MEPs say that voluntary initiatives, third-party certification and labels have failed to halt global deforestation and are calling on the European Commission to present EU legislation with binding measures to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation.
They want a new EU legal framework based on mandatory due diligence for companies, meaning they must perform a risk assessment of their products to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address the issue of deforestation throughout the supply chain.
The plenary session of European Parliament (EP) yesterday [October 22] saw overwhelming support for the proposal with MEPs voting by 377 to 75 [and 243 abstentions] to adopt the resolution.
Due diligence trend
Europe has seen a growing number of supply chain due diligence frameworks emerging in recent years.
In 2017, France introduced its Vigilance Law, requiring companies to take adequate measures to identify both human rights and environmental risks within their supply chains and to prevent violations.
More recently, in July this year, the German government announced similar plans to pass its own Due Diligence Act.
Fines for non-compliance proposed
EU consumption represents around 10% of global deforestation with palm oil, meat, soy, cocoa, eucalyptus, maize, timber, leather and rubber among the main drivers of deforestation, said the MEPs; traceability obligations for EU buyers of such products is urgent, they said.
And companies that fail to do the due diligence work, and subsequently place products on the EU market derived from commodities that endanger forests and ecosystems should face penalties, said the lawmakers.
Such an EU legal framework should also be extended to include high-carbon stock and biodiversity-rich ecosystems other than forests, including marine and coastal ecosystems, wetlands, peatlands or savannahs, to avoid pressure being shifted onto these landscapes, they added.
The Commission should also provide definitions of what constitutes deforestation and forest degradation, said the MEPs.
Commenting, rapporteur, Delara Burkhardt, a member of the group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EU Parliament, said “Everyone agrees that voluntary measures to halt and reverse global deforestation have failed. The adoption of this report gives us the chance to create a functioning and fair framework, based on mandatory due diligence. It is another important step towards halting and reversing EU-driven global deforestation.”
In a joint statement released today, FEFAC, FEDIOL and COCERAL, said: "Beyond voluntary initiatives, we agree with the EP that mandatory due diligence can accelerate sustainable transformation of supply chains at risk of causing deforestation: companies’ increased awareness and understanding of their supply chain, their elaboration of mitigation plans to provide remediation in case of identified problems and enhanced transparency of actions undertaken are supportive of such change.
"The scope of the obligations and the type of liability provisions are crucial to determine to what extent such EU regulatory measures will actually have an impact in tackling deforestation and human rights issues on the ground."
The EU grain and oilseed trade, crushing and feed industry representatives were more circumspect in their reaction though to the proposed sanctions in respect of a party's failure to carry out due diligence. "Currently there is no evidence that penalties as proposed by the EP will help incentivize positive measures and change practices on the ground in producing countries. On the contrary, it may prove counter-productive, leading companies towards less-regulated countries instead of contributing to a change in sustainable sourcing."
Saying they will continue to promote best sustainable practices along the whole soy value chain, FEDIOL, COCERAL and FEFAC urged EU policymakers to focus on the right policy mix combining non-regulatory and regulatory action to halt deforestation, which they said will make a measurable impact on the ground in producing countries.
"While we share the objective of achieving a halt in deforestation, we are concerned about the likely unintended consequences of the Parliament’s suggested provisions that seem more punitive than supportive. The EU risks considerably reducing the positive impact and the leverage it can have in third countries by pushing companies out of higher risk areas instead of building on the positive initiatives already in place," added Roger Janson, FEDIOL president.
“The Parliament's proposed measures to "clean up the supply chain in Europe" can backfire on ongoing voluntary European supply chain initiatives to promote and implement best sustainable production practices in "high-risk" regions. As responsible soy value chain partners, we remain strongly committed to incentivise producers in private public partnerships which have already shown tangible results to reduce deforestation," commented FEFAC president, Asbjørn Børsting.