Due diligence and corruption in the timber industry

Earthsight recently published a report on corruption in the European timber industry and the purchasing of illegal timber from Ukraine by Europe. The report focused on the illegal logging happening in the ecologically important and sensitive regions that support some of our continents most endangered wildlife.

Earthsight spent two years investigating how illegal logging in the region was fueling corruption throughout Eastern Europe and corruption within Ukraine itself. The EU purchased 1 billion Euros of timber in 2017 from the region which represents 70% of all the illegal timber that is harvested. Of that, 40% of the timber from the region is illegal and was harvested in ecologically sensitive areas. Ukraine is the largest single supplier of such high-risk wood to the EU, exceeding all of the tropical countries of Latin America, Africa, and SE Asia combined.

The report pointed out sadly that this was commonplace and was occurring without much protest or intervention by the EU to uphold the EUTR of 2013. They also found that most of this wood was FSC® certified despite being harvested illegally. Earthsight commented that this was prevalent due to the lack of due diligence by the FSC® and timber companies who were not checking where their wood comes from or performing any independent audits.

This story is similar to others across the continent where issues with illegal logging and irresponsible timber harvesting practices are prevalent.

Romania, for example, is one of the largest areas of primeval forests that are left in Europe with 200,000 hectors of vegan forests still remaining in the Carpathians. This is a very important area biologically and ecologically not just because it is one of the last strongholds of European wolf’s bears and lynx but also for the important microflora and fauna in the soils of the region. Europe is subject to large areas of soil erosion and degradation due to deforestation and agricultural practices.

However, this important region is now being commercially logged with little to no opposition from the government or EU.

This story was also repeated recently in Poland who has been logging in the ancient Bialwieza forest regardless of it being deemed illegal by the EU and being a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the last remaining strongholds of European Bison.

All of this timber is then going into our furniture, paper, and packaging; Earthsight called out Homebase HP, Staples and Ikea for their part in purchasing this illegal timber.

But where then does this leave timber merchants in the UK, who want to operate in a sustainable way? The FSC® and PEFC™ accreditations are great ways of promoting a sustainable supply chain, but as we have seen through reports like this from Earthsight there are still big issues.

One of the main issues is that most of the industry still mainly relies on an element of trust because the FSC® and PEFC™ can’t carry out independent audits in every forest. Stories like this are very disheartening and it makes it much harder for businesses to ensure the certifications on their wood, trying to be a responsible merchant and carry out due diligence checks is all you can do.

This month Border Hardwood Ltd. will be going to Romania in order to carry out due diligence checks on FSC®approved sawmills that supply their timber. Director Charlie Bevan-Jones and Sustainability Officer Tom Hiles will be carrying out checks and asking questions about child labor, timber storage, and timber harvesting. This is an important trip for Border Hardwood as a timber merchant to ensure everything that can be done is done although much of this process is still heavily reliant on trust. These due diligence checks help keep out business transparent and customers informed and are the most important part of being a sustainable timber merchant.