Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. If I could move on specifically to talk about the United Kingdom's record in terms of the import of illegally logged timber. I am sure you are aware of the Friends of the Earth Report and the Friends of the Earth European league table of illegally imported timber 2001 which implied that the United Kingdom had a dismal record in importing illegally logged timber compared to other EU countries. Given that these figures rely on data about illegal practices and therefore must themselves be open to interpretation and difficult to collate, how much reliance do you think we can place on these figures? How reliable are they?
  (Mr Sauven) Any figures like that are quite difficult to compile. Friends of the Earth recognise that in the introduction to that report. To a certain extent these are guesstimates. If we look at some specific examples, for example at the end of 1999 the UK Government funded a study about illegal logging in Indonesia and they found that about 73 per cent of logging in Indonesia is coming from illegal sources. The Indonesian Government estimates that the trade in illegal logging is costing the country $3 US billion a year. That was a specific study. This government has also funded a similar study in Cambodia and they are doing some work in Cameroon as well. If you look, for example, at the work we were doing in Brazil into mahogany logging, we carried out a very extensive investigation there last autumn. This was then followed up by an investigation by the Brazilian environment agency and the Brazilian federal authorities. They said at least 70 per cent of mahogany logging was illegal. They found huge stockpiles of mahogany on Indian lands which is against federal law in Brazil. There was a lot of logging going on on public land which was outside any kind of concession area. When you go down to specific investigations that have happened, you will find the figures are extremely high, roughly in line with what Friends of the Earth were saying There was also a letter that Andrew Robathan wrote to Clare Short in mid-April. The International Development Committee visited Ghana recently and he said: "From memory, the Government of Ghana licenses the extraction of one million cubic metres of hardwood a year—probably unsustainable—but the capacity of Ghana's sawmills is four times that amount and the sawmills are working to capacity. The timber trade is controlled by "vested interests in Government, timber industry and traditional authorities' and because it is largely illegal logging, involves a great deal of corruption and intimidation, as we were told on our visit. It therefore seems to be particularly regrettable that another Government Department should use wood from Ghana"—ie, the Cabinet Office—" "thereby undermining DIFD's policies". You can see that a committee from the House of Commons here has been out to a country and recognised the scale and extent of the problem. Wherever anybody has looked on the ground and carried out investigations they have always come back with the same sorts of figures which are very high and show that between 50 and 80 per cent of logging is illegal.

  21. If you accept those figures, earlier you mentioned that the UK was joint third importer of tropical timber in the EU alongside Italy, yet if you look at that league table that Friends of the Earth produced, the United Kingdom has a much poorer record on illegal tropical timber imports than Italy. Illegally logged tropical timber as a percentage of overall tropical timber imported to the UK is 60 per cent and to Italy is 40 per cent. Indeed, in your submission you draw a sharp contrast between the UK and Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and the USA. Why do we seem to be doing so much worse than our partners in Europe and what lessons can we learn from them?
  (Mr Sauven) I would have to go back and study the Friends of the Earth Report but that is partly accountable by where we are buying the timber from. We are a very large importer of tropical hardwoods, as has been stated. Also, for example, we are the third largest importer of mahogany in this country and Italy does not import any mahogany. If you look at specific species or countries, 56 per cent of all Brazilian timber exports to the EU come into the United Kingdom. If you look at specific countries or species, you will find it is skewed in terms of looking where the UK is importing from.

  22. Is that because that has always been the case or have other countries in Europe developed more sustainable procurement policies?
  (Mr Sauven) Historically I would have to find out the answer to that question.
  (Ms Jenkins) It is certainly different fashions in the traditional markets for different tropical woods in different countries in Europe. What is fashionable in the UK may not be fashionable in Italy.

  23. What you are saying is we are just a victim of fashion and historic case that makes us a poor performer rather than any policy best practice?
  (Ms Jenkins) It is not just that. Certainly in terms of procurement policies at central government level the UK really has been the first out of the pack. Germany and France recently at The Hague Biodiversity Convention Conference of Parties announced that they would be undertaking similar procurement policies regarding timber. The Dutch Government does not have a national level government policy but some departments within the Dutch Government do have their own policies which they are implementing reasonably well according to my colleagues in Holland. Certainly it is not the case, I would say, that there are better procurement policies at a national government level within Europe. That is not the reason for the difference.

  24. Are they more responsible consumers?
  (Ms Jenkins) I am not certain. I could not comment on that because I have not looked at the figures in that much detail. I do know from experience and previous work that timber markets are very different in different countries. What has been fashionable in one country was never even looked at in another.
  (Mr Tait) That question goes to the heart of the submission we made in writing. If you look at the UK's record in terms of rhetoric it is extremely good and extremely strong. John has mentioned a few examples of that and there was also a memorandum of understanding recently signed between the United Kingdom and Indonesia to try and tackle illegal logging. The problem with all of this is how this rhetoric is backed up with action. Certainly in the evidence we have provided on procurement in the Cabinet Office suggests it has not. You mentioned Germany, the United States of America, the Netherlands and Belgium taking action and that is specifically in regard to mahogany. Again it is a situation where, in theory, the United Kingdom could act and they have not acted. There is a stark contrast between rhetoric and action.

