In Pandering to the Loggers (pdf) a report out yesterday, Global Witness charged that companies are destroying forests and trading in illegally sourced timber while basking in the glow of the WWF’s iconic panda brand. The group said that WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), which was created to eliminate illegal timber trading, has suffered from systemic failures.
The report said that a major Malaysian logging company, which is a paying member of the program, was destroying rainforest at the rate of 20 soccer fields a day. This destruction included orangutan habitat within the boundaries of the WWF “Heart of Borneo” project.
Another GFTN member, a UK building supplier, had failed to eliminate illegally sourced timber ten years after joining the program, Global Witness said.
The group said the systemic problems included poor monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, inadequate membership rules and a lack of transparency and accountability, with little or no information in the public domain about the performance of individual participating companies.
“When a landmark scheme created in the name of sustainability and conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orangutan 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.
“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,” Picken added.
WWF’s George White, head of GFTN, responded, “Some GFTN partners have a way to go on their journey to sustainability. But these are precisely the companies that should be in GFTN, and we applaud their commitments to improving their environmental performance. Companies caught flouting the rules and spirit of GFTN will be removed from the network.”
WWF said that GFTN has played a key role in promoting transparency in supply chains, and that since 2007, GFTN members have been able to achieve certification through the Forest Stewardship Council for over 20 million hectares.
More than 50 percent of the global market for FSC material is traded by GFTN participants, WWF said, and the program now includes about 300 companies, communities and non-profits in more than 30 countries.