Building company profiles

When a target company of interest has been identified, it is useful to find out as much as possible about it, including information that may appear unrelated or irrelevant to its specific activities in the timber sector. This applies to companies at every stage of the supply chain.

This information should be collated as a company profile in a single document, that can grow as more data is found. A company profile may include the following information:

  • Where the company is based;
  • How big the company is, in terms of volume of timber it handles, the area of concessions/logging permits owned, or revenues;
  • Who owns the company, whether individuals or shareholders;
  • Key executives or managers within the company;
  • Affiliated companies, particularly holding companies;
  • Companies or areas it buys from, and sells to;
  • Connections to other companies or individuals, with a focus on politicians;
  • How the company finances its operations. For example, if it is reliant on bank loans or other financial instruments.

Much of the information needed to build company profiles can be found using online searches (see Online sources of information). If a company is publicly listed, it will publish useful information on the national stock exchange or in its annual reports. Other online sources include company websites, media reports (including financial and trade journals), government documents and permits or online marketplaces for wood products. In some cases, there may not be much information online. But information can also be obtained during fieldwork, particularly by interviewing communities or workers. Interviewing other companies operating in the sector, either openly or covertly can be revealing. Companies can also occasionally prove willing to provide information on their competitors.

Understanding, as fully as possible, the nature of a company can provide new investigative leads, particularly in terms of supply chains. It can also give rise to other forms of illegality. In some states, for example, it is illegal for people closely connected to politicians (individuals known as Politically Exposed Persons) to benefit from natural resource allocation. It may give rise to new avenues for pressure. For example, some banks or investment funds will divest or suspend their relationships with companies exposed to illegality, which can in turn place pressure on them to reform.

Online background checks can help reveal the political affiliations, other business interests, past corrupt or criminal activity, human rights or environmental abuses connected to a concession or mill. This provides valuable context to an investigation. For example, if there are powerful political interests involved, it may help explain why illegal loggers have been operating with impunity. It also helps identify risks that may be encountered during fieldwork.