Mr Jones

  25. Could Britain's relatively poor performance be that in comparison to European countries we have less forest and the forest that we have is growing woods for paper products and not furniture and other products which we could substitute for mahogany and so on? Could that be the reason?
  (Mr Sauven) If people want to use mahogany then they should know it is endangered and people should know the facts about mahogany. It comes down to a question really that some other countries might be using different species, some of them might be home grown. Even if you look, for example, at the timber that was used in the Cabinet Office, Balfour Beatty asked for the sapele which does not come from a certified or sustainable source and timber companies that supplied that sapele have given to us in writing and have stated quite clearly that there is no certified timber from West Africa. In fact, we received a letter this morning from DLH which said: "Certification and chain of custody are good tools for many parts of the world, but as you must already be aware, are not available today from any West African country." When we asked Timbmet whether they could supply FSC timber that was similar to sapele they could.
  (Ms Jenkins) The most applicable was a specie called jatoba which is from Brazil and Bolivia. It has almost identical working properties to sapele. It is durable, it can be used for outside—these doors were not for outside use—it is dark red, it is like mahogany, it has a great finish, good machinability, it is FSC certified and it is available in very large commercial quantities. There are two other species which I will not go into which have some limitations on them, either in supply, or colour or workability, but nonetheless could have also offered potentially viable alternatives to sapele so there are alternatives available out there. The key is knowing how to specify those alternatives and specify them in time and knowing what evidence to look for to ensure you getting what you ask for, ie, legal and sustainable (preferably sustainable) timber. I would say there is quite a difference between "legal" and "sustainable". Again, that is something that needs to be separated out a little bit more. Legal and sustainable is a nice thing to say but something that is legal is not necessarily sustainable. Again, getting back to taking one step at a time, achieving legality of timber supply would be one step. Achieving sustainability according to FSC principles and criteria would be several steps on from that.

Mr Barker

  26. Are you aware of the deficit that would be produced if you were suddenly able to clamp down and eradicate all the illegal imports? What sort of constraints would that impose?
  (Mr Sauven) Sorry?

  27. What sort of deficit if you were suddenly able tomorrow to ban effectively all of the illegally logged timber would that create in demand?
  (Ms Jenkins) It could potentially be massive. I do not have a figure for the amount of tropical timber we use in this country as a proportion of all timber. It is not difficult to find out.
  (Mr Sauven) About 10 per cent of timber that we use is tropical hardwoods.
  (Ms Jenkins) So if you extrapolate that out from the figure you gave earlier of 70 per cent of tropical timber coming from illegal sources, we would be losing 7 per cent of supply to the United Kingdom, which is quite a lot of timber. Certainly the FSC system has not reached 7 per cent of the timber market. On the last figures I have it was worth 629 million. That is FSC at 3.4 per cent of the timber market, so 7 per cent would be quite a lot more money, and it is very high value timber obviously being tropical.
  (Mr Sauven) The key thing about this is it was quite obvious that to get FSC timber for the Cabinet Office involved just a phone call to Timbmet to ask them what was available and what we could use. It did not require anything more than a phone call from us to get that information. It was quite clear that phone call was not made. The other thing is that logging companies that want to become FSC certified, even in ancient forest regions, where they are interested in developing much higher standards to guarantee not just legality but sustainability in their operations, are being totally undermined by all this illegal trade. It is very difficult to operate all these standards side-by-side. It is a bit like having a stolen car network and a legitimate car dealership. Of course, the stolen car network will always undermine the legitimate car dealership because they do not pay taxes, they do not pay fees for concessions, they log in an archaic fashion, so you are not setting up a level playing field in terms of the international trade. You are having a massively detrimental effect on government revenues in the region that are missing out on taxes and so on and so forth and you are also having a massive environmental and local impact on peoples as well. That is why it is really key to act. The Government has also stated that it is keen to act domestically, ie, in this country, and that is very important. It was very fashionable a long time ago to say it is somebody else's problem and the country is a long way away. That can no longer be our claim. I do not think anybody accepts that any more. We consume these products and we have to be responsible for where these products come from.

