It’s early morning at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, the heart of Europe, far away from the raging fires in the Amazon. A group of activists has been awake for hours already. It was still dark when they started their climb up on the 14-storey headquarter in which European leaders make decisions that have impacts across the globe. 

The activists’ goal? To hold the political leaders of Europe accountable for their complicity in the destruction of forests and to demand action. Arriving at the top of the building, they unroll a massive banner, and for a moment, the Amazon is very close. Its burning trees, the plight of the animals whose home is the forest, and the fight of indigenous people for their future cannot be ignored anymore. The activists brought ashes, as a symbol of the destruction, and opened their hands to let them be carried away by the wind.

Five activists scaled the 14-storey European Commission headquarters in Brussels to hang a 30m banner revealing the Amazon in flames, with the message: “Amazon fires – Europe guilty”. Credit: © Johanna de Tessières / Greenpeace
Five activists scaled the 14 storey European Commission headquarters in Brussels to hang a 30m banner revealing the Amazon in flames. © Johanna de Tessières / Greenpeace

From the Amazon to the Congo Basin to Indonesia, people are destroying precious rainforest and other ecosystems, mostly for agricultural expansion. Indigenous people are pushed off their lands, and even murdered when they resist. This destruction happens far away from Europe, but that doesn’t mean that Europe’s hands are clean. The EU imports a huge 36% of all the ‘embedded deforestation’ linked to products traded globally – beef, palm oil and soy for animal feed, but also coffee, cacao, paper and others. This means that the EU is responsible for over 10% of all the forest destruction worldwide. European supermarkets are filled with products linked to forest and ecosystem destruction.

In 2010, at the Consumer Goods Forum, over 400 of the biggest companies – owning many household brands – promised to cut deforestation out of their supply chains by 2020. Well, 2020 is here, and not one of them followed through on that promise.

The only way to stop European consumption leading to forest destruction is an EU law that keeps deforestation products off the European market. If a corporation wants to sell its products in Europe, they should have to show they have no deforestation, ecosystem destruction, or human rights abuses in their supply chain.

And now is our chance to get that law to help protect the Amazon and all other forests and ecosystems worldwide! 

The European Commission is asking the public what the EU should do about its contribution to global forest destruction. They are holding a public consultation to ask people in Europe and around the world for their opinion.

Let’s take this opportunity to tell them: we want a strong EU law to keep products from forest and ecosystem destruction and human rights abuses off the European market!

Nora Holzmann is the Coordinator of the European Forest Campaign.