4. Understanding the Supply Chain

Identifying and tracking illegal timber to market requires the interrogation of a range of different datasets and sources of information at different points of the supply chain. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to timber trade investigations, but rather a suite of different tools and approaches that can be applied, with varying degrees of effectiveness in different cases.

For the purposes of understanding both types of illegality and the means of identifying them, the supply chain can be divided into three broad stages:

Stage 1: Timber harvesting
Stage 2: The transport, processing and trade of timber, covering the trade from the point of harvest to the point of export
Stage 3: The end market

Investigations can begin at any point along the supply chain. The starting point is dictated by a combination of the capacity of the organisation carrying out the investigation, its location, and the preliminary evidence available to it. For example, a UK-based NGO may try to follow a supply chain back from a high-risk product sold within the UK. An NGO based in a port- town in Indonesia may try to follow the supply chain both back to the point of origin and onwards to market. As Chapter One explained, an investigation does not need to capture all of a supply chain to be useful. It does not even need to identify where timber was harvested or show it was harvested illegally, if it can be shown that it was processed or traded illegally.

The following sections provide an overview of the types of illegality that can occur at different points in the supply chain, the methods that can be used to identify them, and the ways in which timber can be tracked from harvest to market.