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Commentary: Supply Chain Laws to Fight Deforestation Must Back Indigenous Rights

Efforts to save the world’s forests could soon get a boost from proposed laws in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States to restrict the import of agricultural commodities linked to deforestation. These three markets’ consumption of such products is a driver of a quarter of all deforestation linked to international trade.

Protecting carbon sinks—ecosystems like forests that absorb and store planet-warming gases—is crucial to address the climate crisis, so this is welcome news. But these proposed laws would be more effective if they also protected the rights of Indigenous peoples, who have proven to be among the most reliable forest custodians...

...This is not to say states should offload their responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to Indigenous peoples—only that they should recognize them as essential allies, uphold their land rights, and support their successful initiatives to monitor and reduce deforestation...

...Harvesting forest products is an integral part of many Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, and serves as a continuous incentive to protect forests, along with cultural and spiritual factors. Moreover, their traditional knowledge about forest management makes Indigenous peoples effective stewards of local ecosystems.

To play this role, however, these communities need protection from violence and intimidation, and from efforts to drive them off or deny them access to or control over their traditional territories.

The solution is laws that protect forests and people. At a minimum, laws that regulate imports of agricultural commodities should require businesses to ensure their products are not associated with acts of violence and intimidation against Indigenous peoples, abuses of their land tenure rights or failure to obtain their free, prior and informed consent to projects that may impair their rights. These laws should bar agricultural commodities credibly alleged to be linked to abuses of these rights from entering markets.

This would require businesses to identify where the agricultural commodities they use in their products come from, assess the risk their operations pose to Indigenous peoples’ exercise of their rights, and mitigate these risks. They should ensure that communities’ consent is sought in good faith when business activities affect them and conduct local audits to determine whether their mitigation measures are effective, including by consulting forest guardians...

Part of the following stories

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