There’s an old adage that “rules are made to be broken”. Whatever your take on that logic, the idea of “rules are made to be enforced” is less open to debate.
A welcome addition when it was introduced on March 3rd 2013, the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) prohibits the placement of any illegal timber or timber products on the European market. Yet two years on and Greenpeace continues to expose shipments of wood from companies involved with criminal and illegal activities in the Amazon and the Congo Basin finding their way to Europe.
In November last year we forced Belgian authorities to impound six containers of Amazon wood from Rainbow Trading, a company known to be involved in a criminal timber laundering racket in Brazil, as it arrived in the port of Antwerp.
We have continually exposed illegal shipments of wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the past two years as they arrived in France, Belgium and elsewhere. Batches of illegal timber from the Congolese Bakri Bois Corporation are still languishing in a facility in the Czech Republic and have yet to be confiscated nearly two years after they arrived, nor has any action been taken against three German companies involved.
Just last week we presented findings on how three Belgian companies are misusing privileges under the EUTR for endangered species by importing illegally harvested Afrormosia from the DRC on the European market.
The question that immediately presents itself is, if there is a law to prevent illegal tropical timber being sold in Europe why is it not being enforced? And the longer it goes unforced the longer illegal logging will be rampant in producing countries. In the DRC alone it is estimated that as much as 90 percent of all logging operations in the country are illegal.
In fact, it is currently so easy to fell, export and sell illegal timber that, in theory, literally anyone can do it. As long as you got yourself a permit (there are many ways to do so even if you are not eligible for one) and supply a pile of official yet ultimately worthless paperwork with your timber, then there is no guarantee that your timber would be seized and confiscated – as it should be under European law – you could cut and export your own wood to sell in the European Union.
As a result, Greenpeace is encouraging supporters to try this theory out for themselves. Write to ministers in European countries and tell them you are thinking of becoming an illegal logger. We will present them with the requests and see whether they decide it is finally time to take action and enforce a law that has been in force for two years now.
In France our team has already decided to find out from environment minister Segolene Royal directly today if she intends to enforce the EUTR properly – following the example of thousands of people who have already asked her to do so in the last few weeks. If she somehow managed to ignore nearly a hundred thousand emails then it is unlikely she could not see the four tonne log deposited outside her environment ministry in Paris today.
Greenpeace France recently published evidence showing how timber suspected of illegality is regularly imported into the country. If Royal and her counterparts in other EU member states do not start to ensure that the legislation and processes in place to prevent this type of illegal activity are properly utilized then this type of illegal activity will simply continue.
Action needs to be taken. As long as illegal timber continues to enter the EU market, and importing companies are able to disregard their obligations under the EUTR, it will be the forests and people of producing countries who truly will suffer from the damage wrought by illegal logging.
Greg Norman is the Congo Forests Communications Coordinator for Greenpeace International.
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