Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Greenpeace

  This submission will cover three aspects of the Committee's inquiry into timber:

    —  Government timber procurement;

    —  the implementation and effectiveness of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as it relates to timber; and

    —  progress made at the recent Ancient Forest Summit at the sixth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in The Hague.

  In order to address these issues, it is first worth placing them in the context of relevant Government commitments on forest protection.

  The UK Government has sought to place itself at the forefront of international action to protect the world's ancient forest regions and the biodiversity contained within them through various fora. These have included: the G8 Programme of Action; international ministerial meetings such as the recent Convention on Biological Diversity; and bilateral initiatives such as the recent memorandum of understanding with the Indonesian Government to tackle illegal logging. 1

  While international and bilateral agreements should be welcomed, it is essential that they are backed up by firm commitments to a plan of action. Many, including Greenpeace, would argue that all too often measures such as the recent memorandum of understanding with Indonesia do not go nearly far enough in attempting to tackle illegal timber imports to the UK.

  Domestically, perhaps the most significant development under the current UK administration came during the summer of 2000, when, on 28 July, the Environment Minister Michael Meacher, announced the UK Government's intention to source all timber for Government projects solely from legal and sustainable sources. 2 This move was warmly welcomed by the UK environment movement and by more progressive elements of the timber trade.

  At this time, Michael Meacher rightly stated:

    "The UK has worked hard in recent years to promote sustainable forest management and help reduce illegal logging worldwide. Illegal logging damages both the environment and society. It reduces Government revenues, destroys the basis of poor people's livelihoods and in some cases even fuels armed conflict.

    It is counterproductive to help enforce laws abroad without striving to ensure that illegally produced timber is not consumed at home . . . the Government are a major purchaser of both timber and timber products, and have a responsibility to ensure their own house is in order."

  He went on to confirm that this timber procurement policy would be binding:

    "Current voluntary guidance on environmental issues in timber procurement will become a binding commitment on all Central Government Departments and agencies actively to seek to buy timber and timber products from sustainable and legal sources, for example those identified under independent certification schemes such as that operated by the Forestry Stewardship Council."

    "Each Central Government Department will report annually on its timber purchases. It will be required to explain what steps it is taking to pursue this objective; the quantity and types of its purchases; and what assurances it has received that the source of timber is sustainable and legal." 3

  Since this time, Tony Blair and several Government ministers have referred to commitments in this area:

    "We have already promised that as a Government we will only purchase timber from legal and sustainable sources. We will be advocating further measures in the G8 against illegal logging. 4

    The Government's policy is more than a recommendation for its buyers to actively seek to purchase sustainably produced timber and timber products, it is a firm requirement. 5

    By requiring its suppliers to produce credible evidence that the source of their products was indeed legally harvested trees from well managed forests, the Government plans to have a major influence o the supply chain. 6

    Central Government Departments were formally reminded of the Government's policy to procure timber and timber related products from sustainable and legal sources in a Note dated 2 January 2001 from the then Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions sent to heads of procurement . . . Central Government buyers are advised to specify in order and contracts that suppliers provide documentary evidence, which has been, or can be, independently verified, that the timber has been lawfully obtained from forests and plantations managed to sustain their biodiversity, productivity and vitality and to prevent harm to other ecosystems and any indigenous of forest dependent people." 7


  Whilst ministers have made much of Government requirements regarding timber procurement from legal and sustainable sources, the on-the-ground implementation of these policies by departments has been wholly inadequate. The recent expose by Greenpeace at the Government Cabinet Office showed that legal and sustainable timber procurement by departments has been half hearted and confused in some instances, whilst non-existent in others. It is apparent that parliamentarians and others have been misled, as contractors and project managers have claimed that they are implementing Government policies whilst actually doing nothing of the sort.

