European authorities: time to act on illegal timber

Sawmills in the Brazilian Amazon are laundering illegal timber and sending shipments overseas. It’s against the law to place illegal timber on the European market, yet the authorities are doing very little about it.

Logging Truck in Para State, Brazil. 08/30/2014 © Otávio Almeida / Greenpeace

Two weeks ago, Greenpeace exposed sawmills in the Brazilian Amazon that were trading illegal timber. At the centre of the scandal was a sawmill called Rainbow Trading. Rainbow Trading was receiving nightly deliveries from illegal sawmills deep in the rainforest. We exposed them by using GPS to monitor logging trucks delivering from logging camps in illegally logged areas. Rainbow Trading was laundering timber through private estates that provided a steady supply of dodgy paperwork.

We warned the European timber industry in May that Brazilian sawmills were laundering illegal timber for export. Rainbow Trading – like many logging companies in the Amazon logging industry – has a string of convictions for crimes connected to illegal logging. There’s no way a company could reasonably trust it – or its timber. Yet since May, Rainbow Trading has shipped timber to Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Sweden.

Rainbow Trading’s illegal timber keeps coming. This month, several shipments of timber from Rainbow Trading were offloaded in Rotterdam, en route to Antwerp. One of these shipments arrived on 10 October. Some more containers arrived a week later. It’s likely there are more shipments we haven’t yet uncovered, or more on their way.

Odani Sawmill in Para State, Brazil. 09/28/2014 © Lunae Parracho / Greenpeace

We’ve also informed the authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands about these shipments. We’re waiting to hear if the authorities are going to take action. Back in May, we supplied officials with a list of Brazilian exporters and European importers linked to timber laundering and fraudulent forest management plans in the Brazilian Amazon. Rainbow Trading was on that list – as were many of its customers.

So why did the authorities turn a blind eye while the same companies continued importing from this criminal outfit? And what will they do about the Amazon timber that is already stockpiled in European lumber yards, waiting for a buyer?

Under EU law, companies are prohibited from placing illegally harvested timber on the EU market and they are required to exercise due diligence to ensure that their timber is not illegal. That means taking control of their supply chain. Companies must mitigate their risk of buying illegal timber and prevent it from entering their supply chains. Official documents cannot be trusted when the timber comes from regions where illegal logging is prevalent.

But some traders are still clinging to the pretence that paperwork can be relied upon. “We act in good faith and trust the veracity of the Brazilian documents,” Leary Forest Products told the De Morgen newspaper. “We are not there when they cut the trees.” Leary was importing timber from Rainbow Trading and passing it onto other companies in the Netherlands and Belgium. One of those companies, Omniplex, described our recent investigation as “nonsense”. But the Dutch trader Stiho, another one of Leary’s customers, announced it would stop buying from Rainbow Trading.

Rainbow Trading is not an isolated case. It may have been caught red-handed, but this crooked behaviour is business as usual in Pará state, where over three-quarters of logging is estimated to be illegal. Companies need to stop buying from Rainbow Trading and its partners in crime.

The regulatory authorities may be dragging their heels, but eventually they will have to act. Companies importing timber into Europe cannot continue to disregard the law by putting their faith in worthless paperwork from the Brazilian Amazon. Greenpeace will continue to expose the criminal logging industry that is plundering the Amazon – and its clients in Europe and elsewhere.

Daniela Montalto is the Amazon Campaign Project Leader for Greenpeace International.

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