Briefing | April 21, 2016

Wilful Ignorance

Much of the world has woken up to the need to tackle illegal logging, which is devastating rainforests and worsening climate change, stripping forest communities of their homes, food and medicine, and undercutting the economies of forest-rich yet cash-poor countries, while feeding international organised crime.

Recognising the severity of the threat, most major timber importing countries have banned the import of wood products that have been illegally sourced, in an effort to choke the illegal timber market by stemming demand. One conspicuous exception is Japan. Japan is the only member of the G7 that currently lacks a law that prohibits the import of illegal timber, despite being the world’s fourth largest importer of wood.

In the absence of a law preventing illegal timber imports, Japan relies on the companies themselves to monitor what timber is legal and illegal. Wilful Ignorance reveals how corporate self-regulation is having negligible, if any, impact on the likelihood that illegal timber ends up on Japanese markets. Global Witness looked into the buying habits of seven major timber importers in Japan by undertaking a survey and additional research, and assessed their efforts to keep illegal timber off the market. We found that all seven companies buy huge quantities of timber from the rainforests of Sarawak, Malaysia, which is home to prolific illegal logging that comes at a devastating social and environmental cost. This fact is well-publicised, yet Japanese companies make very little effort to screen Sarawak exports for illegal timber.

Under pressure at home and from abroad, Japanese legislators are debating measures to address this. It is critical that they pass a lawthat matches international standards and requires all companies that import timber to exercise the necessary due diligence to ensure the timber they buy is legal. Without these requirements, the proceeds of illegal logging will continue to flood the Japanese market. A new approach is urgently needed.





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