UK businesses will face substantial fines if they cannot prove their supply chains are free from illegal deforestation under new government plans.
The proposed law will require large companies to know the true origin of commodities such as palm oil, beef, and cocoa, and ensure they were produced in accordance with local laws.
Defra has launched a six-week consultation to seek views from various stakeholders, including the law’s potential impact on businesses. The size of the fines will be decided at a later date.
Tesco put forward similar proposals earlier this month, calling on government to mandate supply chain due diligence.
The government said the new law will make clear that illegally produced commodities “have no place in the UK market”.
But Greenpeace said the government’s plans to make businesses comply with local laws were “seriously flawed”.
“We’ve all seen the way [Brazilian] president [Jair] Bolsonaro has championed the expansion of agriculture in Brazil at the expense of the Amazon rainforest,” said Elena Polisano, a forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
“There is also nothing to address the fact that some commodity producers may have one ‘sustainable’ line but continue to destroy forests elsewhere, which just shifts the problem into someone else’s backyard.”
Deforestation accounts for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and customers are increasingly concerned of the links between food and illegal deforestation, especially in the Amazon.
An area equivalent to 88% of the UK’s land area was required each year to satisfy the UK’s demand for agri-food commodities between 2016 and 2018, according to a recent report by the WWF.
Last year, an independent taskforce, the Global Resource Initiative, was set up by the government to consider how the UK could “green” international supply chains.
Sir Ian Cheshire, the chair of the independent taskforce, said he was “delighted to see the government respond to one of the key recommendations of the Global Resource Initiative.”
“Every day, British consumers buy food and other products which are contributing to the loss of the world’s most precious forests.
“We need to find ways of reducing this impact if we are to tackle climate change, reduce the risks of pandemics and protect the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world.”
But one senior farming source argued levers closer to home should be prioritised in the fight against climate change to better enable British farmers to produce food with a lower carbon impact than is currently required.
International environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “Ahead of hosting the UN Climate Change Conference next year, the UK has a duty to lead the way in combatting the biodiversity and nature crisis now upon us.
“There has been a lot of progress already to make the UK’s supply chains more sustainable, but more needs to be done. We will continue to work closely with farmers, business and governments around the world to ensure that we can protect our vital forests and support livelihoods as we build back greener from coronavirus.”