World Bank cuts forest destruction funding

Feature story - 12 December, 2007
Here's some good news in the fight to protect the second largest rainforest on Earth, as Olam - a major trading company - finds its World Bank funding cut, after we revealed their involvement in illegal logging in the Congo Basin Forest.

Forest on the banks of the Congo river system, Equatorial province, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Only a couple of weeks ago, we wrote to the World Bank's private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, highlighting its investment in Olam International, a Singapore-based global commodities trader.

We pointed out that Olam was trading in illegally logged timber in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This week the International Finance Corporation has decided to sell its stake in Olam.

Olam's involvement in illegal timber trade was first detailed in our Carving up the Congo report published earlier this year. The report illustrated how Olam was holding forest land in the Congo granted in breach of a moratorium on the granting of new logging titles, which the World Bank itself had helped to establish. The report also described how Olam was sourcing timber from destructive and illegal operations through de-facto subcontracting agreements with third-party suppliers involved in illegal logging. While Olam has subsequently returned logging titles obtained in breach of the moratorium, it continues to trade in destructive and illegal timber.

The Congo Basin Forest constitutes the second largest rainforest on Earth, storing important amounts of carbon and providing livelihoods for tens of millions of people. The story of logging in the Congo forests, however, is a story of corruption, environmental havoc and social injustice.  

Logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is completely out of control. Meaningful law enforcement and government control are non-existent. Social conflict is omnipresent in logging concessions where the needs of local communities clash with the rush for profit by international companies.

This move by the International Finance Corporation should send a strong signal to all those investors and companies involved in the destruction of the Congo rainforests. It should also serve as a warning to donors, such as the German and the French governments, who are currently considering financial support for large logging companies in the DRC. The World Bank must address the serious shortcomings in its programmes in the DRC - which have been identified by its own Inspection Panel.

As delegates in Bali negotiate the future of our global climate and our forests - the protection of which is a key solution to climate change - rainforest destruction in Africa continues unabated - but the International Finance Corporation's action points towards a window of opportunity in the DRC. The international community needs to help the country develop alternatives that benefit communities and reduce poverty, and it needs to do this now!