WWF sustainable timber scheme criticised

25th July 2011

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  • Natural resources ,
  • Management ,
  • Supply chain ,
  • Procurement



A lack of transparency and inadequate membership rules are allowing companies to "systematically abuse" the WWF's Global Forest and Trade Network scheme (GFTN), warns campaigning group Global Witness.

In its report “Pandering to the loggers”, published today 25 July 2011, Global Witness claims that the WWF scheme is fundamentally flawed; allowing organisations to benefit from being associated with the charity while still clearing protected forests and trading in illegally-sourced timber.

GFTN, which forestry companies, manufacturers and retailers pay to join, requires forestry firms to commit to achieving a “credible” voluntary forestry certification and for trade partners to cease sourcing illegally-harvested wood within five years in a bid to encourage more sustainable practices across the market.

However, Global Witness argues that a lack of minimum standards for participating companies combined with very little publically available information on the scheme’s participants bring into doubt the validity of the scheme.

The report cites three examples of member organisations that it argues question WWF’s ability to effectively monitor participants. It claims that UK supplier Jewson was still sourcing illegally cut plywood after 10 years in the scheme, that Malaysian participant Ta Ann Holdings Berhad has operations committed to clearing organgutan habitat in Borneo and that WWF maintains a partnership with the Danzer Group despites the involvement of one of its subsidiary companies in human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The group calls for a comprehensive independent audit of the scheme, how it is managed and what it has achieved in terms of real-world benefit for forests.

“When a landmark scheme created in the name of sustainability and conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orangutan habitat, something is going seriously wrong,” said Tom Picken, forest campaign leader at Global Witness.

“Through government grants, taxpayers are footing a large part of this scheme’s annual £4 million budget and they have a right to know their money isn’t being spent green washing bad practice.”

The report concludes by recommending the introduction of minimum standards for membership and tougher participation policies, such as demanding minimum standards are met before allowing members to publicise their association with the WWF.

Picken’s argues that the report’s findings raises important questions about the underlying strategy and efficacy of such voluntary schemes.

“To protect the world’s remaining forests and avoid duping consumers, initiatives should focus on reducing overall demand rather than certify ever-expanding areas of forest being felled,” he said.

WWF rejected the report’s main allegations arguing that the paper contained “a number of errors and misleading statements”.

“'Pandering to the loggers', makes a highly selective, and therefore misleading, use of WWF's responses. We maintain that many aspects of the Global Witness report are incomplete or inaccurate,” said George White, the head of GFTN.

“Nonetheless WWF is taking the allegations seriously and we intend to examine Global Witness’s recommendations in detail. Should we find any of them to be justified we will respond appropriately.”

Responding to the case studies, WWF argued that Jewson changed its timber-sourcing practices when issues had been revealed and that only Ta Ann’s processing facilities, not its logging operations, were covered in its membership of the scheme.


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