1. Introduction

Rampant illegal logging is having devastating effects on wildlife, people and the global climate. Governments of countries affected by illegal logging and related trade are losing billions of dollars of revenues, while indigenous and local communities dependent on forests are losing their land and their livelihoods. Illegal logging undermines the rule of law, promotes corruption and in some cases even contributes to armed conflict.

Much of the wood and wood products produced illegally, from the Amazon to Southeast Asia, are ultimately sold in lucrative markets in Europe and the USA. In response to this crisis, and to address their complicity in it, both the European Union (EU) and US governments have enacted legislation that prohibits illegal timber from being sold. While they have had some impact, so far these laws have failed to stem the majority of illegally sourced wood imports from reaching the market. It is estimated that the US continues to import illegally sourced wood worth nearly $3 billion each year [1], while a recent official review of the relevant law in the EU found that implementation to-date had been weak.  [2]

One reason these laws have yet to be fully effective is that, in spite of a wealth of information about illegal logging in countries that are exporting timber, insufficient evidence is finding its way to the agencies tasked with enforcing these laws in Europe and the US. This guidebook is intended to help close that information gap.

The guidebook is intended to help civil society identify illegal wood, track illegal timber to EU and US markets, and submit evidence to relevant authorities. Drawing on case studies from around the world, the guidebook summarises the state-of-the-art tools, methods and technologies for carrying out independent investigations into the legality of logging, trading, export and for tracking illegally sourced wood through complex supply chains to end markets.

The guidebook seeks to help individuals and groups already involved in relevant research, but it also aims to inspire and empower others to join them. By helping more people to expose cases of illegal logging and associated trade, the aim of the guidebook is to improve implementation of relevant laws and, in turn, to reduce illegal logging and the devastating harm it does to people and the environment.

Who is the Guidebook For?

This guidebook is principally intended to be used by civil society, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local community and youth groups, and individual activists. It should also be of interest to investigative journalists. You might be an indigenous community wanting to find out who is logging your land and whether what they are doing is legal. You may be a local NGO or individual activist wanting to examine the legality of the clearance of a forest for a palm oil plantation, and track where the resulting wood is going. You could be an investigative journalist in an EU country looking for a story about illegal wood being used in garden furniture.

The information in the guidebook is relevant to every country where illegalities occur in the cutting or clearance of forests and the related trade in timber, and to all countries that import wood from these countries. Though the guidebook has a particular focus on cases with supply chain connections to the EU and USA, most of the methods it describes are applicable in cases where timber is destined for other countries or being consumed domestically. There does not even need to be timber production involved: though much of the guidebook relates to timber production, many of the tools and methods are equally relevant when investigating illegalities in the clearance of forests (such as for commercial plantations), where no timber production is involved.

The information contained in this guidebook may also be useful for governments and companies. Enforcement agencies may use it for their own research, or to better understand information provided to them by NGOs. Wood product purchasers may find some of the methods useful when checking the legality of the timber they buy. Both may find the contextual information useful to better understand how illegality functions in this complex sector.

How Should the Guidebook Be Used?

It is not expected that all of the information in this guidebook will be relevant to any one case or any one reader. Readers should use the guidebook as a resource, absorbing only those sections of most relevance to them, and referring back to it intermittently as their research progresses. The guidebook is divided into three chapters, that cover the following areas:

  • Sections 1-3 provide an overview of the laws that have been enacted in the EU and US in response to the global epidemic of illegal logging, and explores how information from civil society can support the implementation of these laws.
  • Sections 4-10 outline how illegality functions in the sector, from the forest to the market, and provides detailed guidance on how individuals or organisations can investigate illegality at various stages of the supply chain.
  • Sections 11-13 explain how information obtained during investigations can be used to support implementation of the law, improve policies and close the market to illegal timber.

The guidebook is published along with additional resources on this website. The website will be regularly updated with new information including changes to laws, developments with relevant technologies and new case studies. The website also hosts up-to-date contact information for relevant authorities in the EU and USA.

Earthsight, the publisher of this guidebook, is also looking to develop partnerships with NGOs engaged in relevant research. Earthsight can provide pro-bono assistance to help organisations and individuals build, submit and publicise cases of illegal trade in timber. Assistance may range from support in obtaining or analysing an individual piece of information (such as interrogating a database of shipment records), to in-depth joint research, including fieldwork. Visit the Assistance section of the website for further guidance on applying for our help.

[1] Lawson, S. 2015. The Lacey Act’s Effectiveness in Reducing Illegal Wood Imports. Union of Concerned Scientists
[2] TEREA/S-for-S/Topperspective. 2016. Evaluation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) 2004-2014. Commissioned by the European Commission through the European Forest Institute