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Why we need volunteers to help vital research work that will protect the world’s forests

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Defra services, User research

A tree canopy as viewed from below.

On the annual United Nations International Day of Forests, John Wiggins and Robbie Wilson explain how research volunteers will be key to the effective implementation of important new UK Government legislation aimed at protecting the world’s forests.

We are working on an exciting project to develop the UK’s Forest Risk Commodities regulations, vital legislation that aims to ensure there is no place on our supermarket shelves for products  sourced from land linked to illegal deforestation.

To implement this new legislation, we need to design a new online platform that will enable impacted organisations to comply with the regulations by submitting an annual report on their activities or an exemption from the regulations.

A call to action – we need your help

A key element of developing this platform relies heavily on our user research work. User research is critical for helping us to understand user behaviours, motivations, and needs.

It’s impossible to implement new legislation, or design new Government services, without the input and insight provided by those who will be impacted or who will use the service.

So, this blog is essentially a call to action, a ‘shout-out’ for people to volunteer their time to support our research as we begin to design this new online platform for impacted organisations.

The kinds of people we need to help with our research

This is a very important question. The Forest Risk Commodities Regulations make it illegal for in-scope organisations to use relevant cattle products, cocoa, soy, or oil palm, or products derived from these, produced on land that contravenes local land use laws. These four commodities are referred to as forest risk commodities.

Your organisation is in scope of the regulations if you:

  • have over £50 million in global annual turnover.
  • use regulated forest risk commodities in your UK commercial activity.

If your organisation is in scope, you must assess if your supply chain complied with land laws in the country of origin when producing these commodities. You will be required to assess risk of illegality in your supply chains, and to submit an annual report. This is referred to as a ‘due diligence system’.

However, if your organisation uses less than 500 tonnes of each commodity in a year, you may be eligible to file for an exemption from these requirements on the digital service.

So, we’re especially interested to hear from businesses and organisations who are likely to be impacted by the new regulations but eligible for an exemption, this is because they have a vested interest in ensuring our new digital platform meets their needs.

What you will be doing if you volunteer to support this work

There are a few different things you might potentially be asked to do if you volunteer your time. These might include:

  • Attending a small-scale webinar to explain the regulations and what they might mean for your organisation, as well as what actions will be expected from you with regard to the new regulations.
  • Receiving a copy of the current draft guidance and asked to conduct rough estimate calculations on your supply chains, using the information from the webinar and the guidance.
  • A 90-minute user research interview seeking your feedback on the digital service which organisations will use to comply with the regulations and submit an exemption.

Why this matters

If you support this research, you’ll be making a positive contribution towards protecting the habitats of some of the world’s most precious and endangered species, while also giving British shoppers assurance that the goods they buy are not contributing to deforestation that violates the laws and regulations of the countries where they come from.

Deforestation is a huge threat to rainforests, effectively the “lungs of the earth” because of their ability to absorb harmful gases and provide a home to thousands of animal and plant species.

The biggest driver of deforestation is agricultural expansion, with an area the size of the UK ploughed up each year to meet UK demand for commodities. Palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather, and soy are all products that are affected in this way. The new legislation aims to ensure that products such as these which we buy do not harm the world’s forests, whose canopies are rich in wildlife and help to tackle climate change.

How to get involved

We’d love to hear from you, so if your organisation is likely to be impacted by the new regulations, and you are interested in contributing to this vital research project, please get in touch.

We’d be very happy to set up an informal chat, to answer any questions you might have about your role in this research, and to explain what impact your contribution might make.

Further information

John Wiggins is a policy advisor and Robbie Wilson is a social researcher in the Forest Risk Commodities team in Defra’s International Biodiversity and Climate Directorate.

The United Nations annual International Day of Forests is a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests.

Between 2016 and 2018, WWF estimate that around 21 million hectares – an area almost the size of the UK – was required each year to meet UK demand for seven forest-risk commodities (FRCs) alone.

The Forest Risk Commodities Scheme will be introduced through provisions in Schedule 17 of the Environment Act 2021. Secondary legislation to operationalise these provisions will be laid when parliamentary time allows. This new due diligence legislation requires regulated businesses to establish and implement a due diligence system for any regulated commodity, and any products derived from them, that they use in their UK commercial activities.

The full list of commodities in scope is as follows: Non-dairy cattle products (beef and leather), cocoa, palm, soy. Organisations using these commodities in UK supply chains with a global turnover of over £50m are in scope of the regulations. Organisations whose use of the regulated commodities does not exceed the annual volume threshold of 500 tonnes may submit an exemption.

Legislation follows a consultation in 2021 on the implementation of the regulations. The consultation outcome informed policy decisions on the commodities in scope, thresholds and exemptions for businesses, enforcement of the regulations, a grace period and variable monetary penalties.

Organisations (whether in scope or as suppliers or service providers to organisations in scope) will have a grace period to prepare for regulation before the beginning of the first reporting period.   Unlimited Variable Monetary Penalties will be in place as part of civil sanctions.

Find out more about what we do in Defra Digital Data and Technology by visiting our LinkedIn page.


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