FERN                            DEF0035

Written evidence submitted by Fern


Fern is an organisation based in the heart of the EU, dedicated to protecting forests and the rights of people who depend on them.  Our mission is to increase understanding of, and access to, European policy making; and to campaign for policies and practices in Europe that focus on forests and forest peoples’ rights and deliver economic, environmental and social justice. Since Fern was founded in 1995, Fern has worked on deforestation and forest-related campaigns related to certification, climate, consumption, development, and trade.


The effectiveness of UK efforts to reduce global deforestation


  1. In what ways and to what extent are UK value chains (in the form of public procurement, goods, services, or the private sector) contributing to global deforestation?


A rapid evidence synthesis identifying forest-risk commodities with the highest deforestation risk linked to UK imports can be found at this link: https://emeraldopenresearch.com/articles/3-22/v1.


There is also plenty of evidence and recent research available documenting for the role of commodities and international trade in driving deforestation including:

The EU's impact assessment on minimising the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/system/files/2021-11/SWD_2021_326_1_EN_impact_assessment_part1_v4.pdf

A study on rubber: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096098222031006X

A series of commodity specific fact sheets published by Fern:

1. cocoa fact-sheet - https://www.fern.org/publications-insight/eu-consumption-of-cocoa-and-deforestation-143/

2. rubber fact-sheet - https://www.fern.org/publications-insight/eu-consumption-of-rubber-and-deforestation-31/

3. Beef fact-sheet - https://www.fern.org/fileadmin/uploads/fern/Documents/Fern%20beef%20briefing%20paper.pdf

4. Soy fact-sheet - https://www.fern.org/publications-insight/eu-consumption-of-soy-and-deforestation-262/

5. Palm oil fact-sheet - https://www.fern.org/publications-insight/eu-consumption-of-palm-oil-and-deforestation-294/


  1. How effective are the measures to improve due diligence and ban imported products of illegal deforestation in the Environment Act 2021? Do these measures target the right sectors? Given that they do not extend to all products of deforestation, are they adequate?


Fern welcomes DEFRA’s Environment Act on due diligence for forest-risk commodities. This is a positive first step and shows that the UK wants to act on deforestation. However, the legislation needs to be more ambitious and inclusive in order to reduce the harm the UK inflicts on forest peoples and its complicity in deforestation when it imports products linked to forest risk commodities. Given the urgency to tackle the climate crisis and halt deforestation globally, the Government should propose and enact the secondary legislation without delay. The new legislation should enter into force no later than 12 months. This would be in line with the UK's commitments on forests and zero-deforestation dating back to 2012, especially its commitment to the UN SDGs which include targets to stop deforestation by 2020 and the more recent Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which was launched by the UK in November 2022 and endorsed by 141 world leaders.



Fern would appreciate if the committee will consider our concerns around the secondary legislation:


Our main concerns are the:

  1. Lack of a do-no harm, deforestation and forest degradation free approach
  2. Lack of inclusion of human rights and especially tenure and women’s rights
  3. Over reliance on certification
  4. Timeline foreseen to advance on legislation and therefore reduce deforestation
  5. Need to have a UK wide legislation
  6. Need to include forest degradation and ecosystems other than forests
  7. Reliance on a fine-based approach for enforcement
  8. Need for a review mechanism


  1. The current Act is limited to only address illegal deforestation. If the Act and secondary legislation put forward becomes primary legislation, it would not stop the UK’s complicity in deforestation. The UK has already signed up to numerous international statements that show its commitment beyond legality. Therefore, this legislation would not be consistent with current UK international statements.


Moreover, the UK already has an approach which asks businesses to go beyond definitions set in countries and regions outside of the UK. With the Ivory Ban, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as the Anti-Bribery and Wildlife Acts, the UK sets out the harms the legislation is intended to avoid and does not rely solely on definitions of legality in countries outside of the UK. This Act and secondary legislation should build on that approach and do the same. Like the Anti-Bribery Act, the UK should have a do no harm approach, rather than allowing deforestation to continue to be imported throughout the UK. The best way to reduce harm and to avoid complicity is to have a deforestation, forest degradation free standard. Furthermore, a substantial portion of deforestation occurs legally.


