Washington, D.C., October  6, 2021: Global Witness welcomes the introduction of a new bill in the US Senate that seeks to put an end to the US’s complicity in illegal deforestation globally. Deforestation is a key driver of the climate crisis and Global Witness calls on Congress to swiftly pass this bill to keep climate-critical forests standing.  

The Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act, introduced by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), is the first of its kind in the US and would prohibit agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land from entering the US market. As one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural commodities, the US plays a key role in setting standards for trade and financing of these commodities.  

This bill presents an opportunity for the US to join international efforts to tackle global deforestation by cracking down on companies fueling deforestation through their global supply chains. As this bill highlights, to retain any authority on climate change, the US should ensure that US markets are not complicit in deforestation. 

The European Union and the United Kingdom are also in the process of developing legislation to stop companies using goods associated with deforestation.  

Large-scale agribusiness is the leading driver of deforestation around the world. Primary tropical forest loss continues apace - as climate breakdown intensifies with extreme weather patterns, flooding and record-breaking temperatures. Deforestation also has disastrous impacts on biodiversity, indigenous people and local communities. 

“The US has witnessed increasingly destructive hurricanes, tornados and wildfires. It’s becoming clear for Americans that tangible climate action cannot wait. Congress must act now by passing this bill, which would target one of the industries most complicit in deforestation around the world – agribusiness –  and ensure accountability of climate-wrecking industries,” said Alexandria Robins, Forests Advisor at environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness.  

In addition to keeping agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land out of the US market, the bill: 

  • Requires companies to carry out and report on risk-based due diligence, including supply chain traceability, on imports of commodities linked to deforestation; 
  • Prevents the United States financial system from being used to launder proceeds from illegal deforestation;
  • Increases US engagement with and support for countries taking meaningful steps to improve governance and reduce deforestation; 
  • Strengthens tools to tackle deforestation-related corruption and;
  • Establishes a federal government procurement preference for zero deforestation products. 

While this bill is a crucial first step in cleaning up US supply chains, US Congress must also target the financial lifeline of deforestation – namely the US based financial institutions bankrolling deforestation. The US is a significant source of financing for deforestation globally. According to Forest and Finance data, US banks invested around US$25 billion into forest-risk companies from 2013-2020. While this bill sets an important precedent for US companies, similar measures – specifically targeting financiers – are needed in the future to effectively curb deforestation.  

The US should seize the opportunity to be a leader in promoting good governance, protecting indigenous people, and end its complicity in the destruction of the world’s climate-critical forests. 

“Corporate commitments have failed to curb forest destruction – which is why we need Congressional leadership to ensure companies stop profiting from deforestation. The US government must hold companies and the finance industry accountable for the destruction of our planet and for devastating indigenous people and local communities,” said Alexandria Robins. 


Listing image: Lalo de AlmeidaPanos / Global Witness