Deforestation is big business. In Peru’s Amazon the wood from a single mahogany tree can fetch $11,000 on the US market. Chinese luxury hongmu furniture sells for up to a million dollars apiece. Incentives like these are driving chainsaws ever deeper into virgin forests, threatening both forests but the communities that live in them. In 2014, illegal loggers killed four indigenous leaders who had been trying to drive them off their land, part of a growing trend in murders in Peru’s forests. In Cambodia – a major supplier of luxury-grade wood to China – a multi-million dollar timber smuggling operation is devastating local livelihoods.
Forest crimes like this will continue unless laws, enforcement and market signals dictate otherwise - not just in forest-rich nations but also in the consumer blocs they export to.
Global Witness has long campaigned for countries that import forest products to shore up supply chains, with some notable success. The Lacey Act in the US makes the import of illegally produced timber a criminal offence. Similar legislation came into effect in the EU in 2013, and in Australia the year before that. Spot checks in Europe have shown, however, that the illegal timber trade continues to thrive, highlighting that far stronger enforcement is needed.
Major trade flows are completely unregulated. Ships loaded with the remains of critically endangered rainforests continue to drop anchor in China and Japan, which lack any binding legislation prohibiting the import of illegal wood. In China a portion of this timber is turned into products and transported to countries that have banned illegal timber.
Deforestation is driven by international consumer demand not just for timber, but for everything from soy to palm oil and other supposedly climate-friendly biofuels. The agribusiness industry is also a regulatory black hole. No binding international regulations exist to stop companies dealing in rubber, for instance, from illegally acquiring, clearing or managing land. We are calling on Europe and the US to legislate to ensure that companies are punished for their role in land grabbing, not profiting from it.