F.L.E.G.T: Letter by letter
This section explores each of the letters in the FLEGT acronym: F for forest; L for law; E for enforcement; G for governance and T for trade. Each page provides background information, examples, story ideas and reporting tips.
FLEGT makes it easier for law enforcement agencies and judiciaries to do their jobs, by improving the detection of crime and articulating clear procedures for handling cases of illegality.
Enforcement in the EU
The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) requires all EU Member States to carry out checks on companies and have “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties for importers and traders who are found to be dealing in illegal timber. Enforcement practices and penalty regimes therefore vary among EU Member States. For example, according to ClientEarth:
- United Kingdom: The UK has allocated four to five full-time staff to work on EUTR enforcement. Penalties include fines of up to £5000 and/or prison sentences of up to two years. The UK has carried out checks on companies but does not make public the number of checks.
- Romania: Penalties include fines of up to 2250 euros and/or a suspension of permission to trade. Checks were carried out in May and June 2015 at two Romanian sawmills, following reports by an NGO.
- Netherlands: Penalties include fines of up to 81,000 euros, seizure of timber, suspension of trade and/or prison sentences of up to two years. As of July 2015, 101 checks had been carried out on operators, and 29 written warnings had been issued to operators.
To date, EU Member States have taken a stepwise approach to enforcement, issuing warnings and demanding remedial action rather than imposing penalties, in order to give EU private sector actors time to adapt to the regulation.
In November 2014, authorities in Belgium seized a shipment of wood from Brazil after Greenpeace claimed it was illegal. The authorities released the timber in January 2015 after concluding that the timber was legal. However, the EU importer later cancelled further trade with the supplier when Brazilian investigators found the company to be involved in illegalities.
In 2015, the EU Commission opened infringement proceedings for Greece, Hungary and Spain. These countries had not adopted the EUTR’s obligatory national implementing measures, namely failing to incorporate rules on penalties into their respective national laws.
Enforcement in VPA partner countries
Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) strengthen law enforcement in partner countries in a number of ways.
- Defining legality: VPAs include a practical, enforceable definition of legality that all stakeholders can endorse. This creates clarity about what is legal and what is not and enables law enforcement agencies to do their job.
- Supply chain controls: A VPA’s timber legality assurance system includes controls that ensure legal wood remains legal throughout the supply chain and that wood from illegal or unknown sources cannot contaminate the supply chain of timber products. To achieve this, VPA partner countries develop timber tracking systems and procedures for checking data, documents and timber at each node in the supply chain.
- Verification of compliance: To ensure legality, a VPA country develops the means to check evidence of compliance with the legality definition and supply chain controls. Verification ensures controls are taking place and supports law enforcement by identifying cases of non-compliance.
Voluntary Partnership Agreements may also recognise a role for independent forest monitors from civil society who can check on implementation of the timber legality assurance system and bring cases of non-compliance to the attention of the authorities.
Often VPA partner countries lack the capacity needed for effective law enforcement. Chatham House reports advances in this area:
- In Ghana, training has been provided for public prosecutors working for the Forestry Commission. A rapid-response team has also been expanded and investments made in the use of information-gathering tools.
- In Cameroon, training has been provided for ministry staff, prosecutors and customs officials, but low salaries and high staff turnover have limited its impact.
So, environmental stories are “soft”? Try covering the customs department or forest law enforcement. Spend a few days with a villager monitoring a community forest threatened by loggers. Interview researchers for the Environmental Investigation Agency about their undercover work. See how “soft” that is. Environmental journalism is fluff only if you stay on the surface. Scratch a little deeper, and forest stories are about corruption, official impunity, hitmen and a whole lot of money. Next time your editor complains about your ideas for “nature stories,” pitch some of these angles.
Find the heroes inside ‘the system’. Within even the most notoriously corrupt agencies, there are people quietly and sometimes heroically trying to do the right thing. Cultivating a variety of off-the-record sources within relevant agencies like national parks, customs and the police is fundamental to understanding the darker sides of the timber trade. Protecting the identity of such sources is, of course, fundamental to good journalism.
Follow the wood: Travel with timber on its journey from a tree to a port, via log landings, sawmills and processing centres. Who are the officials you meet on the journey and how are they enforcing laws and implementing supply chain controls?
Learn more: This World Bank report helps explain the role of the criminal justice system in fighting illegal logging. The report draws on experience gained from dealing with other types of crime such as money laundering and corruption. “Green Carbon, Black Trade” is a report by UNEP and INTERPOL from 2012, focusing on illegal logging and how criminals “are combining old fashioned methods such as bribes with high-tech methods such as computer hacking of government websites to obtain transportation and other permits.” The Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit was designed to assist government officials with a comprehensive overview of the main issues related to environmental offences and for analysing preventive and criminal justice responses to wildlife and forest offences. This publication of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime should also be a help to journalists covering forest and illegal timber trade.
Rangers patrol in the Ulu Masen forest, Aceh, Indonesia
Muktar was an illegal logger in the Ulu Masen forest for over 10 years before becoming a ranger.
Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith, Panos Pictures, DFID