December 2023, London –
More than two years after the passage of the Environment Act, the UK government
today announced which forest-risk commodities can no longer be imported to the
UK if they were produced on illegally deforested land.
The law will mean that importers bringing in cattle products (beef and leather), soy, oil palm and cocoa to the UK will have to make a declaration showing the commodity was not produced on illegal deforested land. It is set to apply to businesses with at least £50 million in global turnover who “use” more than 500 tonnes of a regulated commodity in their operations, with companies who break this law also facing “unlimited variable monetary penalties”.
Despite widespread support in a consultation by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the law last year, the government has not included coffee in the list of commodities – unlike the EU’s regulation. Global Witness’s analysis with Trase shows that UK coffee was responsible for forest loss equivalent to around four times the size of Glastonbury Festival between November 2021 and July 2023 alone. This puts coffee in the top five UK deforestation risk commodities by estimated impact in the study, which looked at direct commodity imports only.
The announcement made at COP28 comes just days after seven UK supermarkets signed a letter calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to introduce the legislation. They urged him to live up to the landmark international agreement to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 brokered by the UK at COP26 in Glasgow.
Global Witness is now calling on the government to lay the regulations before parliament as soon as possible to prevent further delays because of the grace period before they enter into force, and to consider ways to expand the law to cover all deforestation (including deforestation that forest-rich countries allow).
Alexandria Reid, Senior Global Policy Advisor at Global Witness, said:
“We welcome the news that the government has finally announced the sorely needed list of deforestation commodities after years of pressure from NGOs, with most key commodities covered. Yet company turnover and local legality loopholes will still leave goods tainted with deforestation on our supermarket shelves. The fact that coffee is not on the list leaves a bitter aftertaste. Ministers need to add this product as soon as possible so the UK public can rest assured their morning brews are deforestation-free.
“This leaves the UK lagging far behind the EU, which earlier this year passed its own law covering all deforestation regardless of whether it is illegal in the source country. We urge Ministers to strengthen these laws to ensure we end commodity-driven deforestation by the 2025 global deadline.”
Last month, Global Witness published data showing that UK imports of seven commodities, including all five from the new list, were responsible for 20,400 hectares of deforestation in the two-year period of delay in bringing forward the regulations – an area almost twice the size of Paris.
The new law also does not cover the UK financial sector funding businesses responsible for illegal deforestation overseas. However, the introduction of the regulations will kickstart a nine-month review by the Treasury on how to prevent UK banks from investing in these deforesting companies.