Look around and check if you see any wood surfacing. It might be a cupboard in your kitchen, your chair, or the desk you are reading this on. Then chances are you see tropical veneer.
There is also a chance that the wood for that veneer has been sourced illegally. Possibly even from thousands of miles away in the Democratic Republic of Congo where companies cut through the country’s vast intact forests to harvest timber.
Illegal logging is rampant in the DRC and in other countries throughout the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second largest rain-forested area. Several international companies are involved and much of the wood makes its way to Europe.
Congo illegal wood journey
Greenpeace recently investigated one shipment of endangered Wengé wood. Its journey and destination demonstrate why new legislation, recently introduced by the EU, needs a lot more attention from governments and companies.
Felled in the Congolese province of Equateur using an illegal permit by the Bakri Bois Corporation, the wood was then floated hundreds of kilometers along the Congo river, driven to the international harbor where a large container ship loaded the wood on board and made the long journey north to the Belgian port of Antwerp where it unloaded its cargo on April 24.
Greenpeace Belgium spotted immediately that the wood was illegal. Then, emphasising the global nature of the timber trade, a Swiss-based trader Bois d’Afrique Mondiale bought the wood, but left it in the customs zone for two months, while the company was presumably searching for a buyer.
Almost two months later, Greenpeace found the same shipment of wood at a veneer processing facility in the Czech Republic, which is owned by none other than the Danzer Group. The controversial Swiss-based timber giant was disassociated from the Forest Stewardship Council just over a month ago after a complaint from Greenpeace alleging that they were involved in human rights violations through one of their then subsidiaries in DRC in 2011.
This week our team in the Czech Republic staged an action before the timber was able to be moved on. Briefly commandeering the wood, they called for the authorities in the country to seize it immediately and implement the terms of the European Timber Regulation (EUTR).
A thorough and immediate investigation into Danzer’s practices as well as into the other companies involved in the supply chain is required.
The European Union, after many years of campaignsing by an array of NGOs, adopted the EUTR in 2010, which prohibits timber traders and companies placing any illegal timber or timber products on the EU market. It became effective in March 2013, but clearly faces challenges with its enforcement.
The trade of illegal timber operates essentially in a vicious circle. While companies will continue to fuel illegal logging in the DRC if they break the EUTR and place illegal timber on the market, the lack of good governance and enforcement in the country’s chaotic logging sector means shipments can leave the country with impunity.
Those that stand to lose out most are ordinary Congolese whose environment is being destroyed and whose livelihoods are removed. Last month Greenpeace visited the Bakri Bois Corporation’s logging area in Equateur province. Local witnesses described how the company had broken its social contract.
The authorities in the DRC need to begin enforcing their own regulations and governments in the EU need to make sure they do not turn a blind eye to illegal timber trade, epitomized by the shipment of endangered Wengé from the tropics of the Congo to a veneer facility in the Czech countryside. Otherwise the forests and communities of the Congo Basin will continue to suffer as their trees end up lining the inside of yachts and adorning high end furniture.
Danielle Van Oijen is a Forests Campaigner at Greenpeace International.