. 

Other report conclusions do not chime with what forest NGOs have been calling for. Its trade recommendations are weak, although these can be strengthened as discussion advances; likewise, a call to reinvigorate carbon markets, a flawed solution that has repeatedly failed, is both misguided and a waste of political energy. 

GRI’s report comes at an important time. This pandemic has shown that current economic systems are fragile – not in just one faraway country, but in all that connects us. NGOs have issued a statement that looks to the future: “[i]t is also becoming increasingly clear that we are radically altering natural ecosystems, which threatens the resilience of food systems, human health, and our economies. When the time comes, it will be crucial to prioritise nature in the economic stimulus and other measures introduced to recover from the far-reaching impacts of this crisis.” 

With the entire planet forced to reconsider fundamental approaches, more and more people are saying we cannot afford to miss this chance to do better, especially in the food sector, where positive changes could generate USD$ trillions in new business while avoiding even greater costs in harm to people and the planet. As the GRI notes: “Both business and finance have much to benefit from establishing themselves as leaders during the transition, and much to lose from being left behind.”

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