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ClientEarth Communications

11th June 2020

Forests & trade
Forest Risk Commodities

Tackling the UK's deforestation footprint through due diligence laws: briefing

ClientEarth and international NGO Global Witness have published a briefing calling on the UK to adopt mandatory due diligence laws to tackle its environmental footprint overseas, address associated human rights violations, and stop the flow of money leading to deforestation.

The joint briefing urges the UK Government to require UK companies and financial institutions to assess and mitigate the impact their supply chains and financing have on forests. We believe this is critical to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change, as well as for local communities and Indigenous People.

The case for due diligence

As the Environment Bill makes its way through Parliament, this is a prime opportunity for the UK to show global leadership in mandating for change.

ClientEarth lawyer Clotilde Henriot said: “The UK has a significant deforestation footprint. A land area almost the size of UK itself is needed to produce enough commodities – such as beef and palm oil – to sustain the nation’s demand.

Without laws in place mandating they do their homework, businesses are contributing to overseas deforestation through their choice of suppliers and finance flows.

“Companies will also benefit from this intervention, as it should help them to be more resilient in the long term, assisting them to reduce their business risks and potential reputational damage of being linked to deforestation and human rights violations.”

In March 2020, the issue was highlighted by the government-appointed Global Resource Initiative taskforce. It recommended the urgent introduction of a mandatory due diligence obligation on companies that place commodities and derived products that contribute to deforestation on the UK market. It also recommended action to ensure similar principles are applied to the finance industry.

Sustaining biodiversity and supporting forest communities

Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy, Global Witness, said:

“Mandatory due diligence would help establish deforestation-free finance and supply chains as standard business practice. It would make a bold and important statement – from the UK government and business alike – that they are no longer prepared to be complicit in fuelling the destruction of vital forests.”

Such legislation would help the UK economy ‘build back better’ in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while protecting forests around the world. Such forests play a crucial role in sustaining biodiversity and supporting forest communities, which are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses as a result of deforestation.

Blackman added: “If we’re to ensure a green recovery it is not just decarbonisation and green jobs at home that need to be on the checklist. We need to address the impact of the agribusiness products we consume on huge swathes of climate-critical forests.”