Fern hosted a series of webinars to get views about the UK’s Act and secondary legislation on due diligence from civil society organisations in producer countries. Over 100 participants attended, and it was rightly noted that in Brazil for instance, stakeholders can legally deforest and convert 88 million hectares (which is roughly four times the size of the UK and equivalent to 50 years of the UK’s 2019 emissions).


In many countries, especially highly forested countries, national and local laws are too weak, legally allowing rampant deforestation. If the UK Act and secondary legislation comes into force, the UK would then allow products linked to deforestation onto the UK market and continue to be complicit in deforestation worldwide.


In addition, there is active environmental deregulation in many countries from where the UK imports forest-risk commodities, such as Brazil and Indonesia. The amount of deforestation imported into the UK would likely increase after the legislation comes into place, as those countries continue to deregulate.


Moreover, it would become very difficult for UK businesses and the government to constantly assess and establish what is legal in other countries. In Brazil, there are dozens of environmental laws that are being challenged in this year alone.


Moreover, in many countries it is harder to assess if a product is produced legally than whether it contributes to deforestation (which satellite data is making easier to determine). Therefore, a deforestation and forest degradation free approach would not only help end the UK’s complicity in deforestation and forest degradation worldwide, it would also make it easier for businesses to comply with the legislation and for government to then enforce it (this is the reason why Fern answered ‘don’t know’ to multiple choice questions 2, 3, and 5 because the focus on laws from producer countries are not enough to meaningfully address deforestation, forest degradation and violations of human rights and there is no option to address this concern using the multiple choice options available).


  1. Regarding human rights and specifically Indigenous Peoples, tenure and women’s rights, the UK has already signed up to numerous pledges and statements such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and more recently the Leaders Pledge, which outline its commitment to Indigenous Peoples. Moreover, since 2018, the UK government has also increased its safeguarding requirements for UK aid, in order to ensure that vulnerable people are not harmed in projects funded by the UK government. We must ensure these proposed due diligence measures are consistent with the approach already taken by the UK government.


Moreover, it is impractical and near impossible to divorce environmental and human rights due diligence when 85% of forests are inhabited by forest peoples. UK laws must not disadvantage Indigenous Peoples and forest communities. The UK government can reduce harm by ensuring that issues such as free prior and informed consent as well as other human rights and tenure rights are included in this Act and secondary legislation.


5. Moreover, we would stress that this legislation needs to apply to the entire UK and not just to England. We are concerned because we know that certain elements of the Environment Bill may only apply to England and this legislation may be rolled into that Bill. In order to ensure the UK reduces the harm to forests and forest peoples, it needs to apply to the entire UK. In addition, the current Act and secondary legislation outlines that mandatory due diligence would apply to forests but does not concretely outline whether forest degradation is included and what other ecosystems may be included.


6. Fern recommends that forest degradation and that other ecosystems, such as grasslands, are included within the scope of this legislation. There are many reasons to include the above. For instance, tropical forest degradation releases around 14% of global carbon emissions. Secondly, many important ecosystems such as the Cerrado, which is the world’s most biodiverse savannah, stores 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, and has to date lost 50% of its area, would only come into scope if this Act and secondary legislation was extended to include grasslands.


