Drone image of rainforests cleared for oil palm, Pomio District, East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea

Briefing / June 5, 2020

Strengthening Corporate Responsibility

The case for mandatory due diligence to tackle the UK’s global deforestation footprint

While the UK government grapples with multiple immediate challenges related to COVID-19, resilient, sustainable supply chains and finance will be crucial for a green and fair recovery.

As the Environment Bill makes its way through the UK Parliament, read this critical briefing from Global Witness & Client Earth

Strengthening Corporate Responsibility: The case formandatory due diligence to tackle the UK’s global deforestation footprint (392kb, PDF)

We know forests are crucial for building resilience in a post-COVID world - both locally and globally.

While the exact cause and transmission of COVID-19 remains unknown, we do know that keeping forests standing can help protect us against zoonotic diseases that pass from animals to humans and could cause future pandemics. Taking action to protect global forests is crucial, not just for communities and biodiversity in the Amazon and Congo Basin, but in the UK too.

Not only that, but the time has surely come to rebuild an economy that takes responsibility for its global environmental footprint and works with communities, not against them.

The UK’s global deforestation footprint

The UK’s deforestation footprint is massive. The country's imports of forest-risk commodities – such as beef, palm oil and timber – require an area nearly the size of the UK to produce. Much of that land is in countries with high rates of deforestation which is often linked to agribusiness expansion.

Here at Global Witness, we found that between 2013 and 2019, UK-based banks and investors backed six massive agribusiness companies involved in the deforestation of tropical forests to the tune of £5bn.

We now know that businesses that take greater heed of social or environmental concerns are likely to be more resilient in turbulent times. Not only that, but as climate breakdown threatens increased flooding and temperatures in the UK, global leadership will bring crucial results at home too.

In March, the government-appointed Global Resource Initiative taskforce recommended that the government introduce a mandatory due diligence obligation requiring businesses - including finance - to identify, mitigate, prevent and report on environmental and human rights risks and impacts. This would make deforestation-free supply chains and finance the new norm in the UK. The taskforce includes businesses that themselves are feeling the heat from consumers, and new laws would help ensure that all businesses are playing by the same rules.

As we emerge from the current crisis, the UK government can demonstrate climate leadership by taking concrete action to tackle its role in deforestation, environmental harm and human rights abuses through the introduction of mandatory due diligence legislation through the Environment Bill.

What would mandatory due diligence achieve?

It would set an unambiguous signal that the UK government and businesses are aligned on keeping our global forests standing, and that countries producing forest-risk commodities have more to gain from sustainable agriculture that respects forests than unravelling forest protections.

Drawing on lessons from Global Witness and ClientEarth’s combined experience of due

diligence in operation across a range of sectors, our new briefing sets out the key components that should be included in such due diligence legislation, requiring businesses to conduct checks on their financing and supply chains to identify, prevent, mitigate and report on deforestation risks and impacts, and associated human rights abuses.

Read the briefing from Global Witness & Client Earth

Strengthening Corporate Responsibility: The case formandatory due diligence to tackle the UK’s global deforestation footprint (392kb, PDF)

Contacts

Shona Hawkes

[email protected]

Jo Blackman, Forests Advocacy and Policy Team Leader

[email protected]

+44 (0)7912 517 126