  In November 2001, the "Greening Government" report saw the first annual reporting back by Government departments of their timber procurement. Only seven departments and agencies reported their spending whilst others, such as the Department for International Development, had not even informed suppliers of new Government requirements. Of those that did report their spending the Department of Health admitted spending nearly £700,000 on timber with no evidence of sustainability. Apparently £3,689,457 was spent by these departments on certified timber, whilst £1,172,014 was spent with "some evidence of sustainability".8 Given the inaccurate nature of the information supplied earlier this year by the Cabinet Office on its own spending on "certified" timber, Greenpeace questions the accuracy of these figures.


  Responding to a written parliamentary question from Joan Walley MP, Christopher Leslie at the Cabinet Office made the following statement on 14 February:

    "With the exception of around £50,000 of timber which has been reclaimed (ie it is recycled) the remainder is all certified . . . The contract used with the main contractor for the refurbishment of 22 Whitehall places a requirement on the contractor to provide timber from certifiable sustainably managed sources upon which certificates are to be made available. Evidence provided by the main contractor indicates that all the timber supplied so far has been derived from sustainable and legal sources, ie the timber has been purchased under certified logging schemes."

  In a letter to Greenpeace on 25 March, Peter Dickin, the Deputy Project Sponsor at the Cabinet Office stated:

    "Approximately £460,000 timber is being used in the refurbishment of 22 Whitehall. As a requirement of the contract agreed with the main contractor, this timber has to be procured from certified sustainably managed sources." 9

  This letter went on to state that the timber for the doors of this project was being supplied by Timbmet Ltd whilst East Brothers were supplying the timber for the windows. The timber, sapele, was being sourced from Cameroon, Central African Republic and Ghana. The letter stated that "Timbmet Ltd is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and is also a member of the WWF 95+ Group".

  This letter confirms that lack of understanding regarding certification, legality and sustainability in supply—confusion that still exists nearly two years after Government set out its commitments on this issue.

  The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) does not certify companies, it certifies timber. A small amount of the timber that Timbmet sells is certified by the FSC—none of which was used in the Cabinet Office. It is true that Timbmet is a member of the WWF 95+ Group—but that tells us nothing about the actual timber Timbmet sells individual projects.

  A cursory glance at research on the forestry situation in countries such as Cameroon should have set alarm bells ringing. Well-respected organisations such as Global Witness work extensively in this area. The last ancient forests in the region are threatened by destructive, unsustainable and in many cases illegal logging operations. This logging means that species such as gorillas and chimpanzees are threatened with extinction in the wild—not just through the direct destruction of their habitats, but also through extensive hunting for the illegal bushmeat trade10, which is fuelled by the logging industry. There is no recognised certification system for timber in the region11, whilst the logging companies operating there have serious records of convictions for illegality. As Mark O'Brien of the Timber Trade Federation has stated: "There are probably worse offenders than Cameroon if you scrape around places like Liberia, which doesn't bear scrutiny at all, but it is one of the worst." 12

  On 19 April, the Cabinet Office admitted that previous statements that the timber for the Cabinet Office came from "certifiable sustainably managed sources upon which certificates are to be made available" were in fact wrong. The contracts did specify that doors and door frames should be "supplied from a certified renewable resource" but specified nothing else. 13

  Greenpeace believes that this is wholly inadequate. Further, even this contractual nod towards Government requirements cannot have been met.

  The wood in question, sapele, is listed on the World Conservation Union redlist of threatened species. 14 The UK timber merchant Timbmet provided sapele wood for the doors and door frames from sources in Cameroon, Central Africa and Ghana. Timbmet buys sapele directly from Cameroon and Central African Republic and via international traders NHG and DLH. This timber comes from mills owned by notorious logging companies including Rougier in Cameroon, Vicwood-Thanry, Vasto-Legno and Bollore«. These companies and mills are involved in ancient forest destruction in the region and all have numerous convictions for illegal logging. 15 The situation with the windows is similar. East Brothers provided this timber, supplied via Timber agent NHG, from Vicwood-Thanry in Cameroon.

