“It’s shocking that one of the world’s most trusted conservation groups deems it acceptable to take money from such companies”
WWF’s flagship scheme to promote sustainable timber – the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) – is allowing companies to reap the benefits of association with WWF and its iconic panda brand, while they continue to destroy forests and trade in illegally sourced timber, a new briefing by Global Witness reveals. While GFTN is intended to reduce and eliminate such practices over the first 5 years of membership, systemic failures blight the scheme’s ability to deliver for forests.
The Global Witness briefing, Pandering to the Loggers: Why WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network Isn’t Working (PDF), discovered that major Malaysian logging company Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, which is a paying member of the scheme, has forest operations destroying rainforest at the equivalent rate of 20 football pitches a day, including orang-utan habitat within the boundaries of WWF’s own ‘Heart of Borneo’ project.
Another member, UK building supplier Jewson, had failed to eliminate illegally sourced timber 10 years after joining the scheme.
A third timber company, the Swiss-German Danzer Group, has a subsidiary which has been repeatedly involved in conflicts with local communities resulting in human rights abuses, including allegations of rapes and beatings by state forces, yet the Danzer Group continues to enjoy membership to the scheme.
Global Witness has found systemic problems with GFTN including:
- GFTN lacks transparency and accountability; the scheme is opaque, with little or no information in the public domain about the performance of individual participating companies, or the impact of the scheme itself;
- GFTN’s membership and participation rules are wholly inadequate, allowing some companies to systematically abuse the scheme;
- GFTN lacks proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms;
The Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) is WWF’s flagship scheme to promote the global trade in legal and sustainable timber products. It is one of the world’s biggest and best-funded schemes of its kind. The scheme’s stated objective is to “turn the global marketplace into a positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests” by helping companies to produce and trade in “credibly certified” wood products.
In return for commitments to improve the legality and sustainability of the wood products they harvest, buy or sell, companies that pay to participate in GFTN benefit from technical assistance available to members and from association with WWF and its world-famous panda brand.
While companies joining GFTN benefit from public relations advantage through highlighting their partnership with WWF, companies who fail to meet targets and are suspended or terminated from the scheme are rarely subjected to any public announcement by GFTN or WWF. Global Witness found only two cases of WWF publicly announcing the departure of a named company in the past 20 years.
GFTN states that its 288 members trade 252 million cubic metres of wood products, representing around 16 per cent of the globally traded volume of forest products with combined annual sales of US$68 billion. There are currently around 75 ‘forest members’ – logging companies – fromRussia, Latin America, Africa and Asia, which between them hold the rights to log an area of forest larger than the UK. The remaining members are classed as ‘trade members’ – processors, traders and retailers of wood products.
Global Witness says that there is no adequate procedure in place for independently evaluating the scheme on forest sustainability.
“When a landmark scheme created in the name of sustainability and conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orang-utan habitat, something is going seriously wrong,” said Tom Picken, Forest Campaign Leader at Global Witness. “Through government grants, taxpayers are footing a large part of this scheme’s annual £4m [US$ 7m] budget and they have a right to know their money isn’t being spent greenwashing bad practice,” continued Picken.
Global Witness is calling for an independent and comprehensive evaluation of GFTN rules, transparency procedures and the scheme’s impact on forests. WWF must make membership of the scheme conditional on companies following sustainable, ethical and legal practices and prohibit any company from participating if it continues to destroy natural forest, trade in illegal timber, or is involved in human rights abuses.
“WWF should publicly disassociate itself from any company using timber from illegal or unethical sources. It’s shocking that one of the world’s most trusted conservation groups deems it acceptable to take money from such companies,” said Picken.
“This investigation raises bigger questions about the underlying strategy and efficacy of such voluntary schemes. To protect the world’s remaining forests and avoid duping consumers, initiatives should focus on reducing overall demand rather than certify ever-expanding areas of forest being felled,” said Picken.