According to research published by the European Commission last year, the European Union (EU) is the world's biggest importer of “embodied deforestation”, products linked to deforestation caused by the trade and consumption of forest commodities such as soy, palm oil, biofuel, meat, leather and biomaterials from tropical countries.
Almost parallel to the production of the Commission Report, Forest Peoples Programme carried out a global scoping study to identify options and possibilities to reform global forest product supply chains. This built on work already carried out on palm oil in Indonesia and Africa and advocacy in key fora such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The study is the result of a thorough review of public and private sector initiatives, from procurement policies, to financing guidelines, public and private partnerships, roundtables, voluntary standards, as well as interviews with NGOs, indigenous and community partners and research institutions.
The study identified the EU as a key forum to target for the introduction of strong, effective and verifiable standards on legality and respect of rights in supply chains. Other possible options were listed, including targeting the finance and investors sectors through mechanisms such as the UN Responsible Investment Principles and its Investors Working Group on Palm Oil Financing, which show a significant degree of concern over the effective implementation and verification of standards. Since then, Forest Peoples Programme has worked with a group of European NGOs such as FERN, to inform and educate key European policymakers, the EU Commission and newly elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to commit to develop and adopt an EU action plan on deforestation.
A joint letter signed by a dozen European human rights, indigenous and forest peoples’ rights and environmental NGOs was sent in September last year to all relevant MEP committees and similar letters were sent to relevant Commissioners after their nomination. The need to adopt such a plan was already advocated in the 5th European Environmental Action Plan and the EU also signed the declaration on forests at the UN Climate Summit in New York, September 2014, committing to contribute to halt deforestation globally by 2030 and reduce it by 50% by 2020. The research carried out by the Commission (“Impact of the EU Consumption on deforestation”) reports that an area of at least 9 million hectares of forest was lost in the period 1990-2008. Similar results were contained in FPP's ‘Securing Forests, Securing Rights’ report sent to key MEPs to reiterate the call for a rights-based deforestation action plan.
The Palangka Raya Declaration on Deforestation and the Rights of Forest Peoples urges the EU to halt the trade in products derived from deforestation and land grabs and to further aid tropical forest countries to implement measures to protect forest peoples’ rights. Adopted in March 2014, it was signed by dozens of indigenous and forest peoples organisations, NGOs and individuals among others.
The Declaration also underlines the urgent need for the EU to ensure that legality definitions and legality assurance systems for commodity supply chains incorporate and uphold countries' international and domestic human rights obligations. Enforcing a select number of unjust and unsustainable laws would otherwise potentially undermine the legitimate environmental and social objectives of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.
The EU should ensure that the full range of deforestation drivers are addressed through a deforestation action plan to ensure that its current policies and programmes (such as the FLEGT VPAs and EU Timber Regulation) are effective and fully incorporate international and domestic human rights standards and obligations related to the legality of timber. In 2015, FPP will participate in the forthcoming 'FLEGT week', taking place in Brussels in March and in subsequent consultations concerning the review of the FLEGT action plan. Prior to those events, FPP will also be convening workshops on the theme of ‘legality and FLEGT’ in Cameroon and Guyana.