Joan Walley

  28. I want to touch on things which we have already referred to such as the impacts of certification, but I want to preface my remarks by saying thank you to Greenpeace. Some of the work you have done has involved incredible bravery particularly in parts of South America in exposing something which governments need to address nationally and internationally. What I really want to try and get to the heart of is that it is very easy to have a lot of press coverage of things which need to be done or should be done. It is a different thing altogether to get to the devil in the detail about how we are going to make it a reality by putting into practice either multi-national environmental agreements that we have or putting into practice ways of putting into reality the vision which I think the Prime Minister has set out and Michael Meacher has set out. The FSC talks about the certification that could be used. If you were advising the Government now in the Cabinet Office, not necessarily about the timber for the door frames in the Cabinet Office but about government procurement across all departments, how would you come up with a certification model that could be used and enforced and monitored?
  (Ms Jenkins) I would look at three steps. I would look at firstly achieving legality. It is important that there be some sort of independent certification of legality because a timber company telling you it is legal or even, unfortunately, government documents telling you something is legal certainly is not good enough.

  29. Could that be done perhaps through the United Nations or on a nation-by-nation basis?
  (Ms Jenkins) It could be done in a similar way to the FSC system. The FSC has offered to set up an accreditation system for legality for the timber trade without the FSC brand being anywhere near it obviously.

  30. To whom have you offered that?
  (Ms Jenkins) We have spoken to DFID about that and we have spoken to Hilary Benn about that. Certainly he was very keen.

  31. Are you talking about the International Development Department?
  (Ms Jenkins) DFID.

  32. I am talking about the Cabinet Office. I am also talking about the Office of Government Commerce which is where presumably everything goes in terms of procurement on a wider basis?
  (Ms Jenkins) We would speak to DFID about the funding to undertake that work. We cannot undertake work without funding. Without the funding we are unable to develop this. At the moment there is one certification body in the world who can verify independently the legality of timber that I know of—and I have not done an exhaustive search—and that is SGS in Malaysia. They run a specific programme to go in and check if timber is legal and track it out.


  33. Who funds that?
  (Ms Jenkins) It is a commercial operation and certificates would be paid for by the clients. That is why it is important to have an accreditation system where there is a body over and above the certification body checking the certification body.

Joan Walley

  34. Who should be doing that? Should that be a United Nations' development programme?
  (Ms Jenkins) Potentially FSC may be able to do. They may be able to develop the systems for that and then hand it on to another body. I have not looked at the subject in enough detail to give you a good answer to that question, I am sorry.

  35. Are you saying that within your knowledge other than the FSC doing that there are other options as well?
  (Ms Jenkins) It could be done through national accreditation bodies but they would have to work together. Having international accreditation has the advantage that it works everywhere under one system. Nonetheless, the principle is you need third party verification of legality of timber and you would need a competent body to oversee and accredit certifiers working under such a system. That would be a first step.

Ian Lucas

  36. That is not considered at all by the CITES Convention?
  (Ms Jenkins) No CITES is quite separate because whilst it renders some species illegal to trade such Brazilian rosewood under CITES appendix one, it can only consider those that have been put to parties as being endangered or threatened. If no submission is made that a specie is threatened then it is not covered, so it only focuses on specific species. I would look at three steps. The first would be legal, the second would be looking at companies that are progressing towards certification for high standard, provable, sustainable or well-managed timber. Again, it would be useful to audit progress towards meeting a certification standard such as FSC's because otherwise it is very easy for a company to fob off or to continually lead purchasers astray by saying, "Yes, we are almost there, we are almost getting it." If it is not done in a targeted and measured fashion then you cannot be assured of confidence. There are proposals again by various bodies. WWF is working on this. DFID is involved in this concept. It is important to support countries where the level of forest management is very poor at the moment but yet we can use the market to bring that level of management up to the certified level. Again, SGS run a programme at the moment of auditing such companies going through that step-by-step process to reach an FSC standard and that enables them to communicate effectively business to business. The third stage would be independently certified well-managed timber such as through the FSC system. I would look at it in three stages.
  (Mr Tait) If you are trying to consider the specific situation of the Cabinet Office at this moment in time —

Joan Walley

  37.—Yes but go on.
  (Mr Tait) Surely what that department and other departments should be doing is specifying in their contracts and creating the demand that way.

  38. I want to come to that in a minute. I want to come on to the way in which we get contracts, but what I am interested in at this stage is whether or not a body like FSC have been approached by government to give their advice as to how to get some kind of standard of measurement that could be introduced and enforced. What you seem to be saying is that you have not been.
  (Ms Jenkins) No.

  39. But were there to be a recommendation, for example, from this Committee that that might be one way to help governments find a way forward, you would be available to offer help.
  (Ms Jenkins) We would, and we would work with other NGOs and other professionals.
  (Mr Sauven) I have to say also that WWF have repeatedly offered for the last two years to help the Government with their procurement policies, and they have not been taken up on that offer.
  (Mr Tait) WWF are putting in a written submission to the Committee on this issue, and it is covered in that submission.


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