Report | April 10, 2013

Logging in the Shadows

The systemic and targeted abuse of small, poorly regulated logging permits by logging companies is facilitating quick access to forests for commercial logging, in spite of tighter regulations and oversight. These ‘shadow permits’ are allocated in secret and subject to few controls over their operations. Their characteristics typically include low taxation, poor consultation with local people and minimal environmental requirements. 

This report identifies a pattern of abuse across four countries in Africa whereby political elites, forestry officials and logging companies are colluding to maintain easy access to timber. In doing so they are systematically bypassing new laws and environmental safeguards designed to protect forests and the communities that live in them. The extensive granting of shadow permits in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Ghana and Cameroon shows that corruption is still the main threat to tropical rainforests, and is robbing communities and local people of their livelihoods. 

Originally intended to promote small, local enterprises and to meet local needs in a controlled, regulated way, shadow permits are now being allocated in their hundreds for commercial use. Once allocated, shadow permits can open the door to large-scale, intensive and exceptionally profitable logging operations due the absence of effective oversight by the authorities. Governments and other relevant authorities have repeatedly failed to stop the abuse of shadow permits, with the result that logging is often much more extensive and damaging to forests than originally intended. 

European-led reform efforts have focused on large-scale concessions that produce timber for export but in each country shadow permits have provided a loophole to bypass tighter regulations. Weaknesses in legal frameworks, and corruption at all levels of government, have enabled companies to continue to export large amounts of timber to the EU, US and China. In some cases, shadow permits have opened the way for trade in rare or threatened species, such as rosewood and wenge. 

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