Bloody timber off the market

Feature story - 7 May, 2003
While many people know diamonds are not best friends with regional stability in West Africa, the timber industry quietly stepped in to support arms trafficking in Liberia both logistically and financially. But after two years of intense campaigning, the United Nations Security Council has extended sanctions on Liberia to include timber exports that fuel arms trafficking, paramilitary activity, environmental destruction and human rights abuses.

UN scantions on LIberian timber is a victory for the people of West Africa, stability in the region and the protection of the forest.

Liberia has been the greatest threat to West African peace and stability for over a decade. Its own civil wars spill over into neighbouring countries and calculated moves by Liberian President Charles Taylor and his associates undermine peace and security in the region.

Since the United Nations ban on all diamond exports from Liberia, logging has become the single largest source of export earnings for the Liberian government. The Liberian government's access to the international arms and mercenary market has been largely dependent on the Liberian timber industry and the financial and logistical support it provides.

The Liberian timber industry is also responsible for environmental destruction and human rights abuses.

It is because of this evidence and intense campaigning by Greenpeace and Global Witness among other organisations that the UN Security Council agreed to extend Liberian sanctions to timber, thus ending the role of the timber trade in fuelling Taylor's war machine.

The decision also renews existing sanctions imposed on Liberia while extending them to include a ban on all timber exports taking effect July 7th. These sanctions on Liberia's timber industry are essential if any progress is to be made ending the active and violent destabilisation implemented by the Liberian government in the region.

While this ban on exports of conflict timber is an important step, the issues of environmental and social degradation resulting from destructive logging practices must also be addressed before a comprehensive sustainable solution is possible.

Since 2000, Greenpeace has repeatedly exposed the links between Liberian logging companies associated with illicit arms trading and timber traders throughout Europe and North America. Through extensive research we presented new and damning evidence to the timber industry, and blocked shipments of Liberian timber into many European ports, calling for timber companies to put an end to the trade in conflict timber. A UN Security Council proposal to impose timber sanctions on Liberia was first tabled in December 2000, but it was squashed by France and China - the largest importers of Liberian timber.

Up to this point, many traders have chosen to ignore renewed evidence, arguing that the UN Security Council does not seem to think there is enough of a problem to merit sanctions. These include the Dutch logger and trader Wijma, the Danish DLH Group, the Swiss/German Danzer Group and many others.

Greenpeace activists in Germany exposed the role of such timber companies driving this devastating trade at the sawmill Fritz Offermann Sägewerk und Holzimport. The mill was the scene of a similar protest last year when Greenpeace first presented evidence on conflict timber to Offermann's ED Jürgen Offermann who refused to suspend any trade in Liberian timber.

Greenpeace forest campaigner Filip Verbelen says companies like Offermann's have cynically continued to trade Liberian timber for the past two years, while Greenpeace and Global Witness have presented clear and compelling evidence linking Liberia's timber trade to illegal arms trafficking and environmental devastation.

"The Security Council has finally recognised this unconscionable trade in conflict timber and will put an end to it in July. Starting from today, any company that continues to deal in Liberian timber does so in the full knowledge that they will be fuelling the regional conflict in West Africa."

What can you do?

Help stop bloody timber imports. Ask German timber company Offermann to cancel any existing contracts with Liberia immediately and ensure that in the future all the timber they import comes from legal and sustainable sources.

Buy FSC® timber products. Once African sawn timber arrives on the market, it is impossible for customers to verify whether it comes from legal sources. Logs from legal and illegal sources are easily mixed and could be processed together in local sawmills or at their destination. What you can do is make sure that any timber products you buy are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council™ or FSC®.

The FSC® is an international non-profit organisation that issues certificates for well managed forests and was created so that corporate buyers and individual consumers can identify products coming from responsible forest management. Look for the FSC® logo to the left on wood products to make sure you aren't buying forest destruction or supporting illegal logging around the world.

Read the evidence

For more information, download Greenpeace's briefing on Liberian timber: Liberian Timber trade fuels regional insecurity (pdf, 2 MB) or

Global Witness' detailed report The Usual Suspects, Liberia's Weapons and Mercenaries in Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone