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New York Takes Step to Reduce its Contribution to Deforestation

New Legislation Would Keep State Supply Chains Free of Rights Abuses

Deforestation due to plant palm oil plantations near Sandakan city, State of Sabah, North Borneo Island, Malaysia, August 5, 2019.  © 2019 Emy/Abaca/Sipa USA via AP Images

On April 25, the New York Senate approved the Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, a bill intended to ensure that companies contracting with the New York state government are not contributing to tropical deforestation and human rights abuses overseas. Now the bill will need to be voted on in the New York Assembly, and if approved, signed into law by the governor.

Under the bill, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger, the state of New York would require its contractors to ensure that any soy, beef, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, wood pulp, paper, and wood products are not sourced from land where deforestation or forest degradation occurred after January 1st, 2023. Contractors would also have to ensure that these agricultural commodities are not related to violations of workers’ rights, land tenure rights, and Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent.

The bill would also require contractors to publicize data demonstrating they addressed relevant risks in their supply chains and identified precisely where their products originated.

Globally, industrial agriculture is the largest driver of tropical deforestation. Much industrial agriculture is rife with human rights abuses and environmental degradation. Among the abuses Human Rights Watch has documented in a number of countries are exploitative labor conditions – including forced and child labor, contamination of communities’ water sources, and dangerous air pollutionworkers’ and communities’ exposure to toxic pesticides, and forced displacement of rural communities as their lands are converted to plantations and pastures.

New York is the third largest economy among US states and its government provides millions of meals, which include ingredients covered by the bill, every year to students in 1,800 public schools, uses large amounts of paper in its administration and communication to New Yorkers, and builds public infrastructure requiring wood products.

Approval of this regulation would create impetus towards the approval of similar state and federal initiatives, such as a bill for deforestation-free procurement in California and a more wide-ranging federal bill, which were first proposed in 2021 but are yet to be voted on. By leveraging its market share to reward contractors that ensure their supply chains are free from rights abuses and deforestation, New York state would be a leader in contributing to fairer, more sustainable business practices.

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