Palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather and soya will be banned from being imported into the UK if they have been produced on illegally deforested land, the UK government has announced.

The legislation is part of the Environment Act, passed two years ago, but last week’s announcement is the first time specific commodities have been named.

The ban covers businesses with a global annual turnover of over £50mn that use over 500 tonnes of regulated commodities a year.

While the new law does not include the financial sector, the Treasury must undertake a nine-month review – as stipulated in this year’s Financial Services and Markets Act – “to assess the extent to which regulation of the UK financial system is adequate for the purpose of eliminating the financing of the use of prohibited forest-risk commodities”.

The UK’s environment secretary, Steve Barclay, says the new rules show the country is “cleaning up supply chains to make sure that big businesses in the UK aren’t responsible for illegal deforestation”.

Firms that do not comply could be hit with a range of civil sanctions, including fixed monetary penalties, stop notices and enforcement undertakings.

Tony Juniper, chair of non-departmental public body Natural England, says the commitments are “welcome further steps toward UK environmental leadership, both at home and on the world stage”.

But NGO Global Witness has called attention to the omission of coffee from the list. According to research carried out with supply chain mapping initiative Trase, UK coffee imports were responsible for the loss of an area of forest equivalent to around four times the size of Glastonbury Festival between November 2021 and July 2023.

Alexandria Reid, senior global policy advisor at Global Witness, says the organisation welcomes the list of deforestation commodities, but urges it to add coffee and notes the current regulation “leaves the UK lagging far behind the EU, which earlier this year passed its own law covering all deforestation regardless of whether it is illegal in the source country”.

The EU’s regulation on deforestation-free products entered into force in June this year, giving traders 18 months to comply. Cattle, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, rubber, soya and wood are all covered.

Global Witness is now calling on the UK government to put the regulation before parliament “as soon as possible” to avoid further delays, as well as to think about expanding the law to include all deforestation.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF, adds that “illegal deforestation is only part of the picture – with wildlife numbers plummeting and wild habitats facing destruction, we must stop felling forests, full stop”.

“Forests absorb 30% of the carbon we emit from burning fossil fuels, so nature is clearly our greatest ally in tackling climate change,” says Steele.