Fairtrade raises concerns for farmers rights relating to new UK Environment Bill

The Fairtrade Foundation is seeking greater assurances from the UK government over its new Environment Bill, which delivers due diligence measures banning British firms from selling products with a connection to deforestation overseas, writes Neill Barston.

According to the global charity, it is looking to ensure the latest legislation is established to help provide related internationally recognised human rights standards for those working within key agricultural operations such as the cocoa sector.

As the UK government explained, its latest bill is linked to a new report setting out its approach to addressing deforestation linked directly to British demand for products including cocoa, soya and palm oil, which are widely used in snacks and confectionery.

Furthermore, according to the government, its measures will target greater resilience, traceability and sustainability being built into UK supply chains through partnership working with countries, as well as supporting farmers to adapt to more sustainable food and appropriate land use. Its research into creating its policies received 60,000 responses to a key consultation on the issue.

The government noted that presently, 80% of deforestation is linked to the expansion of agriculture, with land being cleared to make way for grazing animals and to grow crops, and its latest policy has been devised in acknowledgement that over half of food consumed in Britain is imported, which in turn has an impact on forests through sourcing demands.

Speaking on the new UK legislation, The Fairtrade Foundation’s Policy and Advocacy Manager, Alice Lucas, said: ‘While we welcome the government’s announcement today to introduce a law to tackle deforestation in company supply chains as part of the Environment Bill, we are keen to ensure that any due diligence legislation is robust, producer focused, ensures smallholder farmers and workers do not lose out, and is effective in ensuring compliance with meaningful impact.

‘Despite submissions to the consultation from ourselves and civil society partners, we remain concerned that the government continues to press ahead with a law that will only hold companies to account in line with local laws, which may be weak or ill-enforced. We are also concerned that the new law would not include action on human rights abuses, and only covers illegal deforestation – as we highlighted in our consultation response, national laws in some commodity-producing countries are not yet effective in preventing deforestation, so we now risk seeing a situation where companies remain complicit in unacceptable levels of deforestation while claiming compliance with the UK law.’

Commenting on the new Bill, International Environment Minister, Lord Goldsmith, noted that greater environmental protection in terms of tackling deforestation in key sourcing locations was a major issue.

He said: “In every conceivable way we depend on the natural world around us. Rainforests cool the planet, provide clean air and water, and are a haven for some of the most endangered species on Earth – and so protecting them must be a core priority.

“Our new due diligence law is one piece of a much bigger package of measures that we are putting in place to tackle deforestation. Our intent is not just to take world-leading domestic measures, but to build a global alliance of countries committed to working together to protect the world’s precious forests.”

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