National Certification Schemes To Ensure Sustainability of Consumer Goods

  • European MEPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new law to hold corporations responsible for the integrity of their operations.
  • The abject failure of the New York Declaration on Forests has shown that voluntary pledges and commitments do not work.
  • Will an EU regulation on forests and human rights do better?

As quoted in The Guardian, “Lara Wolters, the Dutch MEP who acted as rapporteur, said:

“This new law on corporate due diligence will set the standard for responsible business conduct in Europe and beyond. We refuse to accept that deforestation or forced labour are part of the global supply chains. Companies will have to avoid, and address, harm done to people and planet in their supply chains.”

The report also quoted Jill McArdle, corporate accountability campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, as saying:

The era of European companies being allowed to wreck the planet and destroy livelihoods with impunity is coming to a close. This proposal would mean companies like Shell can no longer shirk responsibility in the EU for the harms they cause abroad. [It] is a step towards corporate justice…that human rights and environmental violations, such as illegal logging and forced evictions, are treated as crimes so that companies can be tried under the law.”

The grandiose ambitions of this proposed law to protect vulnerable peoples and forests is admirable but overtly simplistic. It is easy enough to declare that we must all protect the planet and its vulnerable peoples but how should this be done?

Putting the onus on corporations is the worst possible decision for the MEPs. The thing is that even if individual corporations were to excel in meeting the demands of this proposed law, there is no guarantee that the communities of the High Conservation Value forests they own will be spared by the next guy. Say for example, an FCMG company uses only coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and sugar for its products and does its due diligence to ensure the sustainability of its supply chains. Even with its due diligence, there is no guarantee that the forests will be spared by another corporation that may deal only in soy as cattle feed for non-EU countries.

Fragmented Policies Will Not Solve The Problems

The EU may lead in commitments for a sustainable planet but it must acknowledge that its influence is not global.

Grandstanding with this new proposal to hold corporations accountable for deforestation or climate change and human rights abuses will do little to add to the efforts of Europe based corporations which have already led the way in the procurement of sustainable raw materials.

An approval of the proposal by the EU Parliament may only serve to clarify its position as an elitist society where countries that have struggled to develop are punished for being late in development.

These include forest rich countries in Africa and Southeast Asia which have only their natural resources and impoverished citizens to work with. How should the EU look upon child labor in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo that could be supplying sources for renewable energy? How should the Union address the environmental impacts of wind and solar energy in its transition away from fossil fuels? How should the Union address forced labor for coffee? How should candy makers solve the problem with deforestation in their chocolates?

These are problems which the MEPs have obviously not considered in their overzealous effort to protect forests and people in non-EU countries.

The group’s call for the EU to support smallholders towards meeting their suggestions would be welcome by palm oil producing countries which have been supporting them in the drive to include them in the ISPO and MSPO. Smallholders are an integral part of the industry and hence supporting smallholders should and can only be done if discriminatory policies and regulations against palm oil are removed.

Global Sustainability Can Be Achieved Through Holistic Approach Towards “FERCS”

The recent criticisms of voluntary certification by Greenpeace Europe serves to punctuate the need for a holistic approach to reduce the negative environmental and human impacts of global commodities.

“It has become clear that relying only on corporate, voluntary or market-based initiatives won’t put an end to the destruction driven by our consumption. New and more comprehensive action is needed by the EU and national governments.”

The suggested inclusion of all forest-and-ecosystem-commodities (FERCS) in timber, beef, soy and palm oil among other commodities under one EU regulation governing FERCS makes more sense than throwing the responsibilities to private corporations under due diligence.

It will be G2G agreements, via legally binding trade deals between producer and consumer countries like the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Regulation which will prove to be effective. This can be evidenced by the report on reduced deforestation in Indonesia, Ghana and Cameroon due to FLEGT.

G2G agreements will facilitate the smoother flow of sustainably produced goods by removing the multiple hurdles which private corporations would have to jump in order to meet the proposed EU legislation.

Malaysia for example, has established certification systems for its rubber and timber exports and recently added certification for its palm oil under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil scheme to round up national certifications for its agricultural exports.

Similarly in Indonesia, the implementation of the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil scheme has served to remove any questions on the quality of its palm oil. The big export facing producers of Indonesian palm oil now boast of 100% certification of their palm oil through the RSPO and the ISPO, thus removing the dubious quality of “mass balance” supply chains which Greenpeace stated should be disallowed.

It must be noted here that the suggestion by Greenpeace for transparency and traceability already exists in the Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil supply chains for the EU.

The group’s call for the EU to support smallholders towards meeting their suggestions would be welcome by palm oil producing countries which have been supporting them in the drive to include them in the ISPO and MSPO. Smallholders are an integral part of the industry and hence supporting smallholders should and can only be done if discriminatory policies and regulations against palm oil are removed.

There should not be any doubt that Indonesia and Malaysia are fully supportive of a comprehensive action as their commitments to preserve forests and biodiversity stand proven despite alarmist reports. After all, such actions are integrated into the national policies of both countries.

Protecting Biodiversity from EU to ASEAN

By comparison, most commodities produced in the EU are not certified sustainable. Farmers only fill a form to declare that they abide to a checklist which is supportive of good agricultural practices in order to qualify for CAP subsidy. This is not equivalent to certification for sustainable production of rapeseed for example.

If deforestation for agricultural development is deemed as unsustainable, it should not matter when the deforestation took place. The excessive deforestation in the EU agriculture in the past can be easily corrected for the future with reforestation. In order for the EU to reach for sustainable agricultural production, reforestation must be promoted and the carbon capture capacity of the reforested land re-established. This way, there will be equitable contributions to carbon capture of the forests and equitable use of land for agriculture in developed and developing countries to ensure sustainable agriculture globally.

Palm oil producing countries are ready and willing to engage the EU fully in creating a sustainable future for all. The on-going discussions in the EU-ASEAN Joint Working Group on vegetable oils will hopefully become a model of intergovernmental co-operation to find solutions to global problems.