12. Sharing the Evidence
There are two broad ways in which evidence can be presented. The first is to present the evidence formally. This is appropriate for submitting information to enforcement agencies, other government bodies and individual companies. The second is to present the information to a wider audience in ways that will generate exposure and attention. In some circumstances, it may be best to take both routes, with a private, formal submission followed later by wider publicity, depending on the results obtained from the initial submission. Either way, it is important to consider how information is likely to be used when planning and implementing an investigation. The principles underpinning both methods of presentation are explored below.
Submitting evidence formally
For evidence to be of maximum use to authorities, it needs to be collected using the right methods, documented carefully and presented clearly.
Those investigating illegal logging and associated supply chains should choose and adapt their methods and targets to maximise the chance that any evidence collected will be able to be used by enforcement officials for Lacey and EUTR cases. Evidence collected by some methods may be more likely to be admissible in courts than that collected by other methods, for example. These criteria should be built into investigation planning, with legal guidance if possible.
Another important consideration when planning and conducting research is that some types of offence may be more easy to prove in court than others, even if they are not the most egregious in terms of their impact. For example, evidence of illegal harvesting by a supplier in a national park might not be usable on its own if it cannot be connected to a specific shipment, unlike mis-declaration at export or import, which is also easier to prove. Sometimes irrefutable evidence of a relatively minor ‘technicality’ is essential to allow a case to be pursued, and enable evidence of more serious offences to be brought to bear.
During an investigation, it is important to consider how evidence is recorded and communicated internally. If a formal case is launched which relies in part on the information provided by an NGO, that NGO’s internal documents and communications may need to be handed over to a court. It is therefore important that NGOs and other third parties collecting relevant evidence ensure that professional practice is followed in any relevant written communications. Inappropriate language, which may be seen as prejudicial, should be avoided.
The likelihood of information supplied by NGOs and other third parties being used by enforcement authorities depends not only on the quality of the information itself, but how clearly it is presented. As well as making the information more cogent, good presentation makes it more likely that authorities will consider it credible.
The clarity of the submission will depend on how well raw data was collated, recorded and filed in the course of the investigation. All data should be stored carefully (ideally in duplicate) during the investigation. A single master document should be used to keep a running-record of progress, including the source of each piece of evidence and a reference for where the evidence has been stored. This document will form the basis of the formal submission.
The submission itself should be a single document, with supporting data included as appendices. All relevant supporting evidence should be included, provided it is safe to expose the information. It may be necessary to leave out the names of individuals, informants, and villages. Though enforcement agencies should treat evidence with sensitivity, once information has been passed on to a third party it is out of the control of the investigator.
The submission should be as detailed as possible, presented clearly and precisely. Where possible it should include:
- Companies involved
- Products involved
- Species involved
- The source country
- The laws that are alleged to have been breached, with as much specificity as possible
- Dates on which key events (for example legal violations, imports) are believed to have occurred
- Contact details for the individual or organisation making the submission
For more information on contacts within enforcement agencies to whom submissions can be made, visit the Contacts page.
When information is being used publicly, the principles of accuracy and the avoidance of speculation and unsupported opinion should still be followed. However, the purpose and the audience will usually require that the information is presented in a more accessible and attention-grabbing style.
In some cases, general publication may be the only route for releasing information. In most cases where general publication is considered, however, it will make sense to also provide information directly to enforcement agencies or companies. If information is sufficiently specific that it could be acted on directly by enforcement, then it should be provided to officials in advance of publication, to ensure that any later publication does not undermine their efforts. Wider publicity should only follow once authorities have been given a sufficient opportunity to act.
If information is less specific – such as evidence of illegality in a source country without a specific supply chain connection to the EU or US – it might be appropriate to publish and submit to authorities simultaneously. In such instances, it may be sufficient to send a copy of a published report to the authorities with a brief covering letter, rather than re- formatting the evidence completely.
Where evidence is very detailed but enforcement agencies are unable or unwilling to take action in response, or where evidence is out of the scope of existing laws, then publication can be a way of generating impacts in other ways. For example, publication may lead companies to take action voluntarily, help generate increases in political will or funding for enforcement, or promote amendments to laws.
‘Publishing evidence may lead to companies taking action voluntarily, increase political will, or promote amendments to laws’
There are no hard-and-fast rules for exposés, and no guaranteed way to ensure a given case will capture attention above the wealth of other information released every day. But there are a few key principles that should be considered.
- Keeping focused: objectives and target audience-To keep a publication short and readable, it is important to only include information relevant to the specific objective (such as getting companies to drop a particular supplier), excluding other information collected even if it might be interesting. What information to include, and what tone and language to adopt when presenting it, should also depend on whether the main target audience is the general public, policy makers or a specific sector of the wood industry.
- Standing out: consider what content is most likely to get attention- To stand out, it also helps if published information focuses on the aspects of a case which are new, interesting or particularly egregious. While it may not be appropriate to go into detail on the harm caused by a case of illegal logging when submitting it for action by authorities, the opposite is true when trying to get the attention of a broader audience. Dramatic impacts on people and wildlife are often the best way to garner attention. If it is likely that evidence will be published at some point, it is important to consider this when planning and conducting an investigation. For example, fieldwork might seek to specifically document the harm caused by illegalities, and not just the illegalities themselves. When deciding what to film and photograph, on the other hand, it may be necessary to think about what looks most dramatic, not just the evidentiary value.
- Naming and shaming: legal risks- Where companies or individuals are named in evidence which is published, this carries legal risks which must be carefully considered. Specific details will depend on the libel laws in the country of publication, and ideally professional advice should be sought. Some broad principles apply, however. Risks are reduced if allegations are well evidenced, speculation or opinion is avoided, and a strong case can be made that release is in the public interest. It is important to bear in mind that what a publication implies (such as through how pictures and words are juxtaposed) is important, as well as what the text actually says.
An exposé may be written up into a report or briefing document, whether it is one-page long or much longer. However it is packaged-up, NGOs or individuals need to be proactive in pushing the information into the public domain. There are a number of ways to do so. Information can be provided to traditional media (such as newspapers and TV), either via a press release or a pre-planned ‘exclusive’ with a specific outlet. It can also be released independently and spread through social media or direct emails to key individuals.