7. Fern would like to stress that adequate law enforcement and monitoring are essential for any new regulation. The UK needs to ensure that the prospective legislation is robust and informed by other existing instruments such as the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), the UKTR, and the Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) carding system. Fern will publish a discussion paper about enforcement challenges and possible options for enforcement, based on lessons learnt from the EUTR and other legal tools. It is hoped this paper will contribute to further this discussion in the UK. Based on lessons learnt from the EUTR, Fern suggests that instead of fines, other penalties may be more effective for enforcement. Another lesson from the EUTR process is that having sufficient funding and mechanisms to support monitoring and enforcement is key. The UK also needs to support stakeholders from producer countries, to ensure that there are robust traceability systems that can determine whether a product has been linked to forest deforestation, forest degradation or human rights. Finally, Fern would also suggest that any piece of legislation that the UK moves forward on builds in a statutory review mechanism. As with any piece of legislation, this will ensure there is a proper review of efficacy and will be instrumental to ensure the legislation prevents UK businesses from importing deforestation. We hope these comments are useful and we remain on hand to answer any questions or issues of clarifications you may have.


In addition, the legislation should apply to “all” businesses. Size is often not determinate of the amount of imported deforestation for which a business is responsible. There are smaller businesses with large amounts of imported deforestation, such as Brazilian meat supplier JBS, that would not fall into the current scope of the Act and secondary legislation as written. Some countries have imposed mandatory obligations on businesses of a certain size. This means only a small number of businesses have to comply and that those companies remain complicit in deforestation. Moreover, Fern has analysed such countries’ obligations such as the French Devoir de Vigilance law and has found that when a legislation does not apply to all sizes of business it is hard for the government to regularly assess business size in order to identify which businesses come into scope. It also makes it hard for the businesses themselves to understand if they come into scope, and even harder for enforcement agencies and investigators to understand which businesses to hold account. It is clearer and more transparent to enforce a standard that applies to all businesses. If the scope is limited to larger businesses, it will also create a loophole, which could be circumvented by businesses setting up smaller sister companies. Furthermore, the UK is a member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and under OECD due diligence guidelines for responsible business conduct, all businesses should be included under the scope. The UK has already taken the approach of covering all businesses with regulations such the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) which is now replicated in UK law as the UK Timber Regulation. This approach creates a level playing field and ensures all businesses are treated equally.




  1. What role can sustainable certification and Government Buying Standards (GBS), have in tackling deforestation? How can the UK Government support the private sector to reduce its contribution to furthering deforestation?


Certification companies often operate in countries lacking good governance and law enforcement. This makes it difficult for them to comply with national and international laws, and to acquire and manage legal concessions without paying bribes. A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) for the Dutch consultancy IDH (the sustainable trade initiative) shows that forest certification in a country with poor governance and law enforcement is too difficult and costly. Certification cannot end deforestation on its own, legislation is also required.


It is extremely important that the UK supports the private sector, governments and civil society to strengthen governance through initiatives such as through the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). In the case of FLEGT for instance, FLEGT and certification can be complementary processes. However, certification alone is not enough. Fern has published multiple reports that outline the limitations of third-party certification. Fern strongly favours regulatory models and believes that while FSC, PEFC, and other certification systems can clean a room, FLEGT cleans the house.


Fern is also concerned about the UK’s due diligence Act and secondary legislation’s over-reliance on certification. Most NGOs in the UK and the EU do not advocate for additional labelling and certification processes. Labels and certification schemes put the burden on consumers instead of raising the bar for all and creating a level playing field which should is then respected by all private sector actors. Our partners also fear that a reliance on certification would overlook many elements of human rights and environmental protection. During the webinars we hosted on this consultation, our partners worried about the amount of time this legislation would take to come into force. If the implementation has a commodity-by-commodity approach, we fear that the full effect of the Act and secondary legislation could take a decade to be fully realised, even though most of the world’s deforestation will likely happen in this period.