  A Balfour Beatty enquiry into the timber procurement for 22 Whitehall is ongoing. Greenpeace believes that the committee should have access to this report and should consider very carefully the terms of the contracts that were placed. If these contracts did indeed refer to "certified" timber for doors and door frames, then the contracts have undoubtedly been broken and should be cancelled immediately. The other question that must be answered is why, nearly two years after Government requirements that timber procurement should be from legal and sustainable sources, did this contract not contain those requirements.

  Further, given this case where initial assurances that timber was certified and from legal and sustainable sources have proved to be meaningless, questions must surely be asked about other timber procurement for central government where similar assurances have been made. Current such refurbishments include the Treasury building, Ministry of Defence and the Norman Shaw South building. Greenpeace also has reason to believe that timber used in recent refurbishment at DFID includes the use of sapele from Central Africa.


  Greenpeace continues to campaign around the world to highlight and stop the destruction of the last remaining ancient forest regions. In the Amazon, we have worked extensively on the trade in Brazilian mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) to prevent its unsustainable extraction. This extends from logging through the export/import process to end users in the UK and elsewhere. Brazilian mahogany is an appendix III species under CITES, listed to prevent its unsustainable or illegal exploitation. 16 Recent experience regarding mahogany imports to the UK, despite a ban on the trade by the Brazilian authorities, is another example of the UK Government's complete failure to match words about curbing the illegal timber trade with real action.


  Brazil has listed mahogany under Appendix III of CITES.

  CITES and the European regulations place duties on importing and exporting countries designed to protect endangered species and promote only sustainable trade. The duty for the exporting state is to grant an export certificate only when the management authority (in this case IBAMA, the Brazilian Environment Agency) is satisfied that the specimen was not obtained in contravention of the laws of that State for the protection of fauna and flora. 17 The importing state should import only if there is prior notification and an export permit issued in accordance with the Convention. These duties are translated into EC law through regulation (EC) 338/97.

  Greenpeace on-the-ground investigations over the last two years have confirmed the extent of illegality and corruption in the mahogany trade, exposing widespread illegal logging from public and Indian lands by the major mahogany players. Partners in Mahogany Crime, 18 a Greenpeace report released in early October 2001, detailed these findings.

  IBAMA issued a decree in October 2001 banning all trade in mahogany, 19 based on its own evidence that at least 70 per cent of mahogany was illegally obtained.

  Logging companies obtained preliminary "injunctions" from Brazilian courts forcing IBAMA to sign export certificates. IBAMA signed the permits, but at the same time made public statements that made it clear that the trade ban was still in place and it was not satisfied that the timber had been legally obtained. The "injunctions" were obtained in the absence of evidence from IBAMA, which has appealed against all of them. 20

  On 31 January, Greenpeace received information that at least two shipments of Brazilian mahogany were en route to the UK. We wrote to Michael Meacher to alert him to these shipments and to ask him to seize the timber on board. No response was received.

  Two further letters were sent to the Minister—on 11 February and 20 February. Greenpeace argued that the Government is required to take steps to satisfy itself that the timber was not obtained illegally, under Council Regulation 338/97 and should seize any mahogany arriving in the UK until they were satisfied. No response to our letters was received.

  On 22 February, legal proceedings were started.

  On 4 March an application for permission to judicially review the Government's failure to act was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice. Greenpeace argued that the Government should, at the very least, take steps to satisfy themselves that the timber was not obtained illegally and should not clear the timber through customs until they had done so. DEFRA, Customs and the timber exporters argued that the Government's only duty was to satisfy themselves that the certificate was authentic—even though IBAMA themselves explained that the export permits did not prove that the timber was legally acquired.

  The first instance judge agreed with the Government and refused Greenpeace permission for judicial review. That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 25 March 2002 and the full judicial review will be heard on 30 May 2002.

  On 7 March Michael Meacher wrote to Greenpeace. In this letter he stated that:

    "I am sorry that it has appeared that we are on opposing sides on this issue but I felt it was necessary for the courts to make a judgement on the extent of our powers and responsibilities under CITES and the relevant European regulations."

