Congo Logging Chaos Exposed ; U.S. Companies Involved

by Amy Moas

May 26, 2015

“Chaos” and “chaotic” are frequently – perhaps even overly – used words. But the industrial logging sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) certainly meets the dictionary definition — “a total lack of organization or order.”

Companies in the DRC pay little attention to regulations, promises to forest communities go unfulfilled and government institutions show little or no will to hold them accountable, let alone to protect the DRC’s vast natural heritage and resources. And we are finding out that several US based companies are perpetuating this forest destruction.

But at the same time this chaos is organized and is ordered.  It is to a large extent engineered by officials and companies for their own benefit. The institutions that should govern the forestry sector and enforce the law are not functioning effectively. There is a woeful lack of transparency, with logging contracts not made public or only made public years after they were signed and no reliable official data available on permits, production and exports. Corruption is endemic and it appears that illegal activities in industrial logging concessions in the DRC are the norm.

Today, we released a new report Trading in Chaos. In it Greenpeace Africa reveals the findings of two years of investigations into the operations of one of the key players in the DRC logging chaos, Lebanese-owned Cotrefor. The results are a depressing cocktail of unpaid taxes, shocking mistreatment of employees, rampant irregularities in operational procedure and cutting down more of the endangered tree species, Afrormosia, than allowed.

We also reveal that such poor practice is not hindering Cotrefor from exporting and trading their wood worldwide, including to the United States. We may be half a world away from the chaos of DRC’s logging operations, but several US companies are supporting it by bringing the timber to our shores.  And this is despite the fact that legislation such as the Lacey Act, exists for the sole purpose of preventing illegally sourced timber or timber products from being imported or sold in the US.

Predictably the ones to suffer from the organized chaos in the DRC are members of the communities who form part of the estimated 40 million people who rely on the country’s vast forests for their livelihood.

They see little of the profits made by Cotrefor and other companies, and valuable species are often logged out completely from their areas.  Social obligations made between the communities and those wishing to begin logging operations, including promises to build schools, hospitals or other infrastructure near their land, are often not fully realized.

Adult Bonobo in Bonobo sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bonobo is one of Humankind's closest relatives and is threatened with extinction from destruction of habitat. Greenpeace fact finding tour aimed at documenting the social and environmental impacts of industrial logging. 10/10/2005 © Greenpeace / Filip Verbelen

And it is not just people who suffer. One of mankind’s oldest relatives and Great Ape, the Bonobo, is found only in the DRC. Through our investigations, Greenpeace Africa discovered that forest clearance for roads and other logging infrastructure is opening up vital habitat to poachers and further threatening the endangered ape near protected areas such as the Lomako-Yokokala faunal reserve.

Yet as depressing and familiar as this chaos and lack of impunity sounds, there is an alternative to the concession based model of industrial logging in the DRC. There is in existence a law that would concentrate more responsibility in the hands of local communities.

The problem has been that many people are unaware of its existence and are not being provided the tools to implement it.

The Congo river. Bongandanga village can be seen on the opposite bank. Plundered forests, physical intimidation and unfulfilled promises is the legacy of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s broken industrial logging model according to new findings from Greenpeace, after the environmental organisation visited the communities affected by the operations of logging companies. 08/08/2014 © Clément Tardif / Greenpeace

Ultimately, in order to control this organized chaos and to stop companies like Cotrefor from operating with total impunity, the DRC government needs to take action. They must fully investigate all allegations in our report and the existing moratorium on all new logging titles should be maintained until all conditions are met.

Furthermore to prevent the steady flow of illegal Congo Basin timber overseas, including from Cotrefor, the US Government, along with the European Union and China need to open investigations immediately into companies trading timber products from the DRC.

Authorities must use every route open to them, including international human rights and labor laws and conventions, CITES, the Lacey Act and the European Union Timber Regulation, to stop and prevent illegal and destructive logging.

Only if these measures are taken can the chaotic cycle of illegal logging in the Congo be broken and can the squandering of the country’s vast natural heritage that form part of the world’s second-largest rainforest be stemmed.

Amy Moas

By Amy Moas

Amy Moas, Ph.D. is a senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace based in Las Vegas. She focuses on combating the drivers of deforestation around the world including palm oil, pulp and paper, and illegal logging.

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