In the recent Forest forum meeting we shared Complicit in Corruption - a recent report written by non-profit Earthsight, highlighting the widespread corruption in Ukraine's forests, and revealing how illegality permeates the timber supply chain in Ukraine from harvest to export.
Earthsight spent two years running field and undercover investigations in Ukraine. Approximately 70% of Ukraine's timber exports enter the EU and Earthsight's investigations indicate that 40% of this timber is being illegally harvest or traded. The report also claims that a significant volume of illegally harvested timber has received the FSC stamp - the former chief of one of the largest timber producing state-forest enterprises admitted to Earthsight he had found it easy to circumvent FSC checks.
Earlier this year Vietnam initialled a timber trade agreement with the EU that will see Vietnam implement legislation to address imports of illegally harvested and traded timber in return for timber exports to the EU. According to a recent EIA investigation, Vietnam continues its role as a serial offender in the illegal timber trade, with large volumes of illegal timber still flowing across the Cambodian border unhindered. EIA have identified three main areas within Cambodia where substantial illegal logging operations continue. EIA tracked timber from these sites is being smuggled out of Cambodia and into Vietnam across informal crossings.
Interpol has released a purple notice on 30 August about an illegal timber trading operation involving four companies in Brazil, which stems from an investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police that uncovered a technique employed by illegal timber traders in the country. The method in question involves obtaining fraudulent forest management plans that declare a higher density of a high-value timber species within a timber concession than actually exists on the ground, allowing criminals to harvest timber from unauthorized areas and report it as if it was legal. These false forest management plans are obtained through bribery or by the operators who forge them.
Myanmar’s National League for Democracy-led Government announced a national logging ban, effective immediately, which will run until the end of March 2017. Satellite data shows the tree cover in Myanmar has lost nearly 5 percent (2 million hectares) from 2001 through 2014. In 2014, Myanmar enacted a ban on raw timber exports. A driving force of Myanmar’s illegal timber trade is demand from China, and Myanmar was once China’s biggest supplier of rosewood in 2013. The demand from china declined in 2015 since China’s economy slowed, and currently, China’s timber trade with Myanmar is officially suspended.
Leaders from international indigenous and forest communities gathered in London to address the violation of human rights and land grabbing associated to the global trade of palm oil. A report last year from Fern showed that 18% of palm oil produced from illegal tropical forest destruction ends up in the EU. The community leaders are calling for the London Stock Exchange to stop trading with companies who act outside of the law as well as improvements in certification schemes in responding and investigating community complaints.
Auditors say EU scheme to tackle $100bn global trade in illegal timber is poorly designed, badly managed and largely ineffective. Four EU countries – Greece, Spain, Hungary and Romania – have still not implemented an EU timber regulation proposed five years ago, allowing an easy passage to market for the fruits of deforestation. While on the supply side, part of the problem rests with a poor prioritisation of aid, the auditors say. Liberia received €11.9m to tackle illegal logging, when its yearly wood exports to the EU only averaged €5m.
Austrian timber company Schweighofer is linked to large-scale illegal logging which accounts for half of Romania's timber production. An EIA investigation finds that almost all the illegal timber ends up in the company's mills. Romania still has an estimated 218,000 hectares of old growth forests. A recent Romanian government study estimated that 80 million cubic meters of timber have been cut illegally in the past 20 years, representing a loss to the Romanian economy of over €5 billion. Following the report’s publication, WWF filed a complaint at the Federal Forest Office in Vienna for violations of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) and calls for a full investigation of the allegations against Schweighofer.
Regions along the porous Myanmar-China border have been a source of smuggled illegal timber to satisfy the growing demand from Chinese industry. Stripping natural resources in this way has prompted some resentment in Myanmar towards its more prosperous neighbour, and China has since protested at the harsh sentence. The border regions, which include Kachin state, have seen higher levels of conflict since 2011 between the Myanmar government and Kachin separatists. This escalation may provide sufficient cover for the illegal logging activity to take place.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is working with environmentalists to combat illegal logging in the country’s Far East. Activists from WWF described long term collaboration with officials from Russia’s former KGB service in the effort to combat corruption and illegal timber exports as “unusual” but also unavoidable. WWF has been providing training for local customs officials on how to spot illegal species. A 2013 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency estimated that 96% of the valuable hardwoods harvested in the Russian Far East end up in China, while at least 80% of all felled trees have been logged illegally.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been documenting and exposing the illicit trade in stolen timber in Indonesia for more than 15 years. According to a new EIA report, it’s all a huge illusion that Indonesia appears to bring rainforest logging under control. Traditional logging has been replaced by the mass clearance of rainforest for oil palm plantations, creating massive supplies of hugely profitable but often illegal timber. And lurking beneath the surface is a pervasive network of criminality and corruption. NGOs and progressive government figures have emphasised the need to look beyond sectoral legislation and to corruption laws in order to address this.
