A number of major food and consumer goods firms in the UK have signed an open letter calling for tougher new rules to tackle deforestation in UK supply chains.
Signatories to the letter, signed on 5 October, include McDonalds, Unilever, Marks & Spencer , Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl, Nando’s and Nestle. The move was welcomed by international NGO Global Witness.
On the last day of the UK government’s consultation on the proposed law to tackle imported deforestation, these companies have added to mounting calls from Global Witness and others for the new legislation to end UK involvement in all deforestation, not just that which is illegal under local laws.
In its current form, the proposal would still allow UK businesses to continue to be complicit in forest destruction, if permitted under local rules where the deforestation occurs. As the UK government acknowledges in its own consultation document, only half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearance for commercial agriculture and timber plantations. The UK legislation should set a clear deforestation-free standard to apply to all forest-risk industries in all countries. This would also provide much needed clarity to business.
“Today’s intervention by businesses shows there is broad-based backing for the UK government to strengthen the proposed new law in order to ensure it is effective in tackling the country’s complicity in global deforestation,” said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness. “With major companies adding their voice to those of civil society, forest communities and members of the UK public, the pressure on the UK government to improve their proposal is building,” Blackman added.
Whilst companies calling for stronger legislation is an important and positive development, these companies should not wait until the government legislates and must act now to ensure their supply chains are not linked to deforestation or related human rights abuses.
Global Witness is also calling on the UK government to strengthen its proposed legislation by ensuring that the finance industry is also covered by the proposed legislation in order to stop the money pipeline funding deforestation. As the group reported last year, UK-based financial institutions have been the single biggest source of international finance for six of the most harmful agribusiness companies involved in deforestation in the climate-critical forests of Brazil, the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea, providing a staggering £5 billion over the last six years.
The law should also protect the local communities and defenders on the frontline of fighting to protect the forests they have safeguarded for generations, who are often silenced by threats, violence, or even murder when they speak up against forest destruction. The UK government must therefore ensure that the requirement for ‘free, prior and informed consent’ by indigenous groups and local communities is built into the legislation.
“As the public consultation draws to a close today, the UK government must listen to concerns raised by stakeholders across the board that the proposed new law does not go far enough,” said Blackman. “If the legislation is to be truly world-leading, as the UK government promised, it must cover all deforestation, include the finance industry, and place forest communities front and centre,” Blackman concluded.