  The response is baffling because, in fact, DEFRA, Customs and Excise and the timber exporters actively opposed Greenpeace's application, which would have allowed the courts to fully consider the powers and responsibilities under CITES and EU Regulations. These are now to be considered by the Court on 30-31 May.

  There is a wealth of evidence of illegality and corruption in the Brazilian mahogany trade. In Greenpeace's view, unless the UK acts to prevent imports of mahogany from Brazil, the UK will continue to provide a lucrative market for unscrupulous loggers, exporters and traders.

  The approach that the UK Government has taken contrasts with:

    1.  Advice from the CITES Secretariat, stating that "the primary issue to be determined is whether the specimens are of legal origin or not . . . Until a clear statement is received from Brazil that the specimens were legally acquired, the Secretariat is of the opinion that the export permits were issued contrary to the provisions of the Convention and should not be accepted at this time";21

    2.  Advice from the European Commission who, "on the requirements of Council Regulation 338/97 . . . advises Member States not to accept export permits for specimens of swietenia macrophyllia from Brazil until further notice without first obtaining from the Brazilian authorities a statement that those specimens were legally acquired";22

    3.  Action by Germany, to seize Brazilian mahogany at the beginning of March, even though it had an export permit; 23

    4.  Action by Belgium to seize Brazilian mahogany with export permits was seized during March, including a shipment destined for the UK; 25

    6.  Action by the USA to seize Brazilian mahogany. According to the Wall Street Journal on 28 March at least five shipments have been seized in US ports; 26 and

    7.  Action by Denmark, where the Environment Ministry has confirmed that, following doubts being raised as to the legality of shipments from Brazil at this time that "the Danish Forest and Nature Agency has requested that Customs and Excise does not release shipments of Swietenia macrophyllia for Brazil without prior approval of the Forest and Nature Agency." 27

  These steps have been warmly welcomed by Brazil. On 9 April the Brazilian President stated on national radio that:

    "The Brazilian government requested the assistance of other governments and we achieved yet another victory. When these countries discovered that the mahogany had been illegally harvested, they began to seize the shipments. The United States alone is holding $10 million of Brazilian mahogany." 28

  Despite these developments, DEFRA still refuses to say whether it will follow the advice of the EC and the CITES secretariat. On 10 April Michael Meacher responded, stating that "I am not able to give any blanket assurances that all cargoes of Brazilian mahogany arriving in the UK should be detained".

  Greenpeace believes that the Government has also misled Parliament on this issue. In a written answer given on 10 April, nearly one month after the advice from the CITES secretariat, Elliot Morley stated that the shipments that were the subject of the Greenpeace Judicial Review "did have the required documentation complying with Brazilian law and following inquiries made were confirmed by the Brazilian authorities as genuine and in line with CITES regulations".29

  Greenpeace believe that no such communication has been received. Other parts of this answer from 10 April were corrected on 25 April—but this issue has still not been addressed. 30

  Whatever the outcome of the judicial review, in the case of Brazilian mahogany the Government have missed a unique opportunity to demonstrate that it really wants to prevent the import of timber which has been or may have been illegally logged. It can hardly be said that the UK is at the forefront of international action to combat the illegal timber trade when it has argued so vigorously against using powers which Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark have all demonstrated it possesses.

  At the time of writing this submission Greenpeace notes that the UK Government has announced the setting up of a National Wildlife Criminal Intelligence Unit, which will work closely with CITES. Responding to a written parliamentary question on 25 April Michael Meacher stated that, "The UK has a good record of CITES enforcement".31 Whilst this may be the case in some areas the case outlined here in regard to the Brazilian mahogany trade would suggest that it is far from good enough.


  Progress on action to protect the world's ancient forests at the Convention on Biological Diversity was extremely limited. Despite having recognised that the world's "biodiversity is being destroyed by human activities at unprecedented rates"32, they failed to take the necessary action to stop further loss and admit that their efforts so far have been "too few, too little and too late".

