CJC’s reponse to Defra consultation on ‘implementing due diligence on forest-risk commodities’ – Schedule 17 of the Environment Act

Despite the efforts made by civil society groups, an amendment tabled in the Commons in 2020, a series of interventions by Peers during report stage, and several amendments being put forwards in the House of Lords, Schedule 17 leaves very significant and concerning gaps in human rights protections due to:

  • The lack of reference in primary legislation to international human rights law obligations.
  • The severely limited ‘due diligence system’ that is not in step with authoritative frameworks such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines), which go beyond risk-mitigation and require preventative and remedial actions.
  • The lack of liability and access to justice for victims.

This is a missed opportunity for rights-holders including indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities who will continue suffering human rights violations at the hands of agri-business, such as land dispossession, failure to gain their free, prior and informed consent, and non-respect for their right to self-determination. The lack of human rights protection in Schedule 17 also disregards the dire situation of human rights, land and environmental defenders.

It is also a missed opportunity to support poverty reduction amongst smallholder farmers who represent some of the poorest families worldwide – a consequence of unquestioned business models predicated on unfair pricing, trading and purchasing practices. The risk-mitigation approach set down in primary legislation is highly likely to result in unintended negative consequences for smallholder farmers as downstream actors ‘cut and run’ to reduce their risks of non-compliance with the law.

We – the Corporate Justice Coalition, an independent UK charity – recognise that there are some opportunities to incorporate some minimal human rights safeguards into secondary legislation and we offer suggestions to this end within the responses to certain questions in the consultation. However, we believe that due to the constraints of the primary legislation, meaningful inclusion of human rights is no longer possible in Schedule 17 and a new law that brings human rights and the environment together from its inception is urgently required.

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