Every year, 21st March marks the International Day of Forests, a day created to celebrate and raise awareness on the important role forests play in our planet’s wellbeing, the examples of which are endless. But forests are also important for human wellbeing, providing homes and livelihoods for millions of people: a 2020 study found that approximately 1.6 billion of the world’s rural inhabitants live within five kilometres of a forest, and the World Bank measures that 350 million people depend on forests for sustenance and income. This means that the alarming rate at which we are losing forests due to commodity-driven and other types of deforestation is not only a serious environmental problem, but a human one as well.
However, the relationship between deforestation and human rights issues is sometimes not well-understood across the consumer goods industry and beyond. While environmental and social sustainability challenges are often viewed as part of separate fields, the reality is that in order to achieve a forest positive future, we also need to achieve a “people positive” future. This starts by understanding these issues are not mutually exclusive but instead inherently connected. Indeed, respect for human rights, in particular the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC), is a key enabler of the forest positive vision as these communities who own, occupy or use about a quarter of the world’s land — land which is home to 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity — are most intimately impacted by threats to forests and play a central role in protecting forests from them.
Unfortunately, many may do so at great personal risk: in many countries, the lack of formal land titles and legal protection for land and human rights defenders, and the insecurity surrounding IPLC Rights, are challenges both to forest conservation efforts and to the personal safety of those who try to defend them.
The mission of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Forest Positive Coalition of Action is to collectively act to help end commodity-driven deforestation by driving full-sector transformation for four key commodities through engaging with supply chain actors and supporting landscape-level interventions. Importantly, we are collectively and individually investing in programmes on-the-ground that are helping make the forest positive vision a reality for everyone, especially forest-based communities and peoples.
In doing so, we recognise that we cannot be successful in this work without including human rights in our forest positive strategy as a fundamental enabler to effective forest conservation. Still, we recognise that it remains a complex issue with many layers and factors. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving it, we do know that we — the consumer goods industry and beyond — must do more to understand these complexities in order to effectively drive actions that result in positive change.
As the Co-Leads of the Communications and Engagement Working Group of the Forest Positive Coalition, we believe that the first key step is engaging in constructive dialogues with communities, expert stakeholders, and governments. Only through honest and open dialogue can we bridge the knowledge gap around the deforestation-human rights relationship and ensure all actors are well aware of just why the stakes are so high. Our Coalition is therefore committed to engage in dialogues:
- With all relevant stakeholders and experts to ensure our strategy understands and integrates the valuable perspectives of voices from the ground – critical work we have already started and will continue with external groups and the CGF’s Human Rights Coalition – Working to End Forced Labour, and
- Amongst ourselves, so that we can ensure our Coalition is equipped with the necessary knowledge to use our collective voice to effectively address this issue; and
- Around our commitment to transparently report on progress in implementing NDPE (No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation) policies which Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for IPLC, zero burning, preventing poor working conditions, and preserving High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, High Carbon Stock (HCS) areas and peatlands.
Given the sensitive nature of these discussions, we need to ensure these dialogues are respectful of communities and their cultures, protect those who risk their lives to defend forests and the rights of their communities, and that all of those involved feel empowered to participate and act.
For this year’s International Day of Forests, we want to make clear that for our Coalition, the vision of a forest positive future is not solely founded on the ambition to stop deforestation and protect the world’s forests. It is also founded on fundamental respect for human rights, including the rights of IPs and LCs who are most impacted by forest degradation and play a central role in forest protection.
We believe that when we talk about forest positive, we must mean forest positive for all: that is the only way we will make a real, long-lasting difference and have healthy forests to celebrate in March for years to come. Focusing on just the environmental aspects of deforestation is not enough, and we invite our peers and stakeholders to join us in dialogue on this critical challenge.