British businesses from the high street and timber, construction, publishing, DIY and grocery industries are among the first UK firms committing to responsible forest trade to help end deforestation around the world with a shift to 100 per cent sustainable timber and wood products by 2020. The existing loopholes in the current legislation to combat illegal timber means some industries are exempt from ensuring that their wood or products have come from legal sources. In 2015 the timber regulation is due to be reviewed and WWF and its campaign supporters are calling on the UK government to demand the EU makes the necessary improvements to the regulation to ensure that all timber products are covered and thus end the import of illegal wood.
WWF is urging the European Commission to use the results of the recent surveys on implementation of the EU Timber Regulations to put more pressure on national governments and take legal action against non-compliant countries. WWF’s EU Government barometer shows that only 11 EU countries have so far adopted national legislation and procedures considered robust enough to control the legality of timber and timber products, thus leaving 17 without robust legislation. The most recent EU survey on implementation highlights Hungary, Poland, Spain, Malta, France, Greece and Italy as being among the countries failing to fully implement the regulations.
Kenya has recently seized a shipment of $13 million worth of rosewood illegally harvested in Madagascar and bound for Hong Kong. The writer highlights the trend of illegal shipments through Hong Kong and notes that as neither Hong Kong nor China has laws banning illegal timber, border authorities cannot intercept it unless it is CITES-listed. According to estimates only 16 per cent of China’s processed timber is then exported, so there is a huge domestic market that is not subject to regulations preventing the use of illegally-harvested timber.
Almost 80% of logging in the state of Pará is illegal, but loggers and sawmills here have clever scams that give illegal timber a cover story. Greenpeace discovered that the DIY chain Jewson was selling decking made from ipe, a rare tree found in the Amazon. Jewson buys its ipe from International Timber, who admitted to buying the timber without any third-party check to verify the chain of custody. Greenpeace have asked the NMO to investigate Jewson and International Timber, as well as other companies importing and selling timber from the Brazilian Amazon.
Following a two year investigation, Greenpeace have uncovered evidence of systematic abuse and a flawed monitoring system in Brazil, a country whose government claims to be coping with deforestation. The loggers use a variety of techniques, including over-reporting the number and size of rare trees and logging trees that are protected by law. Greenpeace’s new report, entitled “The Amazon’s silent crisis” can be accessed here.
The Myanmar Timber Merchants Association claims that illegal logging incurs costs Myanmar US$ 200m every year. The most affected areas in Myanmar are Kachin and Shan states near the Myanmar-China border as well as Kayin and Kayah states near the Myanmar-Thai border.
Global Witness has accused Danish timber company, DLH, of illegal timber purchases worth $305,000 in 2012. The investigation showed that the timber was felled using outdated permits that were deemed illegal in Liberia because of widespread misuse, fraud and corruption. These accusations put DLH in breach of its FSC certification, and any further imports of this kind would make the company liable to criminal sanctions under the EU Timber Regulation.
According to a new Global Witness report, two Japanese companies were buying illegally-logged timber from Malaysia's rainforests and labelling much of it as 'legal' under a government-sanctioned certification scheme. The report highlights the role of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in the transactions. The two companies have denied the allegations, while the state of Sarawak said there was no proof to the allegation.
Regional instability in Myanmar has led to growing incidents of illegal timber extraction, with the products being sold in to China. There are a lack of incentives for state and regional governments to properly enforce forestry operations as they are not entitled to benefit from the resources that are legally extracted. Ministers in the Myanmar central government want to see more autonomy given to state and regional governments to encourage stronger local policing and tighter control of the country’s resources.
Four Russians have been charged with smuggling timber valued at $3m per month into neighbouring China. The four are accused of using dozens of different companies and fake documents to smuggle 150 freight cars of lumber every month. Police believe the four are part of a much larger smuggling ring. Trade across the border is driven by huge Chinese demand for raw materials, and illegal trade increased dramatically after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Illegal timber trade from Russia to China in 2011 was valued at $1.3 billion, accounting for around 10 million cubic metres of logs and sawn timber.