  This is the first time since the Rio Earth Summit that world governments discussed the fate of the world's last ancient forests. However, the Ministerial declaration released towards the end of the conference ignored the strong recommendations on action provided by their own scientists (SBSTTA) which stressed "the need to urgently prioritise biodiversity conservation efforts on the most endangered and environmentally significant forest ecosystems and species, in particular primary [Ancient] forests".33

April 2002


  1  Memorandum of understanding between UK and Indonesian Governments, signed in London on 19 April 2002.

  2  Michael Meacher (28 July 2000). Written response to parliamentary question by Colin Burdgeon.

  3  Ibid.

  4  Tony Blair (6 March 2001). "Words are not enough" Rio-10 speech at WWF conference.

  5  Michael Meacher (23 May 2001). Letter to Greenpeace.

  6  DEFRA press release (23 November 2001). Government timber buying power to help combat illegal logging.

  7  Elliot Morley (20 November 2001). Written response to parliamentary question by Christopher Chope.

  8  All figures from Greening Government third annual report,

  9  Peter Dickin, Deputy Project Sponsor, Corporate resources and services group, Cabinet Office (25 March 2002). Letter to Greenpeace.

  10  See for example "Africa's vanishing apes" in The Economist (12 January 2002).

  11  According to Anna Jenkins, Director of FSC UK: "There is no FSC certified timber available from Cameroon at this time. Neither am I aware of any other independently certified timber under any other systems available from Cameroon". Source: fax to Joan Walley MP (10 April 2002). Details on illegal activities on companies such as Vicwood-Thanry available from

  12  Quoted in the Times (17 April 2002). "Company logs up £1 million in fines over two years"

  13  Christopher Leslie (19 April 2002). Parliamentary written answer from the Cabinet Office.

  14  http://www.redlist,org/search/details.php?species=33051.

  15  For more information see Greenpeace briefings "Forest crime files: UK Government fuelling the destruction of Africa's Forest of the Great Apes" and "Vicwood Thanry—Destroying Cameroon's ancient forests" both at



  18  "Partners in Mahogany Crime" (October 2001)—new/html/content/news.html.

  19  IBAMA Decree, IN17 of 19 October 2001, "suspend[ing] the transportation, the processing and the commercialisation of Swietenia macrophyllia (mahogany) for an indefinite time."

  20  Brazilian Embassy in London (1 March 2002). Letter to Timber Trade Federation.

  21  Advice issued on 13 March 2002 to CITES management authority of Germany.

  22  Advice sent to all member states, including the UK, 26 March 2002.

  23  Statement by the Deputy Minister for Consumer protection, Mattias Berninger, 26 March 2002: "We are holding this mahogany and we will not release it, until it is ensured that it was logged under reasonable circumstances."

  24  Statement by Margaret Aelvoet, Belgian Environment Minister, 22 March 2002: "The trade in mahogany from dubious origin is unacceptable. In such circumstances Belgium will detail mahogany as long as there is no absolute clarity about the legal status of the produced mahogany."

  25  The UK shipment was being imported by DBNY Ltd and destined for UK timber companies including Timbmet Ltd of Oxford. They have since confirmed that they have cancelled their order for this timber. The mahogany is still being held at the port of Flushing. DEFRA have confirmed that this shipment is being held by the Dutch authorities.

  26  Wall Street Journal (28 March 2002). "US Ports Detain Brazilian Mahogany in Response to Brazil's Ban on Exports."

  27  Danish Forest and Nature Agency CITES Department (4 April 2002).

  28  Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (9 April 2002). National Radio Address on mahogany.

  29  Elliott Morley (10 April 2002). Written response to parliamentary question by Jonathan Sayeed.

  30  Elliot Morley (25 April 2002). Written response to parliamentary question by Jonathan Sayeed.

  31  Michael Meacher (25 April 2002). Written response to parliamentary question by John Barrett.

  32  Final Ministerial declaration from CDB at the Hague.

  33  Statement by Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SSBSTA) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.


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