Suspect timber firms lobby for certified wood ‘green lane’ in draft EU anti-deforestation law

09.11.2021

Influential timber industry group run by firms guilty of logging and wood trading abuses calls for proposed EU rules to wave through wood certified by dubious sustainability schemes

Aerial view of a log raft in Siberia. Credit: Earthsight

  • Europe’s leading timber lobby group wants a draft EU law aimed at protecting forests to grant a ‘green lane’ to timber approved by dubious certification schemes.
  • The Brussels-based European Timber Trade Federation, which represents 15 national timber associations, set out its demands in a letter to EU lawmakers debating draft legislation to end deforestation and human rights abuses driven by global demand for wood and for agricultural goods like beef, soy and palm oil.
  • The ETTF’s board includes representatives from timber firms guilty of environmental abuses and breaking the rules of the leading global scheme for sustainable wood products, the Forest Stewardship Council.

Europe’s leading timber lobby group is calling for draft EU controls meant to prevent illegal and unsustainable forest use overseas to exempt wood ‘certified’ by green labels. An Earthsight analysis has found that the industry federation’s board includes representatives of timber firms guilty of breaking current EU timber laws as well as the sustainability schemes’ own rules.

The letter by the European Timber Trade Federation (ETTF), a Brussels-based lobby group representing 15 different national timber associations, comes at a critical moment in the EU’s efforts to address the bloc’s role in driving deforestation overseas through its consumption of so-called ‘forest risk commodities’ like timber, soy, beef and palm oil. The draft law is expected to expand on the existing EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which bans imports of illegally sourced wood and demands firms ensure the risk of sourcing it is reduced to a ‘negligible’ level. The new law will encompass many other commodities known to be the biggest drivers of forest loss worldwide. It will also include requirements for sustainability as well as legality.

Earthsight has repeatedly exposed how certificates of dubious value issued by the two leading global schemes for sustainable wood, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), have enabled wood which is not compliant with EUTR to flood into Europe. In 2020, we revealed how 100,000 tonnes of timber linked to Russia’s biggest illegal logging scandal this century entered the EU. The timber had been ‘certified’ as legal by PEFC auditors. This year, in the latest of a series of scandals we have uncovered involving FSC, we found that an FSC-certified logging company in Siberia had engaged in rampant illegal felling in protected forests. Auditors appeared not to notice the illegalities, and the wood ended up in Ikea children’s furniture as a result.

If their laws are to be effective, EU authorities need to give such certificates less credence, not more

Illegally logged forest in Siberia. Earthsight found the company responsible was FSC-certified and had been a long term supplier of wood used in Ikea children’s furniture. Credit: Earthsight

In the days leading up to COP26, a coalition of 34 environmental and human rights organisations from across the world wrote to FSC demanding it fix fundamental flaws in its systems which allowed these cases to occur.

Earthsight’s research has shown how false trust placed in these industry certificates has served to undermine the effectiveness of the EU’s flagship timber law, even though the papers currently have no ‘green lane’ under the regulation. Giving such schemes the free pass the ETTF timber lobby demands in the new legislation would make it valueless. If their laws are to be effective, EU authorities need to give such certificates less credence, not more.

EU lawmakers must dismiss the ETTF’s demands for a green lane for certification schemes. They should demand the opposite. Proper enforcement of the new law will require a much greater willingness on the part of member state authorities’ to question the value of these certificates.

When considering the value of the ETTF’s demands, aside from the rationale above, the European officials concerned might wish to consider whether those behind the ETTF letter are voices which should be trusted.

Three logging and timber importing firms are represented on the ETTF board. All three have been in hot water with EUTR and/or FSC. The ETTF President, for one, is the boss of a Dutch tropical logging firm whose FSC-certified logging concession in Cameroon was repeatedly found in breach of laws by the country’s official logging monitor. The ‘Softwood Section’ Chairman’s firm is connected to the Siberian scandal mentioned above. The ‘Plywood Section’ Chairman, meanwhile, runs a firm recently found guilty of breaching EUTR and exposed for having imported vast volumes of suspect Chinese plywood falsely labelled as FSC approved.

Three logging and timber importing firms are represented on the ETTF board. All three have been in hot water with EUTR and/or FSC

EU lawmakers must dismiss the ETTF’s demands for a green lane for certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council. Credit: Alamy

The ETTF board's 'Chainsaw Criminals'

The industry roles on the ETTF board are as follows:

  • President
  • Softwood Section Chairman 
  • Hardwood Section Chairman
  • Plywood Section Chairman, and
  • Merchant's Section Chairman.
These roles are joined by a federation-employed Secretary General. The merchant's section represents retailers rather than loggers or importers.

Ad Wesselink - ETTF President and Hardwood Section Chairman | MD of firm involved in FSC logging scandal in Congo Basin

Managing Director at Wijma, a Dutch company involved in logging tropical forests in Cameroon and branded a ‘Chainsaw Criminal’ by the environmental group Greenpeace. Its FSC-certified logging concession in the country – the first in Central Africa to receive FSC approval – has been the subject of numerous scandals. The country’s officially-mandated Independent Monitor of Forest Law Enforcement and Governance found that the company was in breach of local regulations in 2005 and again in 2006 – something FSC auditors had failed to notice. FSC later suspended the audit firm involved. More recently, FSC auditors decided to approve the continued certification of the concession despite it being within an active conflict zone. Wijma’s FSC Forest Management certificate was finally terminated in 2019. No explanation is given for the termination on the relevant FSC webpage.

Morten Bergsten – ETTF Softwood Section Chairman | Owner of company buying FSC timber from high-risk suppliers in Siberia

Owner of Bergsten Timber AS in Denmark. Bergsten is a significant importer of timber from Russia, including the country’s particularly high-risk Siberian region. During 2019-2020, customs records show that Bergsten was a major importer of wood from Dekom, a company in Irkutsk, Siberia, which the official Russian timber tracking database shows was being supplied with FSC-certified timber from concessions owned by businessman and politician Evgeny Bakurov at the time. In July, Earthsight revealed in 2021 how rampant illegal harvesting in protected forests within these concessions had gone unnoticed by FSC auditors.

Koen de Witte – ETTF Plywood Section Chairman | CEO of firm which bought falsely labelled FSC wood from China and was found in breach of EUTR

Chief Executive of Belgian-headquartered Altripan, one of Europe’s largest plywood importers. Earlier this year it was revealed that Altripan had been importing large volumes of plywood from China falsely labelled as FSC certified. Undercover interviews with EU buyers of the plywood concerned, including Altripan, showed that the importers appeared to be aware that their supply chain carried unmitigated risks under EUTR, but they continued to import regardless. Altripan executives told investigators from the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) the firm had stopped shipping the plywood to the UK as result. But they continued to ship it to other EU countries, because of ‘different levels of enforcement’ [of EUTR]. After EIA submitted evidence, Dutch and Belgian authorities concluded that Altripan had breached EUTR and issued formal warnings. FSC’s antiquated systems had enabled the Chinese exporter concerned to launder over 100,000 tonnes of suspect wood into FSC supply chains.

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