Curbing deforestation: Activists criticize UK due diligence rules, citing shortcomings

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/designer491
© GettyImages/designer491

Related tags due diligence Soy Palm oil Beef deforestation

The UK government has published details of its long-awaited Deforestation Due Diligence legislation.

However, there is still no timeline for when this add-on to the Environment Act 2021 will be enforced and the new laws do not take account of legal deforestation, note campaigners.

Palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather, and soy are to be included. Rubber, which the European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) recognizes as a forest-risk commodity, is excluded.

Businesses that have a global annual turnover of over £50m (US$63m) and purchase over 500 tons of such commodities a year are banned from using them if they are sourced from land cultivated illegally. These businesses will also be required to undertake a due diligence exercise on their supply chains and to report on this exercise annually for transparency.

The legislation follows a consultation process two years ago, the outcome of which informed policy decisions on the commodities in scope, thresholds and exemptions for businesses, enforcement of the regulations, transition phase, and variable monetary penalties.

Companies, whether those affected or service providers to such firms, will have a grace period to prepare for regulation before the beginning of the first reporting period.

Legislation ‘falls short’

Commenting, Gemma Hoskins, UK senior director at environment campaign group, Mighty Earth, said:

“This new UK legislation falls short on its ‘world-beating’ promise made by the UK government made at COP26. By failing to match the ambition of the EUDR, which seeks to end both legal and illegal deforestation, the UK government has left UK supply chains at continued risk of exposure to deforestation-linked products ending up on our supermarket shelves.

“This long-awaited secondary legislation only covers illegal deforestation, meaning Britain could become a dumping ground for products grown on legally deforested land. It is this “legal” deforestation, which is laying waste to the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, which has lost half of its land surface to the meat industry to grow soy for animal feed. Under Brazilian law two thirds of the Cerrado can be legally cleared for agriculture.

“This legislation also has a major loophole for businesses importing up to 500 tons of any forest-risk commodity who can apply for an exemption, meaning that deforestation-risk products will continue to enter UK supply chains.”

Call for swift implementation

Tanya Steele, CEO of the WWF, sees the legislation as an important first step to getting illegal deforestation off UK shopping shelves.

“However illegal deforestation is only part of the picture – with wildlife numbers plummeting and wild habitats facing destruction, we must stop felling forests, full stop. Forests absorb 30% of the carbon we emit from burning fossil fuels, so nature is clearly our greatest ally in tackling climate change.

“We haven’t a moment to lose to bring our world back to life and these measures must be implemented in Parliament as swiftly as possible.”

Alignment with EU plans

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the legislation would help retailers meet their ambitious targets on deforestation and enable a greater supply of deforestation-free products in the UK.

“Tackling deforestation requires global cooperation and we look forward to seeing further detail as to how the legislation will align with European proposals.”

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