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Tracking illegal wood imported into the UK

Some companies in the UK are still selling a variety of wood products that come from questionable sources in parts of the world where illegal logging is having a devastating effect on biodiversity and communities, a study by WWF has revealed.  

The ‘What Wood You Choose?’ study found that wood used to make kitchen worktops, doors and decking, on sale in the UK, comes from parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Congo Basin where illegal logging is harmful to species and people. If businesses aren’t checking their sourcing from these places, they can easily be contributing to the problem.

The study found that in some cases companies had little idea where their wood products originated from and were reluctant to find out. Without this information and with a general lack of transparency in the sector serious questions are raised about how prepared UK retailers are for the incoming EU Timber Regulation.
Colin Butfield, WWF’s head of campaigns, said: “This study should act as a wake up call to companies here in the UK and highlight to the consumer that they are the ones with the power to demand that whatever they’re buying, from doors to kitchen worktops, is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). If it doesn’t have the FSC logo then it could originate from a place where there have been devastating impacts on species such as the orang-utan and communities that earn a living from the forest.
“While some of the major retailers are clearing up their supply chains there are a large number of UK companies that simply don’t have the information or the understanding to make them fit for purpose when the new regulations come into force.”
The study found that some companies’ websites show the FSC logo next to products which are not FSC. Others may offer a product as FSC– for example decking sourced from Indonesia – but on closer enquiry it turns out the FSC decking is only available for ‘special orders’ and the vast majority of the tropical timber decking they sell is non-FSC. And in some cases, the FSC logo may be being misused by UK companies, to imply that all their products are covered by the certification scheme when in fact only some are.
WWF used a combination of formal requests, investigators posed as buyers and made phone calls and visits to saw mills in Indonesia and Malaysia to track timber products on sale in the UK back to the forests where they came from.
Many UK companies are simply not challenging their supply chain about where their supplies come from. Cornish-based Barncrest source heavily exploited tropical hardwood species for their kitchen worktops from the Ivory Coast. The illegal logging of such timber has been linked to health hazards and conflict. Despite website claims that the timber is legally compliant, Barncrest were unable to supply evidence to support the claims.
A large Malaysian plywood company with links to illegal logging was supplying UK companies. The study found that one such company was Jewson, who carried out their own investigation, and eventually severed ties with the company in question in 2009.
A salesperson at Leeds Plywood & Doors (LPD) told a potential buyer they believed their ‘Adorable Hardwood’ doors were made from FSC-certified timber although a visit to a sawmill in Indonesia made it clear that their suppliers had no idea where the timber had come from. LPD has since pledged to review its environmental systems.
Colin Butfield added: “By looking for the FSC logo on a product, a customer can be confident that the timber used has come from a forest that has been managed in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
“The EU law, coming into force in early 2013, will mean anyone intending to sell timber products into the UK market will have to be able show where it’s come from and that it isn’t illegal. The study suggests that UK businesses are a long way from meeting the demands of that new law.”
Editor's notes

If everyone used natural resources and generated carbon emissions at the rate we do in the UK we would need three planets to support us. The way we live is leading to environmental threats such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, water shortages and the collapse of fisheries. WWF’s One Planet Future Campaign is working to help people live a good quality of life within the earth’s capacity. For more information visit www.wwf.org.uk/oneplanet
For more information about the ‘What Wood You Choose?’ campaign and a copy of the report visit: www.wwf.org.uk/woodreport
The Timber Tracking Study was carried out by Earthsight Investigations on behalf of WWF’s EU-funded ‘What Wood You Choose?’ campaign between August and December 2010.
For further information, please contact:
Robin Clegg, tel: 07771 818707, email: rclegg@wwf.org.uk

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