13. Staying Motivated and Staying Safe

Independently investigating illegal logging and tracing wood through supply chains can be hard and frustrating. In many cases, investigators can also expect to be frustrated by the impact their information has. The immediate response of enforcement authorities may not meet expectations, and even prosecuted cases may have limited influence on overall trade patterns. It is unlikely that any single EUTR or Lacey case will lead to a complete halt to the specific illegalities in the source country to which it relates, and no single case will ever halt all illegal logging in a country.

To stay motivated, it is important that investigators have realistic expectations on what is achievable. However, it is also important to keep in mind how powerful independent evidence can be, and how each individual case helps build towards a broader whole.

Cases investigated by NGOs have had dramatic impacts in the past, including on actual levels of illegal logging. A 2005 exposé of illegal logging and related international trade in merbau from Indonesia45, for example, led to an unprecedented enforcement operation which was in turn credited with helping measurably reduce overall illegal logging in the country. Prices of merbau trebled almost overnight, leading a billion-dollar flooring industry in China to shift to other species.

While such dramatic impacts are rare, every case and every piece of evidence helps build the momentum for change. Collectively, investigations and campaigning by NGOs have already had a major impact on levels of illegal logging. In the decade to 2009, one study found that global illegal logging fell by nearly a quarter. Independent monitoring and case building by NGOs was highlighted as a major contributory factor in all countries where measurable reductions were seen.

Investigative work by activists and communities of the kind explored in this Guidebook has great power. As well as defending the livelihoods of affected communities and protecting wildlife, it can reduce corruption and conflict, increase tax revenues and mitigate climate change.

However, this power brings with it very serious risks. Illegal logging and related trade is big business, and some of those involved are ruthless in attempting to protect their interests. In many countries, people investigating and exposing illegal logging have been seriously injured or killed in reprisal attacks. The risk to investigators and those they meet must always be taken seriously and never underestimated. It is essential to assess and seek to mitigate risks. Where risks cannot be sufficiently mitigated, then investigations should not be undertaken.