Press release | Feb. 18, 2016

EU review finds European governments failing in fight against multi-billion euro trade in illegal wood

EU member states are failing to enforce laws designed to protect the world’s forests from illegal logging, according to a European Commission report published today. The first review of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) since the law came into force in March 2013 found that the implementation of the EUTR by EU member states has been “slow” and “insufficient”. For national enforcement bodies, “insufficient resources are a major challenge for the effective enforcement of the EUTR”.

“The EU Timber Regulation is a landmark piece of legislation that could make a huge difference in the fight against deforestation,” said Colin Robertson, campaigner for Global Witness. “But it will only work if European governments get serious about enforcing it. The law has been in place for three years but we have so far seen no prosecutions and no serious penalties. Meanwhile illegal timber continues to flood the EU market in enormous quantities.”

As much as two billion euros worth of illegal timber, pulp and paper could have entered the EU in 2014, according to the most credible estimate. Based on that estimate, the biggest importers were the UK, Germany, France and Italy. (1)

Illegal wood products are imported to the EU primarily from China, in the form of furniture, plywood and flooring, and as timber logged in Russia and in the world’s tropical rainforests - a trade that drives deforestation and corruption. Interpol claims that tackling illegal logging would be the “fastest, most effective” way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the EUTR, each EU member state is responsible for policing companies, to ensure that they are not placing illegal wood-based products on the European market. EU companies are obliged to carry out checks on their wood and paper supplies and screen out those that are at high risk of illegality. Sanctions in the EU differ by member state, but in some countries are punishable by prison sentences and hefty fines. (2)

"We have presented detailed evidence to national authorities across Europe that timber from the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo is very likely illegal, and possibly linked to violence and human rights abuses,” said Robertson. “But so far no steps appear to have been taken to hold companies accountable for breaking the law. Laws are only as good as their enforcement, and this one appears to have been widely ignored.”

In July 2015 Global Witness published an investigation which showed that French and German companies were importing timber from logging companies in the war-torn Central African Republic. These loggers had broken numerous laws aimed at forest protection and paid millions to armed militia guilty of mass murder and war crimes, thereby fuelling the conflict.

A month earlier, another Global Witness exposé showed how companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused of systematic illegal logging were shipping millions of euros’ worth of timber to France, Belgium, Portugal and other EU member states. Some of the companies in DRC have been allegedly complicit in human rights abuses against local populations.

“Since the implementation process has been generally slow in most Member States, checks [on companies] were relatively limited…..Therefore the impact of enforcement checks was not yet sufficient” according to the EU report.

The review concludes that “further consistent efforts are needed from both the Member States and the private sector before an effective and efficient application can be achieved”.

Global Witness recommendations:

  • EU member state governments should ensure that they dedicate sufficient human and financial resources to the enforcement of the EUTR. The European commission should monitor and publish information on the resources deployed by different member states, contrasting this with the scale and nature of the illegal wood-based products being placed on their national markets.
  • Member state authorities should be more cautious about accepting official documents from producer countries - particularly those with a high incidence of corruption - as proof of legality.
  • Member state authorities should be more transparent, publishing regular reports detailing their enforcement efforts. These should include details of the checks they have undertaken and the sanctions applied.
  • Member state authorities should take evidence from NGOs far more seriously. The EUTR contains a specific provision allowing for the submission of “substantiated concerns” by third parties.  Authorities should investigate and respond to these concerns in accordance with the legislation.
  • The European Commission should issue guidance for member states on identifying and dealing with the risks of conflict timber to ensure it does not enter the EU market.



Notes to editor:

1. Figures have been provided by James Hewitt, a leading expert on international timber trade. These figures have been estimated by multiplying individual annual bilateral trade flows of each category of wood-based product (based on Eurostat) with a percentage of illegality specific to each trade flow.  The percentages adopted are similar to those used for Chatham House's evaluations of illegal trade. These are based on existing studies, and surveys of experts' perceptions (including about the relative importance of particular illegalities), adjusted to reflect the availability of certified wood products and the preferences of importers.

2. The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) entered into force on 3 March 2013, outlawing the trade of illegally harvested timber (or products made from illegal timber) on the EU market. Illegal logging, as defined under the EUTR, refers to the harvesting of timber in contravention of the producer country’s laws and regulations. The EUTR not only prohibits companies from importing illegal timber or timber products, it also requires companies to “exercise due diligence” to assess and mitigate the risk that the timber or wood products have been illegally harvested. The Regulation requires each EU Member State to nominate a “competent authority” to enforce the EUTR, and impose effective and dissuasive sanctions on companies that fall foul of the EUTR

3. The European Commission’s review of the EUTR is available at: