EU forest crime scene exposed

Feature story - 11 May, 2004
The Greenpeace Forest Crimes Unit have descended on the swanky refurbished EU buildings in Brussels after undercover investigations revealed that wood used in their renovation originated from companies associated with the illegal and destructive Indonesian timber trade. We decided to get out the power tools and do a little 'renovation' of our own. Now the buildings have a fresh forest-friendly look rather than sporting illegal timber straight from the homes of tigers and orang-utans.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM Greenpeace activists build an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) plywood blockade outside the EU social and general HQ, Brussels.

About 50 activists, from across Europe, cordoned off the area around the buildings with colourful 'forest crime scene' tape, while climbers rappelled off the buildings and redecorated with a banner saying 'EU: Stop Illegal Timber'.

Activists also boarded up the building with plywood (environmentally sustainable this time) in an effort to halt construction while the forest crime scene is further investigated, and in true 'Changing Rooms' style spruced up meeting rooms by removing suspect timber from the floorboards.

Our self-made refurbishers then rather helpfully delivered a load of environmentally friendly wood to the EU building to show contractors what they should be using.

"Indonesia's rainforests should be home to orang-utans and tigers, not EU bureaucrats in plush offices and chambers," said Gavin Edwards of Greenpeace International. "Not only does the EU allow the import of illegal wood into Europe, it is fuelling the trade in illegal and destructive timber through its own building projects."

Edwards added that if Greenpeace could source environmentally friendly timber to board up the buildings, then surely the EU could find some for their renovations.

Nearly 90 percent of the logging in Indonesia is estimated to be illegal, which means that logging is happening in national parks and protected areas, and conflicts with local communities are widespread. Forest products in the EU Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) building include wood from RSK, IKMM and Mujur, all of whom trade timber from the last rainforests of Kalimantan and Sumatra, and AFR, a company shown to obtain timber from a protected tiger reserve.

"The Commission attaches great [importance] to the requirement to ensure that timber is provided from environmentally sustainable sources, and now has in place arrangements to ensure that this requirement is respected" - Neil Kinnock, Vice President of the EU Commission

After years of discussion, the EU adopted an action plan in 2003 to tackle the trade in illegal timber. However, rather than prioritising new legislation to outlaw such imports, its approach focuses primarily on pretty toothless voluntary agreements.

"If the EU really wants to end forest destruction and poverty in vulnerable regions, it means closing the European market to all illegal wood products and taking tough measures that will allow authorities to prosecute companies and individuals involved," said Greenpeace EU policy adviser, Sebastien Risso.

Ready for some of your own DIY?

Tell the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Margot Wallström, to clean up the EU's act on illegal timber.

Find out more about illegal logging.