Importing Forest Destruction

Feature story - 19 October, 2005
Everyone knows it's illegal to import pirated CDs and DVDs, with heavy penalties if you get caught, but what happens when you import stolen timber from the world's last ancient forests? Absolutely nothing.

Greenpeace activists dump over a tonne of plywood secured with large chains blocking the entrance to DEFRA, the UK Government's department responsible for the environment.

The Amazon lost an area roughly the size of Belgium last year, and theParadise Forests of South East Asia are disappearing so rapidly, thattheir most famous residents, orang-utans, are facing extinction in thewild within the next decade. The African Forests of the Great Apes issimilarly facing a huge assault. Why? Illegal and destructive logging,driven by demand for cheap wood from Europe.

Last week, in the port city of Livorno, Italy, we blocked the unloadingof the freighter ' Guan He Kou' which was carrying timber from a companyinvolved in illegal logging in the Congo Basin. The presence of the'Guan He Kou' and its rainforest cargo in Europe shows just how easy itis to steal from some of the most biologically rich areas in the world.

After the activists were arrested, the ship continued to deliver thetimber before sailing to Spain, where we greeted it again in the portof Valencia on Monday. No inspections, no seizure of the stolen goods.

Many of the companies that log the tropical timber are known to beinvolved in criminal activities. In Papua New Guinea, for example, thelogging industry is dominated by Malaysian logging giant RimbunanHijau, a company that has been directly linked not only toenvironmental destruction, but also to human rights abuses includingtorture and rape.

Today in the UK, activists blockaded the offices of the environmentdepartment in protest at the lack of action to prohibit the importationof illegal timber.

"Governments around the world have known about thisproblem for years and they've done absolutely nothing about it.Illegally logged timber products from the world's last rainforests aresold openly around the world. This criminal trade must be prohibitedimmediately," said Phil Aikman, Greenpeace International forestscampaigner.

The European Commission's (EC) response to the issue of illegal logginghas so far been weak. It is promoting voluntary measures, despite callsfrom 180 NGOs, the European Parliament and 70 companies (including Ikeaand B&Q), who have all called for legislation which stops theimport of illegally sourced timber products into Europe.

This voluntary approach is an inadequate and untenable position, notjust for consumers in Europe who are unknowingly complicit in forestcrimes, but also for the people of timber-producing countries. TheWorld Bank estimates that illegal logging costs timber-producingcountries between US$10 and15 billion a year in lost revenue. Forestdwelling people in countries like Cameroon, Papua New Guinea and Brazilcannot afford to have their livelihoods stolen from them.

One of the first steps in protecting the ancient forest is the introduction of laws prohibiting the import of illegal timber.While the European Commission drags its feet, the forests continue tobe destroyed and the people that depend on them for their way of lifecontinue to be ignored.

Read the full report: PARTNERS IN CRIME: The UK timber trade, Chinese sweatshops and Malaysian robber barons in Papua New Guinea's rainforests.

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