EU deforestation regulation needs human rights considerations

Anna Triponel

November 22, 2021

Our key takeaway: Despite some positive progress, the European Commission’s proposed regulation to eliminate EU-driven deforestation leaves gaps in terms of indigenous rights and access to remedy, as well as bypassing requirements for some key commodities (rubber and maize) and sectors (finance).

Last week the European Commission published its proposed regulation to eliminate EU-driven deforestation in supply chains. (You can read our summary of the key points of the draft law here.) This week, NGO Global Witness has responded to the draft with recommendations:

  • Some positive progress in the draft law, but “critical loopholes” remain: Some positive elements include “[a]n explicit focus on environmental sustainability of products on the EU market, which doesn’t rely on varying national definitions of “legal” or “illegal” deforestation and instead includes all deforestation”; due diligence requirements that obligate companies to demonstrate that they have mitigated the risks of deforestation and forest degradation prior to entry of the good into the EU market; traceability requirements that include technological approaches like geo-localisation of the product’s point of origin; and enforcement mechanisms that include sanctions for noncompliance. Further, Global Witness highlights that “[t]he Commission has also listened to the evidence and not relied on certification schemes that would have given a green lane for industries to sidestep due diligence obligations.” However, Global Witness believes that loopholes in the draft law “risk undermining” its intent and may limit its ability to effectively tackle the twin crises of climate change and ecological destruction.  
  • Human rights impacts are not adequately addressed through the law: As one key example, Global Witness points out that “[t]he draft fails to respect international human rights standards and does not mention protection for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and the obligation for operators to obtain their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).” These are critical factors because they would not only protect the human rights of vulnerable people but would also help combat deforestation by preserving indigenous lands and resources, as a significant body of evidence has shown. In addition, Global Witness notes that the proposal does not include redress and remedy mechanisms for people negatively impacted by non-compliance with the law, and calls on the Commission to “include civil liability provisions so that communities whose rights have been violated can bring legal claims against the businesses responsible.”
  • Key sectors, commodities and ecosystems have been left out of the draft: Importantly, Global Witness underscores that the “draft law does not cover EU financial institutions and suggests that other existing EU tools are ‘well suited’ to address the financing that goes into deforestation. However, those tools have no accountability mechanisms to prevent banks or investors to continuously making problematic deals with harmful agribusinesses” (citing a recent Global Witness report that shows the extent of the EU financial sector’s contributions to deforestation). In addition, Global Witness calls on the Commission to include both rubber and maize—key commodities that drive deforestation yet have been left out of the proposal (which focuses on palm oil, soy, wood, cocoa, coffee and beef). Global Witness also critiques the fact that the draft does not explicitly focus on deforestation in savannahs and peatlands, “which could lead to deforestation pressure shifting away from forests and towards these other critical ecosystems.”

For more, see Global Witness, New proposed EU law to tackle global deforestation lacks ambition on finance and human rights (November 2021)

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