The hidden human rights abuses linked to deforestation

Insight / 26 Jul 2022

There is almost an inevitable human impact from deforestation – forests provide homes and livelihoods for many communities. They are a way of life for many, providing food and plants for medicinal use, materials for building and utensils, and land for growing forest crops.

In some parts of the world, the communities who live in and from the forests may not “own” the forest they depend on – their land rights may not have been formally recognised, despite generations having lived there. Ownership may be disputed, or simply disregarded by those that come to clear the trees – with violence and even death threatening those who try to defend their homes.

Additionally, more than a third of the companies with the greatest exposure to deforestation do not have any policies or commitments on human rights covering their supply chains. This means not enough is being done to protect the local communities, including Indigenous communities, who are affected when forests are cleared.

Our latest Forest 500 briefing looks at how the most influential companies in forest-risk supply chains perform on human rights. We look in particular at whether companies are committed to ensuring the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of communities – and whether the company commits to refrain from land acquisition and development in the case of land conflict.

We also look at the human rights of workers producing forest-risk commodities (beef and leather, soy, palm oil, timber, and pulp and paper) because there are still too many cases of cattle ranches using slave labour and of palm oil plantations using forced labour. Child labour is common on palm oil plantations, and there have been reports that female workers are vulnerable to sexual assault.

Our analysis shows that too few companies are taking action to protect human rights – and that companies in beef and leather supply chains perform particularly badly.

Just 26 of the 350 companies assessed have a commitment to refrain from development in the case of land conflict.

And far too few of the companies producing and processing beef and leather, soy, palm oil and pulp and paper have a commitment on labour rights – even though many of the companies further up the chain that buy from them, do have commitments in place.

Even fewer companies monitor their supply chains to ensure their commitments are implemented.

“And the companies who manufacture or sell these products should be doing more to ensure their supplies are not tainted by human rights abuses – they need to be working with their suppliers to eliminate these abuses. Respect for human rights should be a minimum requirement.”

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