The New York State Assembly took a crucial step towards approving the Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act on Wednesday, a bill intended to ensure that companies contracting with the state are not contributing to tropical deforestation and human rights abuses overseas. The governor should sign it into law without delay.
New York is the third largest economy among US states. Each year, it provides millions of meals to students in 1,800 public schools, uses large amounts of paper in its administration and in communications to residents, and builds public infrastructure requiring wood products. The bill would require that contractors for these and other services not source any soy, beef, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, wood pulp, paper, and wood products from land where deforestation or forest degradation occurred after January 1st, 2023.
Contractors would have to provide public data demonstrating how they addressed relevant risks in their supply chains and identify precisely where their products originated. Crucially, the bill requires that contractors ensure that agricultural commodities respect land tenure rights of communities, Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent, and workers’ rights.
Globally, industrial agriculture is the largest driver of tropical deforestation. And much industrial agriculture is rife with human rights abuses and environmental degradation. Among the abuses related to logging and industrial agriculture that Human Rights Watch documented in a number of countries are intimidation and violence against forest defenders, exploitative labor conditions – including forced and child labor and contamination of communities’ water sources – and workers’ and communities’ exposure to toxic pesticides. Human Rights Watch has also documented forced displacement of rural communities as their lands are converted to plantations and pastures.
The important steps towards a new New York law should inspire similar initiatives in other states. Currently, a separate bill pending in California would legislate deforestation-free procurement. A more wide-ranging bill at the federal level would restrict the import of agricultural commodities that are grown on illegally deforested land, or in violation of Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land rights.
The New York initiative should be just the beginning of greater efforts across the US to help protect tropical forests and the human rights of forest-dependent people around the world.