By Maytaal Angel and Kate Abnett
LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Thursday called for the European Union to introduce laws to prevent the import of commodities and products linked to deforestation and human rights abuses.
The move comes as EU politicians face increased pressure from voters to combat climate change, and follows years of failed voluntary efforts by companies to combat deforestation through measures like third-party certification schemes.
Parliament, in a report adopted on Thursday, called on the European Commission to propose mandatory due diligence laws that would force companies to show that products they sell in the EU do not drive global deforestation and violate human rights.
The rules should apply to all businesses, including banks and investment funds, lawmakers said, with criminal and civil penalties for those that flout the rules.
"Voluntary commitments and opaque certifications are not enough," said EU lawmaker Delara Burkhhardt, who drafted the report.
"We need a European legal framework to prevent products that cause natural degradation and human rights violations from ending up on the European market."
Parliament's report lays the groundwork for EU legislation, due to be proposed by the Commission by next summer, to tackle deforestation-linked products sold in Europe.
If due diligence laws are adopted, companies like Nestle <NESN.S> and Danone <DANO.PA> might have to comply with them as early as 2024, a mammoth and costly task as they could be forced to trace every step in their supply chain, from smallholder farm level onwards.
"Today's vote is a watershed in the battle for the EU to end its role in destroying the world's forests," said forests and rights NGO Fern. "The Commission must follow parliament's lead."
The EU is responsible for over 10% of the deforestation linked to global consumption through its import of commodities such as meat, soy, palm oil and cocoa, and the products containing them, according to Commission data.
Emissions from the land use sector, most of which are caused by deforestation, are the second major cause of climate change after the burning of fossil fuels, the Commission said.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)