Conserve Our Forests

Illegal Logging and the Furniture Trade

The next time you buy hardwood furniture from a store, consider this fact: 185 environmental activists fighting against illegal logging were murdered in 2015 by underworld gangs and security forces working for large logging companies, often with the knowledge of local authorities. In the Amazon alone, which has almost half of the world’s remaining rainforest, 50 activists were killed for trying to combat illegal logging, which accounts for an astonishing 80% of all hardwood timber (such as mahogany and rosewood) logging. A similar scenario is seen in other countries. In the Philippines, for instance, 33 activists trying to prevent the illegal logging of teak and meranti trees were murdered.

The import of illegal tropical timber into the United Kingdom peaked in 1999 with at least 1.4 million cubic meters, amounting to 62% of the total imports. The major sources of the illegal timber at the time were from Brazil (28%), Indonesia (25%), Malaysia (7%) and Cameroon (2%). The figure has drastically reduced since then owing to a slew of regulatory requirements governing the importation of timber. However, the issue is far from being resolved.

The total volume of furniture imported from high-risk exporters (countries with questionable logging and trade standards like China, Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia) amounted to 600,000 tonnes in 2015, valued at £1.61 billion (Source: WWF UK). The figure may be higher as other exporters may be using illegal timber obtained from a third country. Wooden furniture (20%) and wooden furniture parts (11%) accounts for almost a third of the distressed imports to the UK.

WWW UK further notes that 68% of retailers do not have strong timber import policies in place, and thus, are unlikely to adhere to existing span of EU’s Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulations. Since the country’s adoption of the policy, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have initiated 132 separate investigations on questionable timber imports. However, no company have thus far been brought to court.

China, in particular, is the newest timber rogue in town. Illegal trade of rosewood in the Chinese domestic market is worth $2.2. billion annually, and most of them are imported from Africa, Central America and South America. All 300 species of rosewood, which are valued for their beautiful pink glow, are already subject to various trade restrictions.