Anniversaries can vary in significance, both to people individually and to wider audiences. On paper, the first anniversary of the introduction of a piece of EU timber legislation might not be a birthday that is chalked up in many people’s calendar.
But actually, 12 months on from the European Union’s Timber Regulation came in it is good time to reflect on the success of the law and to call on both governments and competent authorities to do more to ensure that it is enforced correctly.
The EUTR prohibits the placement of any illegally sourced timber – or timber products – being placed on the European market. It marked the culmination of several years work from many organisations – Greenpeace amongst them – and is a big step forward in the worldwide battle against deforestation and forest degradation.
Interpol estimates that illegal logging accounts for more than half – and in some cases up to 90 per cent – of all forestry in key tropical producing countries: a lot of this wood heads to Europe.
The EUTR closes off one avenue for a lot of that illegal cargo and requires timber companies trading in Europe to ensure due diligence and prevent any suspect or illegally sourced wood entering their supply chains.
But, although it may be stating the obvious, it’s worth noting that a law is only effective if it is enforced. And unfortunately, throughout the last 12 months, various Greenpeace teams in Europe have exposed shipments of illegal timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entering the continent.
A shipment of endangered Wenge wood, which had been earmarked by Belgian authorities as suspicious while being held in Antwerp port, found its way to a veneer processing facility in the Czech Republic and to two locations in Germany. German authorities deemed the wood illegal under the terms of the EUTR and confiscated it.
This was, initially, a promising step but no further action against the supplying company has been taken nor against the Swiss based company that arranged the placement of the wood. The wood in the Czech Republic has not even been confiscated.
More recently, a Greenpeace France team “confiscated” a batch of suspect timber from the Sicobois company in the port of Caen. This followed up a complaint filed under the EUTR last July. At the time of writing no response had been received.
Sicobois is a perfect of example of the type of company that is able to operate, seemingly with impunity, in countries such as the DRC. Greenpeace has tracked the company’s illegal operations for many years and recently a team from our Kinshasa office discovered that Sicobois is still a source of social conflict regarding its operations in the Lisala area of Equateur province.
When we visited the area, we found that the company was still employing the widespread practice of using illegal artisanal logging permits (designed for small scale producers) to circumvent a national moratorium on new logging concessions.
Furthermore, we spoke to two victims of an attack and abduction by Sicobois workers in the village of Mopito Mombila last year. Medical evidence later suggested that a female victim had been raped. The company denies it engages in illegal activities, but acknowledges that its permits are illegal and its wood is sometimes illegally marked. Sicobois puts those blatant infringements down to clerical oversight.
A year ago Greenpeace Africa described the state of the DRC forestry sector as “organized chaos”. Nothing has changed since. Weak forest governance and widespread corruption mean companies such as Sicobois are still held unaccountable for its actions, still log illegally and sometimes its wood still ends up overseas in places like France.
DRC is by no means the biggest logging sector in the world, or Africa, or even the Congo Basin. But it is among the most chaotic. Being home to vast tracts of the world’s second largest tropical rain-forested area provides an example of the threats to tropical forests and the communities who depend upon them if illegal logging is not tackled effectively at source and at the final destination.
The EUTR is a good step forward, but the challenge involved in ensuring it works to its full potential is a daily one, not one that only gets addressed on a yearly basis.
Danielle van Oijen is a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands.
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