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Forests & trade | 6 September 2021

Upholding human rights in the fight against deforestation
Forests & trade
Forest Risk Commodities

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Upholding human rights in the fight against deforestation

Halting deforestation is one of the biggest global sustainability challenges. As the climate and biodiversity crises worsen, finding a solution becomes increasingly urgent.
The European Union is a significant contributor to global deforestation and the European Commission has committed to release a legislative proposal to minimise the risks of deforestation and forest degradation linked to products that are placed on the EU market. The Commission has indicated that this proposal will be centered around a requirement for operators placing forest-risk commodities on the EU market to undertake due diligence to ensure that their products are not linked to deforestation or forest degradation.
ClientEarth and Global Witness have released a comprehensive briefing explaining why and how specific human rights requirements should be integrated in the EU’s forthcoming legislative proposal to minimise the risk of deforestation associated with products placed on the EU market.
Including human rights requirements in the EU's new deforestation law is important because, in addition to its ecological impacts, deforestation also has many social impacts. Deforestation caused by agribusiness expansion in particular has been linked to widespread human rights abuses, mostly in the form of illegal land grabbing and violence against Indigenous Peoples and other local communities in forest areas. Yet, Indigenous Peoples and other customary communities in forest areas have been shown to be the best custodians and defenders of forest areas. Protecting their rights is a logical and essential step in the collective fight against deforestation.
Our joint briefing outlines how incorporating human rights requirements would enhance the effectiveness of the new EU law to minimise deforestation risks and increase protections for forests. It presents arguments that support this approach based on the EU’s legal obligations and proposes how this could be done based on existing EU legislation. We outline the steps an operator should take in conducting human rights due diligence and feature two case studies of human rights violations linked to Brazilian beef supply chains to demonstrate how these steps could easily identify human rights risks using only publicly available information.
This briefing builds on the comprehensive policy briefing published in May by ClientEarth and a coalition of NGOs that provides recommendations on the key elements which the Commission's proposal must include, in addition to human rights requirements, in order to be effective.
With deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon reaching decade-highs, pushing the Amazon towards an irreversible tipping-point, and with the Brazilian Government proposing a range of legal reforms that threaten even greater deforestation and disregard for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and customary rights-holders, the need for ambitious EU legislation that takes a rights-based approach to deforestation has never been clearer.