50 Greenpeace activists expose use of wood from illegal-timber traders at EU building sites

Greenpeace calls on EU to stop illegal wood imports from Indonesia

Feature story - May 11, 2004
Greenpeace International today declared the Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) and Berlaymont buildings in Brussels as "Forest Crime Scenes" after undercover investigations showed that wood used in their renovation originates from companies known for trading in timber from Indonesia's threatened rainforests (1). Numerous sheets of plywood found at the sites can be tracked back to notorious companies complicit in the destruction of the last ancient forests of Indonesia, including logging inside a reserve for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.

Greenpeace activists search for illegal timber at EU social and general HQ.

Fifty activists representing 11 European countries from the Greenpeace Forest Crimes Unit delivered supplies of environmentally-friendly FSC (2) wood to one of the sites, the ECOSOC building at 97 rue Belliard, to show contractors the type of wood they should be using. They cordoned off the area outside the building with 'forest crime scene' tape, while climbers rappelled off the outside of the building and hung a banner saying 'EU: Stop Illegal Timber Imports'. Activists are also attempting to board up the building with FSC plywood in an effort to halt construction while the forest crime scene is investigated.

"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," said Gavin Edwards of Greenpeace International. "Indonesia's rainforests should be home to orang-utans and tigers, not EU bureaucrats in plush offices and chambers."

After years of discussion, the EU adopted an action plan in 2003 in an effort to tackle the trade in illegal timber. However, rather than prioritising new legislation to outlaw such imports, its approach focuses primarily on voluntary agreements with a limited number of logging countries. Large volumes of illegally harvested timber and wood products will still be able to enter the EU from countries without such agreements.

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

Nearly 90% of the logging in Indonesia is estimated to be illegal; logging in parks and protected areas is commonplace, and conflicts with local communities are widespread. Forest products in the 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. Plywood in the Berlaymont building has been observed as originating from AFR, Korindo and Mujur. Korindo has been found by the Indonesian government to be using illegal timber [3] . Indonesia has more species threatened with extinction than anywhere else on earth, including the orang-utan. The World Bank recently described Indonesia as facing 'a species extinction spasm of planetary proportions' and estimated that if the current rate of forest destruction continues, most of Indonesia's ancient forests will be logged out by 2010.

The environmentally friendly plywood used by Greenpeace volunteers is certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). "If Greenpeace can procure FSC wood for today's action, the EU could do the same and ensure that public money is not spent on destroying rainforests," added Gavin Edwards.

80% of the worlds ancient forests have already been degraded or destroyed, and only 20% remain intact. Indonesia's rainforests are disappearing faster than any other rainforest in the world. An area the size of Belgium is destroyed every year. Governments worldwide are failing to protect ancient forests from illegal and destructive logging (4). ENDS

Notes:

1. The EU Commission has stated 'that any timber used in the refurbishment of Commission-owned buildings must be sourced from environmentally sustainable managed forests'. Some such timber has been used in the Berlaymont but the commitment has not been kept to for all work undertaken on the project. No commitment has been made for projects such as the ECOSOC building.

2. FSC is the Forest Stewardship Council certification scheme. The FSC label provides the only guarantee that timber comes from well managed forests, It is the only international certification scheme to offer a transparent tracking system from the forest to the end consumer. Such transparency is key in safeguarding against illegal forest products.

3. Official inspection by Indonesian Forestry Department, May 2003.

4. For example, the US government is prosecuting Greenpeace instead of illegal loggers and importers in an unprecedented legal action against Greenpeace USA, following a protest against an illegal import of mahogany from the Amazon into Miami, Florida. A Miami federal judge is set to rule soon on whether Greenpeace will even be allowed to argue in its defence that it took action because of the destruction of the rainforests and the failure of the authorities to act. The trial itself, the first time Greenpeace has been indicted as an organisation, begins on 17 May 2004.

Further information:

  • According to a EuroBarometer poll released in autumn 2002, 82% of Europeans describe themselves as 'very worried' or 'fairly worried' about 'the progressive elimination of tropical forests'. Europe is one of the major importers of ancient forest products from Indonesia.
  • For more details on Illegal logging, social conflict and loss of biodiversity in Indonesia, see 'Partners in Crime: A Greenpeace Investigation of the links between the UK and Indonesia's timber barons', available from http://www.greenpeace.org/illegal-logging/
  • Greenpeace expects EU Environment Ministers meeting in Ireland from 14-16 May and in Brussels on 29 June to take this issue forward.

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