Illegal logging law poorly applied

18th February 2016


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  • Management ,
  • Corporate governance ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems

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IEMA

European governments are failing to implement and enforce regulations to prevent sale of products made from illegally sourced timber, according to the European commission.

The EU Timber Regulation came into force in March 2013 and prohibits companies placing illegally harvested timber or products made from such timber on the market. It also requires companies placing timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise due diligence, and for traders in timber and timber products to keep records of suppliers and customers.

But an evaluation of the first two years of the law by the commission found patchy implementation across member states. All countries except Spain have designated an authority to monitor compliance, but the legal powers, status and financial resources of these institutions varies widely.

The number of staff working on compliance ranges from just one to 200, according to member states’ own reports. Some countries have allocated no extra financial resource for implementing and enforcing the law, the commission said.

Last year, the commission brought legal action for non-compliance against Hungary, Greece, Spain and Romania.

Domestic sanctions for breaking the law vary considerably across Europe, from notice of remedial actions, fines, seizure of timber, suspension of trade permits to imprisonment, the commission noted. Too much variation means that there is no level playing field for companies operating in the sector, it said.

So far, action has been taken for infringement of the regulation in 19 countries, the report states. However, as the number of penalties so far has been limited, it is not possible to judge if they are effective, the commission said.

The regulation has encouraged more businesses to bring in responsible sourcing policies and has therefore demonstrated its potential to change operators’ market behaviour and establish supply chains that are free of illegally sourced timber, the report states.

A consultation by the commission revealed that some small businesses had difficulty complying with the regulation, while larger companies been able to adapt more easily and more quickly to the new requirements. However, the commission found no evidence that being a small company was a barrier to effective due diligence.

Although the situation is gradually improving, private sector compliance with the due diligence rules is uneven and insufficient, the commission found. Barriers to effective due diligence include difficulties in gathering information on applicable legislation in producer countries and lack of cooperation by suppliers.

The EU has a system of approved monitoring organisations, who can provide businesses with a due diligence system if they lack the capacity to develop their own. However, interest for this service has been very low, the commission found.

The commission believes this could be because monitoring organisations have an obligation under the regulation to report major failures to the authority implementing the regulation in each country.

Greenpeace EU forest policy director Sébastien Risso said: ‘It beggars belief that after decades of debate, and despite a strong law that could prevent it, the proceeds of these crimes are still sold in Europe. European ministers must reaffirm their commitment to protect forests and enforce existing EU laws banning illegal timber trade from European markets.’

The commission said that there was no evidence to change the core elements of the legislation, but it is considering expanding the scope of the regulation, which only covers 41% of timber products by value, according to analysis by WWF. The campaign group wants it expanded to cover printed materials, chairs and musical instruments.

The Dutch presidency of the EU is expected to hold a discussion on EU action to tackle illegal logging at the agriculture council in May. It has previously said that finding a more effective approach to halting deforestation is a priority for its presidency.

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