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Global Canopy calls on UK government to strengthen proposed deforestation law

News: Global Canopy urges the UK government to extend due diligence requirements to include legal deforestation

Global Canopy has urged the UK government to go beyond illegality in its proposed legislation on due diligence to address the UK’s deforestation footprint overseas.

Our call, submitted in response to a consultation by the government, followed a letter from 21 companies including McDonald’s, Marks & Spencer, and Mondelez, urging ministers to introduce “a cost-effective framework for halting all forms of deforestation”.  

The government’s proposed law would require companies to carry out due diligence to ensure there is no illegal deforestation in their supply chains. But it would do nothing to stop companies importing goods from areas where weak legislation means that forests are being legally cleared.


Lowering the bar

The government has said it wants to introduce a level playing field for business. But its proposal would actually have the effect of lowering the bar, given that Forest 500 data shows that 81% of the biggest UK companies in forest-risk supply chains already have policies in place that aim to remove deforestation from their supply chains.

While illegal deforestation is a problem, limiting due diligence to just illegal deforestation leaves critical forests and vegetation at risk. A review of forest laws in Brazil by IUCN concluded that prohibiting only illegal deforestation would mean that 88 million hectares of forest could still be legally deforested.

Creating a level-playing field should mean ensuring the poorest performers – who currently face no requirements to address deforestation – have to meet the same standards as companies trying to drive change.

Helen Bellfield, Global Canopy’s policy director, commented:

If the government is serious about addressing the UK’s overseas forest footprint, it must ensure that companies address all the risks of deforestation in their supply chains.”

A requirement to only eliminate illegal deforestation is also vulnerable to change in forest protection laws in producer countries – with governments potentially legalising deforestation to ensure market access.


Keeping within the realms of the possible

Global Canopy has also raised a concern that companies are not necessarily able to identify when deforestation in their supply chains has been carried out illegally.

While companies can identify where commodities have been produced, and whether there are deforestation risks, identifying whether the deforestation is legal requires access to information that is rarely available.

This could result in companies buying from markets recognised as free from deforestation risk, for example buying soy from the United States. While this may guarantee the UK’s supply chain, it can lead to higher levels of environmental and social damage as responsible businesses leave sensitive areas and less scrupulous companies move in.

Global Canopy believes companies should be required to address all of the deforestation risks in their supply chains – and that the new legislation should also apply to financial institutions. 

Our full response to the UK consultation on due diligence is available here.


Photo: Pexels