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Economic pressure, not platitudes, is needed to protect Indigenous rights

Dean Foley -

A new European Union law that goes into effect in a couple of weeks will help protect Indigenous nations from being exploited by unscrupulous traders.

The law will protect the environment and Indigenous rights by ensuring key goods placed on the EU market no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and abroad.

This means that traders must ensure only deforestation-free products enter the EU market, and they will be required to collect geographic coordinates of the land where their commodities were produced. This strict traceability will ensure that only deforestation-free goods enter the EU market—and that authorities have the necessary tools to ensure that this is the case.

And the reason why is because the large-scale production of agricultural commodities is seen as the main driver of tropical deforestation by many forestry experts.

With this quick and decisive move, the European Union is positioning itself as the leader in international efforts to protect the environment, including forests and rainforests. And while the United Nations has called for positive change and for colonial states to respect Indigenous rights, the European Union has actually been able to take action and enforce rules that are beneficial to the environment and Indigenous people around the world.

And it's no small feat either because the EU imports more agricultural goods than any other region in the world after China.

With so many of its goods coming from Indigenous lands, the EU could have a significant effect on global forest conservation efforts by reducing its imports' deforestation footprint.

And although Europeans historically have not treated Indigenous peoples well, the new law is also a positive step forward for Indigenous rights because businesses must show they have obtained the free, prior, and informed consent of the Indigenous people whose land they are on, which aligns to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But when Indigenous lands continue to be stolen and conflicts over land tenure persist, the question of who owns the land could be disputed by colonial powers that do not recognise international Indigenous rights, a gap in the law that needs to be addressed.

While this new policy is a bit of a slap in the face for Indigenous people who have historically paid with their blood to defend the environment and protect against deforestation, it has some colonial states like Brazil worried.

Brazil and 13 other commodity-exporting countries sent a letter to the European Commission warning that the proposed restrictions could violate international trade treaties and argued that if the new laws restricted exports from their countries, it could cripple their economies.

The European Commission must have been amused to hear Brazil play the victim, when Brazil has a history of violating the rights of almost one million Indigenous people across 576 territories, covering over 117 million hectares of land. Brazil's warning was disregarded as the new law was passed anyway.

Commodity traders who wish to test the new law and fail to comply may be penalised up to 4% of their annual turnover in member states of the European Union. And while a 4% margin may seem small, commodity trades can have small margins; therefore, these new regulations could deliver a massive blow to traders who don't comply.

While the new trade law could improve upon its inclusion of Indigenous rights, it's promising to see the European Union include Indigenous people at all… who would have suspected that?

I remember hearing about Indigenous groups writing to the European Commission or speaking out in the media about being included in the new trade law but to be honest I didn't believe they had any chance because the imperial powers of the past had never cared about Indigenous people before.

I was wrong.

This sends a strong message to colonial states that countries will continue to adopt laws in the future which will negatively impact those states that do not support Indigenous rights - as laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

While advocacy and recommendations are important, economic pressure is what will force colonial states to respect Indigenous people.

Money talks.

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