Forests, land and other environmental resources maintain our planet’s vital life support system and the livelihoods of billions of people. Tropical forests are particularly important for mitigating climate change. Global Witness is working to put in place good governance mechanisms for these natural resources that maintain vital ecological functions and promote economic development. Such mechanisms have been shaped by our research programme, working with local partner institutions, over many years, on tropical forest governance and management in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Our policy recommendations and projects are based at the local and international level and are centred on enhancing the role of local civil society and rural and forest communities in management of forest and land resources. We are keen to explore synergies with Chinese institutions based on this approach to tropical forest management and land-related investments.
One of Global Witness’ priorities is ending illegal logging because of the harm it causes to forests and the populations who rely on them. Illegal logging impedes sustainable development and good governance in some of the poorest countries of the world.
Global Witness has extensively documented the global trade in illegal timber including several cases associated with Chinese companies:
- Myanmar: On-the-ground research documented illegal logging in the country’s northern frontier with China which was clearly at odds with the Chinese government’s aspiration for a ‘harmonious society’ and the peace agreements with insurgent groups. The 2005 publication of Global Witness’ findings resulted in a decline in the cross-border illegal trade through Chinese government intervention, as documented in a 2009 follow up report.
- Madagascar: Our research laid bare an illegal rosewood industry worth up to US$460,000 a day. We traced and reported on illegally harvested precious woods from Madagascar in supply chains in Europe and the United States, resulting in sanctions by the U.S. government against a major guitar manufacturer. However, we found that over 95% of the illegal precious woods from Madagascar were bought by Chinese traders and destined for Chinese markets, particularly rosewood for making high end specialty furniture. The government of Madagascar reacted to our findings by banning the export of precious woods, including rosewood.
- Democratic Republic of Congo: Our research in June 2012 revealed the illegal abuse of ‘artisanal logging permits’ used primarily to harvest IUCN red-listed endangered timber. A significant proportion of the companies using the illegal permits were from China or in partnership with Chinese companies. The majority of the timber was destined for the Chinese market.
- Liberia: Investigations and reports by Global Witness and local organisations revealed how a breakdown in law and order saw 40 per cent of the country’s tropical rainforests handed over to logging companies through the widespread and illegal issuance of logging licences called Private Use Permits (PUPs). Global Witness documented the trail of illegal timber around the world, with China being the largest destination.
One way to tackle illegal logging is for consumer countries to stop the trade in illegal timber or products made from such timber. The Lacey Act in the United States was amended in 2008 to make the import of illegally produced timber a criminal offence. The European Union also passed legislation that came into force in March 2013, requiring importers to take appropriate measure to ensure all timber and timber products are from legal sources. Australia passed similar legislation in 2012 and comparable legal measures are urgently needed in all consumer countries to ensure a consistent international approach to the halting the trade in illegal timber. Major consumer countries must also take steps to reduce the demand for wood products that drive the destruction of rainforests and other important forest resources.