The UK announced planned rainforest protection measures on Tuesday that would fine larger businesses if they use products in their supply chains that were grown on illegally deforested land.
The proposed law, designed to clean up UK supply chains, would require businesses operating in the country to perform “due diligence” and publish details of where commodities such as cocoa, palm oil, and soy originate from, the government said in a statement.
“There is a hugely important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint,” said International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith. “We can’t afford not to act as a country [to protect forests].”
Under proposed new rules, larger companies operating in the UK would be breaking UK law if they do not comply with local laws that protect the natural environment in places such as the Amazon rainforest.
Key commodities under scrutiny in supply chains would include soya beans, cocoa, rubber, beef, and palm oil.
Non-compliant UK companies making “illegally produced commodities that have no place in the UK market” would face fines, the levels of which have yet to be set.
The government is conducting a six-week international consultation on the proposed law.
It will then make a formal response to feedback from countries around the world and set the level of fines for non-compliance with the measures that are designed to protect natural ecosystems.
Along with “extreme weather events” and “biodiversity loss,” the government announcement linked deforestation to the “spread of infectious diseases.”
Researchers think that as humans move into previously undeveloped areas to farm, they and their livestock come into contact more often with animals like bats, rodents, and primates, making the spread of diseases from animals to humans more likely. These kinds of animals are also more likely to thrive in altered environments.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bird flu, and Ebola are examples of diseases thought to have originated in animals.
“The evidence linking deforestation with … biodiversity loss and the spread of zoonotic diseases is compelling. A new law is an important part of the solution and is urgently needed,” Ruth Chambers from Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organizations, said.
Tuesday’s announcement is a response by the UK government to the Global Resource Initiative taskforce convened in July last year in which leading businesses and environmental groups discussed how to slow down deforestation and reduce the environmental impact of key UK supply chains.
“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,” Lord Goldsmith said.