Proposed UK due diligence deforestation law currently leaves extensive areas of forest and other habitats vulnerable to clearance driven by UK supply chains

20th September 2021

New analysis conducted by 3Keel and Environment Systems for WWF UK shows that proposed measures in the forthcoming Environment Bill intended to tackle deforestation associated with UK supply chains are likely to have limited impact due to the narrow scope of their coverage.

The analysis, detailed in the report Due Negligence (published end of August), evaluates proposed measures in the Environment Bill that would make it mandatory for large companies to carry out due diligence checks to ensure there is no illegal deforestation associated with their supply chains for forest-risk commodities and derived products.

However, as currently drafted, the measures apply only to deforestation classified as illegal according to local laws in the producer country, which leaves millions of hectares still vulnerable to clearance. In areas of Brazil that supply soy directly to the UK, for example, over 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation – an area larger than Wales – could potentially be legally converted under current local laws.

The dependence on using legal definitions of deforestation raises critical challenges. Although satellite imaging can identify whether an area has been cleared, proving whether that action was illegal involves navigating complex legal frameworks in producer countries and coming up against limited data availability and transparency. This makes the proposed UK due diligence regulation extremely difficult for companies to comply with, and for the UK government to enforce in practice.

The law is also only as strong as local laws. There is the risk that the economic incentive of expanding production may lead producer countries to weaken local laws, opening up larger areas of forest to clearance and conversion. There are already examples of this; a controversial bill currently going through the Brazilian Congress (PL 2633/20) gives amnesty to land grabbers who have illegally invaded and deforested public lands.

Critically, the current measures also only cover forest habitats, leaving vast areas of valuable non-forest natural ecosystems (NFNEs), such as the biodiversity-rich Cerrado where a third of species are unique to the region, at continued risk of clearance or conversion.

3Keel supports WWF UK’s call on the UK government to strengthen the due diligence measure in the upcoming Environment Bill, and on businesses to deliver on their commitments to eliminate all deforestation and ecosystem conversion and human rights abuses, across their entire supply chains.

Click here for the summary report