Photo: Rvannatta

Business owners in the UK may be shocked to discover that the timber they’re selling probably comes from illegal logging practices.

According to Greenpeace, nearly 80 percent of the world’s ancient forests have been destroyed, and several others face near-extinction. Much of the danger comes from illegal logging, which occurs regularly in areas like the Amazon. Once these losses reach a breaking point, the next casualties include human lives. Nearly 200 land activists have been killed since 2015, many while attempting to stop environmental pollution and logging in regions such as Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.

Logging near Apiary, Oregon. (Photo Credit: Rvannatta via WikiMedia Commons)

Logging. (Photo Credit: Rvannatta via WikiMedia Commons)

“The outrages committed against environmental activists in many parts of the world show how threatened the environment is from large-scale deforestation and illegal logging,” says Friends of Earth campaigner Alison Dilworth. “It’s time governments pressed for more supply-chain transparency so we can identify which companies and what products on supermarket shelves are directly implicated with deforestation and human rights abuses.”

Supply-chain transparency requires companies to reveal data regarding the sources of their products. Though meant to stop black market trading, not all companies play by the rules. Co-founder of Global Witness Patrick Alley explains that some businesses are invoking a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to land usage. He says that most companies don’t enforce due diligence regarding the sources they purchase from.

Head of Forests for Greenpeace Richard George says the problem goes even deeper. He believes it’s nearly impossible for consumers to tell whether timber has been obtained through legal means, and stopping the trade is harder than it looks.

“It’s in South America where illegal loggers are waging the most intensive war on indigenous peoples and local communities,” he says. “Much of that illegal timber is logged for export to Europe, and it is almost impossible to tell whether rare tropical hardwoods like ipe were logged legitimately or not. If, as either a concerned consumer or a responsible timber importer, you have even the slightest doubt about the provenance of a South American hardwood product, walk away.”

While restricted to certain points, illegal logging impacts nations and industries around the world. Car companies Ford, GM, and BMW, for example, have all been found sourcing pig iron from Brazil. Pig iron requires hefty amounts of charcoal. In turn, sourcing it from the Amazon has driven up slave labor rates and illegal logging in the area. While Brazil has made attempts to ease the activity, most have produced only temporary results. The Environmental Investigation Agency further explains that trading companies in Japan are cutting down Romania’s ancient forests, and drone footage has revealed the destruction of monarch butterfly reserves in Mexico.

Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon. (Image Credit: Matt Zimmerman)

Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon. (Image Credit: Matt Zimmerman)

Now Britain has adopted EU regulations preventing illegally logged mahogany, teak and other hardwood to be sold or used in the U.K. One-hundred and thirty-two investigations have arisen thus far, and companies that use or sell imported timber from Brazil are required to follow special audit regulations and keep full records detailing their sources.

David Hopkins of the Timber Trade Federation feels that importers and companies selling timber products have a responsibility to implement necessary, environmentally-conscious changes.

“The forestry industries get tagged,” he says, “and there is a danger that they enter the supply chain, but if your livelihood depends on timber, you chop down fewer trees and use them in a more efficient manner and keep trees standing.”

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