The UK’s Environment Bill includes an important provision which could establish world leading legislation to tackle the country’s complicity in global deforestation.

Schedule 16 introduces a prohibition on the use of certain commodities associated with illegal deforestation, and requirements for large companies to undertake due diligence and reporting.

While this provision is a step in the right direction, there are several ways it could be strengthened. As the Environment Bill returns to Parliament, our parliamentary briefing lays out the three key changes that should be made to ensure Schedule 16 effectively tackle’s the UK’s role in global deforestation:

1) Tackle the role of UK finance

Despite the recommendations of the UK government-appointed Global Resource Initiative Taskforce, the bill does not currently address the financing behind deforestation.

Global Witness’s research has found that financial institutions are failing to act on extensive evidence of deforestation risk associated with their financial activities, and will not do so unless required to by law.

We believe the bill should be strengthened to eliminate deforestation from the UK’s financial markets. 

2) Protect forest defenders

Currently, the law does not specify the need to ensure consent by forest communities and indigenous people. Whilst the provision rightly references the need for companies to ensure that local laws are respected, this overlooks the 80% of indigenous and community lands that do not have secure legal rights.

Indigenous peoples are some of the most at-risk communities across the globe, and at a disproportionate risk of reprisals. Between 2015 and 2019 over a third of all fatal attacks against land and environmental defenders have targeted indigenous people – even though they only make up 5% of the world’s population.

We believe the bill should require companies to ensure that free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) has been obtained from affected indigenous peoples and local communities.

3) Close legal deforestation loopholes

Schedule 16 introduces an important requirement that businesses must not use certain forest risk commodities in their UK commercial activities unless relevant local laws were complied with in relation to that commodity.

This is an important first step, but it excludes half the problem, since only approximately 50% of tropical forest destruction is defined as ‘illegal’ under local country laws. This creates a concerning loophole that risks limiting the effectiveness of the legislation.

The government should clearly define the harms the law is intended to stop UK support for by establishing a single definition of deforestation that draws on international standards and applies to all UK sourcing. This single standard approach would also be easier for businesses and communities to understand and uphold.

This page was updated on 2 June 2021.