Below is a list of relevant Fern publications and resources on certification:

  1. https://fern.org/publications/reports/behind-logo-environmental-and-social-assessment-forest-certification-schemes
  2. http://old.fern.org/campaign/certification-and-procurement
  3. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmenvaud/607/5110102.htm
  4. https://fern.org/closed-campaign/Certification
  5. https://fern.org/publications/reports/buy-or-not-buy-timber-procurement-policies-eu  
  6. https://fern.org/media/documents/document_1890_1900.pdf   
  7. https://fern.org/FSCposition
  8. https://fern.org/sustainablefuture
  9. https://fern.org/publications/press-releases/link-between-forest-destruction-and-eu-ecolabel    
  10. https://fern.org/pindodeli   
  11. https://fern.org/leavingFSC   
  12. https://fern.org/publications/recommended-reading/letter-asia-pulp-and-papers-lawyer-re-ferns-report-pindo-deli
  13. https://fern.org/publications/ngo-statements/statement-ngos-eu-ecolabel-and-asia-pulp-and-paper   


Working with international partners to tackle deforestation


  1. How effectively is the UK engaging with international partners to tackle deforestation? Is the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use an effective mechanism for halting and reversing forest loss? How can the UK ensure its £1.5bn commitment to the Global Forest Finance Pledge is used to best effect?


One of the most important and long-term funding mechanisms the UK has had to tackle deforestation is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Forest Governance Markets and Climate programme (FGMC). Whilst many programmes try to create quick climate solutions that are often ineffective in the long run, FGMC targets long term cooperative governance solutions. This programme is essential for tackling deforestation internationally. It has provided relatively flexible funding to international partners and has provided forums for partners to engage both in and outside of the UK. Fern would encourage this programme to continue because it provides essential funding to ensure that deforestation solutions come from the ground up. Whilst the UK has provided vital international funding in order to combat deforestation work wide, it also needs to provide more transparency on how funding for forests and climate is provided. This will allow international stakeholders to provide feedback on how the funding should be used and what works best in their countries.


Over the last few years, there also has been relatively good engagement with international partners under Lord Goldsmith’s leadership through the UK’s work on the Global Resource Initiative process, the Environment Bill and the various COPs. However, there are some ways in which the UK could improve work on deforestation through these processes. For instance, during the Global Resource Initiative process and in the following consultations on due diligence measures for forest-risk commodities, international partners were not given enough time to engage and participate in the process.  There were not many questions in the consultations in which civil society could provide sufficient input. Many of the multiple-choice questions do not allow for open answers and most of the questions in the consultation were relevant for businesses and not civil society. It would be helpful to have more space for civil society to provide their views. If there is a second consultation, there needs to be more support and guidance for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and small-holders from producer countries to enable them to respond to consultation. The consultation was only available in English and responses were only permitted in English. We would suggest that the UK uses a similar process as the EU, to enable translations of documents and submissions of responses in other languages. Since SMEs and small-holders in producer countries will be key to the successful implementation of this Act and secondary legislation, it is critical that their voices are heard (many of whom English is not their first language). The UK can develop processes to get direct input from these stakeholders because they often do not have access or capacity to engage in these high-level technical consultations. One way to do so is by engaging with producer forest forums and other roundtables. Development cooperation could also support technical assistance to small-holders and SMEs to build their capacities. All of these actions will help ensure more meaningful engagement of civil society moving forward.


It will also be pivotal for the UK to continue the level of leadership on forests that it showed at COP27. The Glasglow Declaration could become a great new tool to support IPLCs to halt and reserve forest loss, since they are the best and most knowledgeable caretakers of land. However, in order for the declaration to be a success on the ground the UK must provide information on the funding and structure the funding in ways that will strengthen IPLCs rather than burden then. For instance, the UK should provide public access to how the funds are used (in order to enable exchange and engagement on how the funds should be used and in order to make sure initiatives align), the funding should be created through new initiatives and not just through already existing programmes, and a portion of the funding should be unrestricted. It will be important when giving direct money to Indigenous Peoples and Local communities (IPLCs) to provide unrestricted funding, rather than the typical restricted funding that the UK has given. A lot of IPLCs do not have the resources to comply with the UK’s due diligence processes and need unrestricted funding to build the strength of their organisations.


September 2022